Sunday, December 30, 2007

15th Academy Awards

The 15th Academy Awards were held on March 4, 1943 at the Coconut Groove, The Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles hosted once again by Bob Hope. For the first time the award statuettes are made of plaster due to the war. All are replaced with standard statuettes after the war ends. It is announced at the ceremonies that 27,677 members of the industry are serving in the armed forced.

The winner of the year as Best Picture was certainly Mrs. Miniver, directed by William Wyler and starring Greer Garson in the title role. The film is based on the fictional English housewife created by Jan Struther in 1937 for a series of newspaper columns.The film adaptation of Mrs. Miniver was produced by MGM in 1942. Under the influence of the American Office of War Information, the film attempted to undermine Hollywood's prewar depiction of England as a glamorous bastion of social privilege, anachronistic habits and snobbery in favour of more democratic, modern images. To this end, the social status enjoyed by the Miniver family in the print version was downgraded and increased attention was given to the erosion of class barriers under the pressures of wartime. The film exceeded all expectations, grossing $5,358,000 in North America (the highest for any MGM film at the time) and $3,520,000 abroad. In Britain, it was named the top box office attraction of 1942. 555 of the 592 film critics polled by American magazine Film Daily named it the best film of 1942. On June 14, 2006 it was named #40 on the American Film Institute's list celebrating the most inspirational films of all time. The film won 6 Oscars and was nominated for another six.

The Best Director award went to William Wyler for the above film. He was known to require tens of takes for every shot in his films and for demanding control over the story, location and crew of each production, yet his exacting nature and attention to detail paid off in the form of both popular and critical success. Wyler was born Willi Weiller to a Jewish family in Mulhouse in the French region of Alsace (then part of the German Empire). He was related to Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures, through his mother (a cousin of Laemmle's). His family connections served him well, as he became the youngest director on the Universal lot in 1925. In 1928, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He soon proved himself an able craftsman, and in the early 1930s became one of Universal's greatest assets. He later signed with Samuel Goldwyn and directed such quality films as These Three, Come and Get It, Dodsworth, Dead End, Jezebel, Wuthering Heights, The Letter, The Westerner, and The Little Foxes. Between 1942 and 1945 he also directed two key films which first captured the mood of the nation as it prepared for battle and, four years later, peace. Mrs. Miniver (1942), a story of a middle class English family adjusting to the war in Europe, helped condition American audiences to life in wartime (and galvanized support for the British). The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), the story of three veterans arriving home and adjusting to civilian life, dramatized the problems of returning veterans for those who had remained on the homefront. Wyler won Best Director Oscars for both films (which also won Best Picture Oscars). During the 1950s and 1960s, Wyler directed a handful of critically acclaimed and influential films, most notably Roman Holiday (1953) for introducing Audrey Hepburn to American audiences and leading to her first Oscar, The Heiress earning Olivia de Havilland her second Oscar, Friendly Persuasion (1956) which was awarded by the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes Film Festival, and Ben-Hur (1959) for its eleven Oscar wins (matched only twice, by Titanic in 1997 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003). In 1965, Wyler won the Irving Thalberg Award for career achievement. Eleven years later, he received the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. In addition to his Best Picture and Best Director Oscar wins, ten of Wyler's films earned Best Picture nominations. He received twelve Oscar nominations for Best Director, winning three times, while three dozen of his actors won Oscars or were nominated. Wyler was briefly married to Margaret Sullavan (25 November 1934 - 13 March 1936) and married Margaret Tallichet on 23 October 1938 until his death; they had four children.

The Best Actor award went to James Cagney for his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy. He won acclaim for a wide variety of roles, including the career-launching The Public Enemy. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Cagney eighth among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time. On September 28, 1922, he married dancer Frances Willard (aka: “Billie”) Vernon (1899 – 1994) with whom he remained for the rest of his life. They adopted a son, James Cagney Jr, and a daughter, Cathleen “Casey” Cagney. Both his brother William, who was also a producer, and sister Jeanne were actors. Cagney began his acting career in vaudeville and on Broadway. When Warner Brothers acquired the film rights to the play Penny Arcade, they took Cagney and co-star Joan Blondell from the stage to the screen. Cagney went on to star in many films, making his name as a 'tough guy' in a series of crime films beginning with The Public Enemy (1931), which made him an immediate sensation. He won an Oscar playing George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). He returned to his gangster roots in Raoul Walsh's film White Heat (1949) and played a tyrannical ship captain opposite Jack Lemmon and Henry Fonda in Mister Roberts (1955). Cagney's health deteriorated substantially after 1979. Cagney's final appearance in a feature film was in Ragtime (1981), capping a career that covered over 70 films. He was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild and its president from 1942 to 1944. James Cagney died at his Dutchess County farm in Stanfordville, New York, aged 86, of a heart attack.
The Best Actress Award went to Greer Garson, again for Mrs Miniver. Louis B. Mayer discovered Garson while he was in London looking for new talents. Garson was signed to a contract with MGM in 1936 but did not appear in her first American film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, until 1939. She received her first Oscar nomination for the role, but lost to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. She received critical acclaim the next year for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1940 film, Pride and Prejudice. Garson starred opposite Joan Crawford in When Ladies Meet in 1941 and that same year, became a major box office star with the sentimental Technicolor drama Blossoms in the Dust which brought her the first of five consecutive Best Actress Oscar nominations, tying Bette Davis' 1938-1942 record, a record that still stands. Garson won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942 for her role as a strong British wife and mother in the middle of World War II in Mrs. Miniver. (Guinness Book of World Records credits her with the longest Oscar acceptance speech, at five minutes and 30 seconds, after which the Academy Awards instituted a time limit. She was also nominated for Madame Curie (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944), and The Valley of Decision (1945). She made only a few films after her MGM contract expired in 1954. In 1958, she received a warm reception on Broadway in Auntie Mame, replacing Rosalind Russell who had gone to Hollywood to make the film version. In 1960, Garson received her seventh and final Oscar nomination for Sunrise at Campobello, in which she played Eleanor Roosevelt, this time losing to Elizabeth Taylor for Butterfield 8. Garson's last film, in 1967, was The Happiest Millionaire, although she made infrequent television appearances. Garson was married three times. Her first marriage, on September 28, 1933, was to Edward Alec Abbot Snelson(1904-1992), later Sir Edward, a British civil servant who became a noted judge and expert in Indian and Pakistani affairs. The actual marriage reportedly lasted only a few weeks, but was not formally dissolved until 1943. Her second husband, whom she married in 1943, was Richard Ney (1915-2004), the younger actor who played her son in Mrs. Miniver. They divorced in 1949, with Garson claiming that Ney had called her a "has-been" and belittled her age. Ney eventually became a respected stock-market analyst and financial consultant. That same year, she married a millionaire Texas oilman and horse breeder, E. E. "Buddy" Fogelson (1900-1987), and in 1967, the couple retired to their "Forked Lightning Ranch" in New Mexico. Greer Garson died from heart failure in Dallas on April 6, 1996, at the age of 91.

The Best Supporting Actor Award went to Van Heflin for his role in Johnny Eager. Heflin began his acting career on Broadway in the early 1930s before being signed to a contract by RKO Studios. He made his film debut in A Woman Rebels (1936). He was signed by MGm Studios, and was initially cast in supporting roles in films such as Santa Fe Trail (1940), and Johnny Eager (1942), for which he won the Oscar. Among his more notable film credits are Presenting Lily Mars (1943), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Possessed (1947), Act of Violence (1948), The Three Musketeers (1948), The Prowler (1951), Shane (1953), and 3:10 to Yuma (1957). He also performed on stage throughout his acting career. His stage credits include The Philadelphia Story on Broadway opposite Katharine Hepburn and Joseph Cotten, and the Arthur Miller play A Memory of Two Mondays. Heflin's last major role was in Airport (1970). He played "D. O. Guerrero", a failure who attempts to blow himself up on an airliner so his wife (played by Maureen Stapleton) can collect on a life insurance policy. On July 6, 1971, Heflin had a heart attack. He lay unconscious for days, apparently never regaining consciousness. Van Heflin died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on July 23, 1971.

The Best Supporting Actress was another win for Mrs Miniver as it went to Teresa Wright. In the fall of 1939, she appeared in the stage play Life with Father, playing the role of Mary Skinner for two years. It was there that she was discovered by a talent scout hired by Samuel Goldwyn to find a young actress for the role of Bette Davis' daughter in the 1941 adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. She was immediately signed to a five-year Hollywood contract but asserted her seriousness as an actress. Wright was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her screen debut in The Little Foxes (1941). The following year, she was nominated again, this time for Best Actress for The Pride of the Yankees, in which she played opposite Gary Cooper as the wife of Lou Gehrig; that same year, she won Best Supporting Actress as the daughter-in-law of Greer Garson's character in Mrs. Miniver. No actor has ever duplicated her feat of receiving an Oscar nomination for each of her first three films. In 1943, Wright was loaned out by Goldwyn for the Universal film Shadow of a Doubt, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. She played an innocent young woman who discovers that her beloved uncle, played by Joseph Cotten, is a serial murderer. Other notable films include The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), an award-winning film about the adjustments of servicemen returning home after World War II, and The Men (1950). Wright rebelled against the studio system of the time. When Samuel Goldwyn fired her, citing her refusal to publicize the film Enchantment (1948), she expressed no regret about losing her $5,000 per week contract. After 1959, she worked mainly in television and on the stage. Wright was married to writer Niven Busch from 1942 to 1952; they had two children. She married playwright Robert Anderson in 1959; they later divorced, but maintained a close relationship until the end of her life. She died of a heart attack at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut at the age of 86.

Also notable at the ceremony, Irving Berlin presented the Academy Award for Best Song, which he ended up winning for "White Christmas". whose lyrics reminisce about White Christmases. The morning after he wrote the song — Berlin usually stayed up all night writing — the songwriter went to his office and told his musical secretary, "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — hell, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!" "White Christmas" was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1942 musical Holiday Inn. In the film, he sings it in a duet with Marjorie Reynolds.Though Marjorie Reynolds was the actress playing Linda Mason, her voice was dubbed by Martha Mears for the movie, and in the script as originally conceived, Reynolds, not Crosby, was to sing the song. The song initially performed poorly and was far overshadowed by the hit song of Holiday Inn, "Be Careful, It's my Heart". By the end of October, "White Christmas" topped the "Your Hit Parade" chart and remained in that position until well into the new year. Eventually, Crosby's "White Christmas" single sold more than 50 million copies. The Guinness Book of World Records currently lists the song as a 100-million seller (this encompassing all versions of the song, including on albums). The song was also the title theme for the 1954 musical White Christmas, starring Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, which was the highest-grossing film of 1954. The Crosby recording is the biggest selling single of all time, as confirmed by the 2008 Guinness Book of Records.

The Honorary Awards were awarded to:

M-G-M Studio- For its achievement in representing the American way of life in the production of the Andy Hardy series of films (certificate).
Charles Boyer - For his progressive cultural achievement in establishing the French Research Foundation in Los Angeles as a source of reference (certificate).
In Which We Serve (1942) - Noel Coward- For his outstanding production achievement.

The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award was awarded to:

Sidney Franklin who directed 5 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Norma Shearer, Merle Oberon and Luise Rainer. Rainer won for her performance in The Good Earth (1937).

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