Sunday, December 30, 2007

16th Academy Awards

The 16th Academy Awards was the first Oscar ceremony held at a large public venue, Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Free passes were given out to men and women in uniform. The more theatrical approach makes it a forerunner of the contemporary Oscar telecast.
For the first time, supporting actors and actresses took home full-size statuettes, instead of smaller-sized awards mounted on a plaque.

This year's winner of the Best Picture Oscar was Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz who also won for Best Director stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. It focuses on Rick's conflict between, in the words of one character, love and virtue: he must choose between his love for Ilsa and doing the right thing, helping her and her Resistance leader husband escape from Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis. Although it was an A-list movie, with established stars and first-rate writers, nobody involved with its production expected Casablanca to be anything out of the ordinary; it was just one of dozens of pictures being churned out by Hollywood every year. The film was a solid, if unspectacular, success in its initial release, but has grown in popularity as time has gone by, consistently ranking near the top of lists of great films. Critics have praised the charismatic performances of Bogart and Bergman, the chemistry between them, the depth of characterization, the taut direction, the witty screenplay and the emotional impact of the work as a whole. Casablanca is now ranked among the greatest cinematic achievements of all time. In 1989, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 1999, it was ranked by the American Film Institute as the second greatest American film ever made, behind only Citizen Kane. The 2007 revised AFI list moved it down to third, after Citizen Kane and The Godfather. One of the lines most closely associated with the film—"Play it again, Sam"—is a misquotation. When Ilsa first enters the CafĂ© Americain, she spots Sam and asks him to "Play it once, Sam, for old times' sake." When he feigns ignorance, she responds, "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By.' " Later that night, alone with Sam, Rick says, "You played it for her and you can play it for me." and "If she can stand it, I can! Play it!" The line "Here's looking at you, kid.", spoken by Rick to Ilsa, is not in the draft screenplays, and has been attributed to the poker lessons Bogart was giving Bergman between takes. It was voted in a 2005 poll by the American Film Institute as the fifth most memorable line in cinema history. Six lines from Casablanca appeared in the top 100, by far the most of any film (Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were next, with three apiece). The others were: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."(20th), "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By.'" (28th), "Round up the usual suspects." (32nd), "We'll always have Paris." (43rd), and "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." (67th).

The director was Michael Curtiz, Hungarian born, for which he had won the Best Director Award. He directed at least 50 films in Europe and a further hundred in the US, among the best-known being The Adventures of Robin Hood, Angels with Dirty Faces, Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy and White Christmas. He thrived in the heyday of the Warner Bros. studio in the 1930s and 40s, where he gained a reputation for efficient competence, but also for being difficult to work with.In the mid-30s, he began the highly successful cycle of adventure films starring Errol Flynn that included Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), The Sea Hawk and Santa Fe Trail (1940). By the early 1940s Curtiz had become fairly wealthy, earning $3,600 per week and owning a substantial estate, complete with polo pitch. One of his regular polo partners was Hal Wallis, who had met Curtiz on his arrival in the country and had established a close friendship with him. Wallis's wife, the actress Louise Fazenda, and Curtiz's third wife, Bess Meredyth, an actress and screenwriter, had been close since before Curtiz's marriage to Meredyth in 1929. Curtiz was frequently unfaithful, and had numerous sexual relationships with extras on set. Prime examples of his work in the 1940s are The Sea Wolf (1941), Casablanca (1942) and Mildred Pierce (1945).After his relationship with Warners broke down, Curtiz continued to direct on a freelance basis from 1954 onwards, with some of his best efforts done at Paramount, where he directed White Christmas (1954), starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye; We're No Angels (1955), starring Humphrey Bogart; and King Creole (1958), starring Elvis Presley. His final film, The Comancheros, was released less than a year before his death from cancer on 10 April 1962. Curtiz received four nominations for the Academy Award for Best Director: before Casablanca won in 1943, he was nominated for Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1942, and for Angels with Dirty Faces and Four Daughters in 1938. Captain Blood came second as a write-in nomination in 1936.

The Best Actor Award went to Paul Lukas, a hungarian born actor. He arrived in Hollywood in 1927 after a successful stage and film career in Hungary, Germany and Austria. At first, he played elegant, smooth womanizers, but increasingly he became typecast as a villain. In 1933, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He was very busy in the 1930s, appearing in such films as Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, the comedy Ladies in Love, and the drama Dodsworth. He followed William Powell and Basil Rathbone portraying the series detective Philo Vance, a cosmopolitan New Yorker, once in 1935 in The Casino Murder Case, but his major role came in 1943's Watch on the Rhine, when he played a man working against the Nazis. To modern viewers, Paul Lukas is best known for his role as Professor Aronnax in Walt Disney's classic 1954 film version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. By that time, however, he was at age 60 was suffering from memory problems during the production, apparently leading him to lash out at cast and crew alike. Even fellow Hungarian and friend Peter Lorre was not immune to the abuse.The remainder of his career moved from Hollywood to the stage to television. His only singing role was as Cosmo Constantine in the original 1950 Broadway stage version of Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam, opposite Ethel Merman. He died in Tangier, Morocco.

The Best Actress award went to Jennifer Jones for her role in The Song of Bernadette. Jones attended Monte Cassino Junior College in Tulsa and Northwestern University, where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, before transferring to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City in 1938. It was here she met and fell in love with fellow acting student Robert Walker. The two were married on January 2, 1939, when Jones was just 19 years old.While Walker found steady work in radio programs, Isley worked part-time modeling hats for the Powers Agency while looking for possible acting jobs. When she learned of auditions for the lead role of Claudia in Rose Franken’s hit play of the same name, she presented herself to David O. Selznick’s New York office, but fled in tears after what she thought was a bad reading. Selznick, however, overheard her audition and was impressed enough to have his secretary call her back. Following an interview, she was signed to a seven-year contract. She was carefully groomed for stardom and given a new name: Jennifer Jones. Director Henry King was impressed by her screen test as Bernadette Soubirous for The Song of Bernadette, and she won the coveted role over hundreds of applicants. That year, Jones' friend, Ingrid Bergman, was also a Best Actress nominee for her work in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Jones apologized to Bergman, who replied, "No, Jennifer, your Bernadette was better than my Maria." Jones presented the Best Actress Oscar the following year to Bergman for Gaslight. Over the next two decades, Jones appeared in a wide range of roles selected by Selznick. Her dark beauty and sensitive nature appealed to audiences and she projected a variable range. Her initial saintly image - as shown in her first starring role - was a stark contrast three years later when she was cast as a provocative biracial woman in Selznick’s controversial film Duel in the Sun. Other notable films included Since You Went Away, Love Letters, Cluny Brown, Portrait of Jennie, Madame Bovary, We Were Strangers, Carrie, Ruby Gentry, Indiscretion of an American Wife, Beat the Devil, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Good Morning Miss Dove, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and A Farewell to Arms. Jones' first marriage to Robert Walker produced two sons, Robert Walker Jr. (born April 15, 1940), and Michael Walker (born March 13, 1941). Both later became actors. Jones later left Walker for producer David O. Selznick. Jones married Selznick on July 13, 1949, a marriage which lasted until his death on June 22, 1965. After his death, she semi-retired from acting; her last appearance was a strong supporting role in the 1974 film The Towering Inferno, playing the ill-fated Lisolette Mueller. Jones' only child with Selznick, Mary Jennifer Selznick (born August 12, 1954), committed suicide in 1976 by jumping from a 20th floor window. This led to Jones' interest in mental health issues. Jones married multi-millionaire industrialist, art collector and philanthropist Norton Simon on May 29, 1971. The couple remained married until Simon's death in June 1993. She is currently on the board of directors of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. Jennifer Jones is a breast cancer survivor.

The Best Supporting Actor award went to Charles Coburn for The More the Merrier. Coburn formed an acting company with Ivah Wills in 1905. They married in 1906. In addition to managing the company, the couple performed frequently on Broadway. After his wife's death in 1937, Coburn relocated to Los Angeles and began acting in films. He was also nominated for The Devil and Miss Jones in 1941 and The Green Years in 1946. Other notable film credits include Of Human Hearts (1938), The Lady Eve (1941), Kings Row (1942), The Constant Nymph (1943), Heaven Can Wait (1943), Wilson (1944), Impact (1949), The Paradine Case (1947), Everybody Does It(1950), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and John Paul Jones (1959).In the 1940s, Coburn served as vice-president of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a right-wing group opposed to Communists in Hollywood. His leadership of the Hollywood blacklist of anyone with any connection to Communism, led to a myriad of talented actors, writers and directors being driven out of Hollywood and deprived of their livelihood.In 1959, Coburn married Winifred Natzka, who was forty-one years his junior and the former wife of Oscar Natzka, an opera singer. He died from a heart attack on August 30, 1961 in New York, aged 84.

The Best Supporting Actress award went to Katina Paxinou. She was selected to play "Pilar" in the 1943 film For Whom the Bell Tolls, winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. She continued appearing in Hollywood films until 1949. She made one British film as well, the 1947 film version of Uncle Silas, starring Jean Simmons. After 1949, Paxinou returned to Hollywood only once more, to play, again, a gypsy woman, this time in the 1959 Technicolor religious epic, The Miracle. In 1950, Paxinou resumed her stage career. In her native Greece, she formed the Royal Theatre of Athens with Alexis Minotis, her principal director and her husband since 1940. She continued to accept occasional film roles until her death from cancer in Athens, Greece in 1973 at the age of 72. She was survived by her husband, and her two children from her first marriage.

The Best Song was "You'll Never Know" a popular song written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon based on a poem written by a young Oklahoma war bride named Dorothy Fern Norris. The song was featured in the 1943 movie Hello, Frisco, Hello where it is sung by Alice Faye. It was also performed by Faye in the 1944 film Four Jills in a Jeep. It was recorded in 1943 by, among others, Frank Sinatra and Dick Haymes (whose version was a #1 hit on the R&B charts that year). A 1952 recording by Rosemary Clooney is also well known, even a version recorded in 1954 by Big Maybelle.

The Honorary Award was given to George Pal- For the development of novel methods and techniques in the production of short subjects known as Puppetoons (plaque).

The Irving G Thalberg Memorial Award was awarded to Hal B Wallis for the second time. THe awards were hosted by Jack Benny, an American comedian, vaudeville performer, and radio, television, and film actor. Benny was known for his comic timing and his ability to get laughs with either a pregnant pause or a single expression, such as his signature exasperated "Well!". Benny had been only a minor vaudeville performer, but he became a national figure with The Jack Benny Program, a weekly radio show which ran from 1932 to 1948 on NBC and from 1949 to 1955 on CBS, and was consistently among the most highly rated programs during most of that run. The television version of The Jack Benny Program (which never used the sponsor's name) ran from October 28, 1950 to 1965. The show appeared infrequently during its first two years on TV, then ran every fourth week for the next two years. For the 1953-1954 season, half the episodes were live and half were filmed during the summer, to allow Benny to continue doing his radio show. From 1955 to 1960 it appeared every other week, and from 1960 to 1965 it was seen weekly.In October 1974, Benny canceled a performance in Dallas after suffering a dizzy spell, coupled with a feeling of numbness in his arms. Despite a battery of tests, Benny's ailment could not be determined. When he complained of stomach pains in early December, a first test showed nothing but a subsequent one showed he had inoperable pancreatic cancer. Choosing to spend his final days at home, he was visited by close friends including George Burns, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Carson. He succumbed to the disease on December 26, 1974 at the age of 80. Two days after his death, he was interred in a crypt at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. Mr. Benny's will arranged for flowers, specifically a single long-stemmed red rose, to be delivered to his widowed wife, Mary Livingstone, every day for the rest of her life. Mary Livingstone died nine years later on June 30, 1983. He retruned to host the awards in 1946.

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