Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fifth Academy Awards

This year the Best Picture Oscar went to Grand Hotel. The film opens and closes with Lewis Stone's totally unaware statement : "Grand Hotel. People come and go. Nothing ever happens". The comment turns out to be ironic during the few days in which the plot unfolds, because everything seems to be happening at the hotel, from romance to robbery to an accidental death.

The film came from the original Austrian play by Vicki Baum. It was produced by Irving Thalberg and Paul Bern at MGM (both uncredited on the film), and directed by Edmund Goulding. The top star, Greta Garbo melodramatically delivered her famous line "I want to be alone," in this film. The cast included a series of top names: Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone and Jean Hersholt. It is the only film to have won the Best Picture Award without winning any others and without being nominated in any other categories. The award was presented to Irving Thalberg, with no mention of Paul Bern. In addition, Garbo's line "I want to be alone" was #30 in the list of AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes. The film was remade in 1945 as Week-End at the Waldorf starring Ginger Rogers.

The Best actor Oscar was co-awarded to Wallace Beery for the Champ and to Fredric March for his outstanding double role of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Wallace Beery starred in 1915, with his wife Gloria Swanson in Sweedie Goes to College. The marriage did not survive his drinking and abuse. In the following years, he began to play villains in several movies, and in 1917 portrayed Pancho Villa in Patria during the period when Villa was still active in Mexico; Beery would reprise the role seventeen years later. With the transition to sound film he was for a time put out of work, but Irving Thalberg had no objection to Beery's gruff slow speech as a character actor, and hired him under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Beery appeared in the highly-successful 1930 prison film The Big House (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor). The same year, he made the pivotal Min and Bill opposite Marie Dressler, the movie that vaulted him into the box office first rank. He followed that up with The Champ in 1931, this time winning the Best Actor Oscar, and the role of Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1934). He received a gold medal from the Venice Film Festival for his second performance as Pancho Villa in Viva Villa! (193) with Fay Wray. Other notable Beery films include Billy the Kid (1930) with John Mack Brown, The Secret Six (1931) with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, Hell Divers (1931) with Gable, Grand Hotel (1932) with Joan Crawford, Tugboat Annie (1933) with Dressler, Dinner at Eight (1933) opposite Jean Harlow, The Bowery with George Raft and Pert Kelton that same year, China Seas (1935) with Gable and Harlow, and Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! (1935) in the role of a drunken uncle later played on Broadway by Jackie Gleason in a musical comedy version. During the 1930s Beery was regularly one of Hollywood's Top 10 box office stars, and at one point his contract with MGM stipulated that he be paid $1 more than any other contract player at the studio, making him the highest paid actor in the world. His second wife was Rita Gorman. Together they adopted a daughter Carol Ann, daughter of Rita Gorman Beery's cousin. The marriage ended in divorce. He died at his Beverly Hills home of a heart attack at the age of 64.

His co-wardee Fredric March was born as Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel (March was the shortened maiden name of his mother-Marcher). He began his career as abanker but when health problems distanced him from the job he found himself working as an extra in New York City. He appeared on Broadway in the 20s and by the end of the decade signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. March won an Oscar nomination in 1930 for The Royal Family of Broadway, in which he played a role based upon John Barrymore. He won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1932 for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and again in 1946 for The Best Years of Our Lives. On 25 March 1954, March co-hosted the 26th Annual Academy Awards ceremony from New York City, with co-host Donald O'Connor in Los Angeles. March was one of the few actors to resist signing long-term contracts with the studios, and was able to freelance and pick and choose his roles, in the process also avoiding typecasting. By this time, he was working on Broadway as often as in Hollywood. March won two Best Actor Tony Awards: in 1947 for the play Years Ago, written by Ruth Gordon; and in 1957 for a Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. When March underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 1972, it seemed his career was over, yet he managed to give one last great performance in The Iceman Cometh (1973), as the complicated Irish bartender, Harry Hope. Ironically, co-star Robert Ryan was entering the final stages of lung cancer, so the film was the last for both March and Ryan. March died in Los Angeles in 1975 aged 77. He was married to actress Florence Eldridge from 1927 to his death and they adopted two children.

The Best Actress Oscar went to Helen Hayes, whose successful and award-winning career spanned almost 70 years. She eventually garnered the nickname "First Lady of the American Theater", and was one of the nine people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award. By the age of ten, she had made a short film called Jean and the Calico Doll, but only moved to Hollywood when her husband, playwright Charles MacArthur, signed a Hollywood deal. Her sound film debut was The Sin of Madelon Claudet, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She followed that with starring roles in Arrowsmith (with Myrna Loy), A Farewell to Arms (with actor Gary Cooper whom Hayes admitted to finding extremely attractive), The White Sister, What Every Woman Knows (a reprise from her Broadway hit), and Vanessa: Her Love Story. However, she never became a fan favorite and Hayes did not prefer the medium to the stage; she eventually returned to Broadway in 1935, where for three years she played the title role in the Gilbert Miller production of Victoria Regina. She returned to Hollywood in the 1950s, and her film star began to rise. She starred in My Son John (1952) and Anastasia (1956), and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as an elderly stowaway in the disaster film Airport (1970). She followed that up with several roles in Disney films such as Herbie Rides Again, One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing and Candleshoe. Anastasia was considered a comeback having not acted for several years due to her daughter, Mary's death and her husband's failing health. Hayes was hospitalized a number of times for her asthma condition, which was aggravated by stage dust, forcing her to retire from legitimate theater. Her last Broadway show was a revival of Harvey in which she co-starred with James Stewart in 1970. She spent most of her last years writing and raising money for organizations that fight asthma. Hayes died on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1993 from congestive heart failure in Nyack, New York, aged 92.

The awards were hosted again this year by Conrad Nagel, and were held at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel, on November 18th, 1932. The Best Director award went for the second time to Frank Borzage for directing Big Girl, and the special award went to Walt Disney for the creation of Mickey Mouse. He received twenty-two Academy Awards and forty-eight nominations during his lifetime, holding the record for the individual with the most awards and the most nominations.

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