Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fourth Academy Awards

These awards were given for the movies completed and screened in 1930/1931. The ceremony took place in the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Best picture award went to Cimarron, based on the Edna Ferber novel of the same name. Despite America being in the depths of the Depression, RKO immediately prepared for a big-budget picture, investing more than 1.5 million dollars into Ferber's novel. Director Wesley Ruggles would direct stars Richard Dix and Irene Dunne with a script written by Howard Estabrook. Filming began in the summer of 1930 at the Jasmin Quinn Ranch outside of Los Angeles. The film was a massive production: more than 5,000 extras, twenty-eight cameramen, and numerous camera assistants and photographers were used to capture scenes of wagons racing across grassy hills and prairie. Despite being a critical success, the high budget and ongoing Great Depression combined against the film. While it was a commercial success in line with other films of the day, RKO could not recoup their investment. Cimarron took high honorsin that year's Awards. Besides the best picture award (producer William LeBaron), it won the awards for Best Art Direction (set decorator Max Ree) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Howard Estabrook). The film was also nominated for Best Actor (Richard Dix), Best Actress (Irene Dunne), Best Cinematography (Edward Cronjager), and Best Director (Wesley Ruggles). A special award for make-up was given to Ern Westmore for his work on the film, as well.

The Best actor award went though to Lionel Barrymore for his role in A Free Soul. A member of a family of actors Barrymore was the brother of Ethel and John Barrymore, the uncle of John Drew Barrymore, and the grand-uncle of Drew Barrymore. He was married to actresses Doris Rankin and Irene Fenwick. In 1907, after spending many years in Paris, he came back to Broadway, where he established his reputation as dramatic actor. In 1924, he left Broadway for Hollywood. In 1931, he won an Academy Award for his role of an alcoholic lawyer in A Free Soul (1931), after having been nominated in 1930 for Best Director for Madame X. Although he could play many types of characters he was stereotyped as grouchy, but usually sweet, elderly men in such films as The Mysterious Island (1929), Grand Hotel (1932, with John), Dinner at Eight (1933, the film also featured brother John, but they had no scenes together), Captains Courageous (1937), You Can't Take It with You (1938), Duel in the Sun (1946), and Key Largo (1948). Barrymore died on November 15, 1954 from a heart attack aged 76.

The Best actress award was won by Marie Dressler for her role in Min and Bill. Canadian born, at 14 years old she began her acting career in theatre. During the early 1900s, she became a major vaudeville star. In 1902, she met fellow Canadian, Mack Sennett, and helped him get a job in the theater. After Sennett became the owner of his namesake motion picture studio, he convinced Dressler to star in his highly successful 1914 film Tillie's Punctured Romance opposite Sennett’s newly discovered actor, Charlie Chaplin. Dressler appeared in two more "Tillie" sequels plus other comedies until 1918 when she returned to work in vaudeville. In 1927, she had been secretly blacklisted by the theater production companies due to her strong stance in a labor dispute. It would turn out to be another Canadian who gave her the opportunity to return to motion pictures, MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer. Dressler yet again found herself in demand, due to the arrival of talkies and the need for stage trained performers. After several forgettable supporting roles in unsuccessful talkies, Frances Marion, an MGM screenwriter, and personal friend of Irving Thalberg, came to the rescue. Dressler had shown great kindness to Marion during the filming of Tillie Wakes Up back in 1917, and in return, Marion used her influence over Thalberg to get Dressler a number of supporting roles. She was then established as a funny supporting woman. Marion persuaded Thalberg to give Dressler the role of Marthy in Anna Christie, the old harridan who welcomes Greta Garbo home after the search for her father. Garbo was impressed by Dressler's acting ability, so were the critics, and so was MGM, who quickly signed Dressler to a five-hundred dollar-a-week contract. A robust, full-bodied woman of very plain features, Marie Dressler’s ensuing comedy films were very popular with the movie-going public and an equally lucrative investment for MGM. Although past sixty years of age, she quickly became Hollywood’s number one box office attraction and stayed on top until her death. For her starring portrayal in Min and Bill, co-starring Wallace Beery, she won the 1931 Academy Award for Best Actress. Dressler was nominated again for Best Actress for her 1932 role as Emma. Dressler followed these successes with more hits in 1933 (like the comedy Dinner at Eight, in which she played an aging and poor former stage actress) and made the cover of the August 7, 1933 issue of Time magazine. However, her career came to an abrupt end when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She died aged 65 in Sanata Barbara, California in 1934.

The Best Director award went to Norman Taurog for the movie Skippy as the youngest director to win that award, 32. He was later nominated for Best Director for his 1938 film, Boys Town. It could be said that Norman Taurog had five chapters to his career. His first was a child performer on the stage from an early age. By the time he re-entered the movies he had entered the second chapter, making the transition to director. He made his breakthrough, directing Skippy, and Taurog's nephew Jackie Cooper was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. The next few years saw Taurog enter the third chapter of his career, as an established director who could work in a number of genres. He directed a series of well-received films: the adventures of Tom Sawyer, Boys Town, and then a series of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movies, setting the scene for the fifth chapter of his career. In 1960 he directed G.I.Blues with Elvis Presley and would do it again over the next 8 years in - Blue Hawaii, 1961, Girls! Girls! Girls!, 1962, It Happened at the World Fair, 1963, Tickle Me, 1965, Spinout, 1964, Double Trouble, 1967, Speedway, 1968 and Live a Little, Love a Little, 1968. This was the end of Taurog's career as in 1969 he went blind. He died in 1981 aged 82.

The awards were hosted by Lawrence Grant, an English actor remembered for supporting roles in various movies but is recognized more for hosting the Oscars.

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