Wednesday, January 2, 2008

18th Academy Awards

The 18th Academy Awards was the first such ceremony after World War II. As a result, the ceremony featured more glamour than had been present during the war. Plaster statuettes that had been given out during the war years were replaced with bronze statuettes with gold plate.
Bing Crosby was nominated for a second time for playing Father O’Malley, this time in The Bells of St. Mary's. (He had won the year before in Going My Way.) He did not win in the second time nomination. The awards were held at The Grauman's Chinese Theater for the last time on March 7th 1946 and were co-hosted by Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart.

The winner of the year was the movie The Lost Weekend, directed by Billy Wilder for Paramount Pictures, starring Ray Milland, Jane Wyman and Phillip Terry. The film was based on a novel of the same title by Charles R. Jackson about a writer who drinks heavily out of frustration over the accusation that he had an affair with one of his buddies while in college. The reference to the gay affair is removed in the film, and the main character's descent into an alcoholic binge is blamed on writer's block. It was one of the first film scores to use the theremin a musical instrument, which was used to create the pathos of the disease of alcoholism. This movie also made famous the "character walking toward the camera as neon signs pass by" camera effect. It tells the story of an alcoholic, Milland, on a weekend bender. While on his bender he stops in at his favorite watering stop - Nat's Bar on Third Avenue, based on the legendary P. J. Clarke's. There he seeks companionship in his drinking with congenial bartender Nat (Howard da Silva). As the weekend continues, Milland drifts deeper and deeper into his living nightmare, committing crimes and even spending time in a mental ward. The movie won 4 Oscars including the one for Best Director for Billy Wilder, his first.

Billy Wilder was an Austrian-born, Jewish-American journalist, screenwriter, film director, and producer whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age. Many of Wilder's films achieved both critical and public acclaim. After arriving in Hollywood in 1933, Wilder shared an apartment with fellow émigré Peter Lorre, and continued his career as a screenwriter. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1934. Wilder's first significant success was Ninotchka, a collaboration with fellow German immigrant Ernst Lubitsch. Released in 1939, this screwball comedy starred Greta Garbo (generally known as a tragic heroine in film melodramas), and was popularly and critically acclaimed. The film also marked Wilder's first Academy Award nomination, which he shared with co-writer Charles Brackett. For twelve years Wilder co-wrote many of his films with Brackett, from 1938 through 1950. He followed Ninotchka with a series of box office hits in 1942, including his Hold Back the Dawn and Ball of Fire, as well as his directorial feature debut, The Major and the Minor. Wilder established his directorial reputation after helming Double Indemnity (1944), an early film noir he co-wrote with mystery novelist Raymond Chandler, with whom he did not get along. Double Indemnity not only set conventions for the noir genre (such as "venetian blind" lighting and voice-over narration), but was also a landmark in the battle against Hollywood censorship. Two years later, Wilder earned the Best Director and Best Screenplay Academy Awards for the adaptation of a Charles R. Jackson story The Lost Weekend. This was the first major American film to make a serious examination of alcoholism. Another dark and cynical film Wilder cowrote and directed was the critically acclaimed Sunset Boulevard in 1950, which paired rising star William Holden with Gloria Swanson. Swanson played Norma Desmond, a reclusive silent film star who dreams of a comeback; Holden is an aspiring screenwriter and becomes a kept man. Wilder followed up Sunset Boulevard with the remarkably cynical Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival), a tale of media exploitation of a mining accident. It was a critical and commercial failure, but its reputation has grown over the years. In the fifties, Wilder also directed two vibrant adaptations of Broadway plays, the POW drama Stalag 17 (1953), which resulted in a Best Actor Oscar for William Holden, and the Agatha Christie mystery Witness for the Prosecution (1957). In 1959 Wilder introduced crossdressing to American film audiences with Some Like It Hot. In this comedy Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play musicians on the run from a Chicago gang, who disguise themselves as women and become romantically involved with Marilyn Monroe and Joe E. Brown. From the mid-1950s on, Wilder made mostly comedies. Among the classics Wilder produced in this period are the farces The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959), satires such as The Apartment (1960), and the romantic comedy Sabrina (1954). Wilder's humor is cynical and sometimes sardonic. In Love in the Afternoon (1957), a young and innocent Audrey Hepburn who doesn't want to be young or innocent wins playboy Gary Cooper by pretending to be a married woman in search of extramarital amusement. Even Wilder's warmest comedy, The Apartment, features an attempted suicide on Christmas Eve. After winning three Academy Awards for 1960s The Apartment (for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay), Wilder's career slowed. His Cold War farce One, Two, Three (1961) featured a rousing comic performance by James Cagney, but was followed by the lesser films Irma la Douce and Kiss Me, Stupid. Wilder garnered his last Oscar nomination for his screenplay The Fortune Cookie in 1966.In 1988, Wilder was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Billy Wilder died in 2002 of pneumonia at the age of 95 after battling health problems, including cancer. The AFI has ranked four of Wilder's films among their top 100 American films of the twentieth century. These are: Sunset Boulevard (no. 12), Some Like It Hot (14), Double Indemnity (38), and The Apartment (93).

The Best Actor award went to Ray Milland also for his role in The Lost Weekend. It was the pinnacle of Milland's career and acknowledgement of his serious dramatic abilities. In 1951 he gave a heart-breaking performance in Close to my Heart starring opposite Gene Tierney as a couple trying to adopt a child; the film was ahead of its time in dealing with the "nature vs. nurture" debate, it opened a conversation about the adoption process. In 1954 he starred opposite Grace Kelly in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. However, Milland failed to match his success in later years. He concentrated on directing for TV and film in the 1960s, in which he achieved some success. He returned as a movie character actor in the late 60s and the 70s, notably in the cult classic Daughter of The Mind (1969), in which he was reunited with Gene Tierney, and in Love Story (1970). He also made many television appearances. Milland gave the shortest acceptance speech of any Oscar winner: he simply bowed and left the stage. He died of lung cancer in Torrance, California in 1986, aged 79. He was survived by his wife and children.

The Best Supporting Actor award went to James Dunn. Dunn started his entertainment career in vaudeville before progressing to films in the early 1930s. He made a strong first impression with his early roles, including Society Girl (1932) with Peggy Shannon and Hello, Sister! (1933) with Boots Mallory and ZaSu Pitts. Dunn's other early successes included Bad Girl (1931), Change of Heart(1933) with Janet Gaynor, and three Shirley Temple films, Baby Take a Bow, Stand Up and Cheer, and Bright Eyes (all 1934). The roles that followed did nothing to further his career, and during the late 1930s his prospects were further diminished by a battle with alcoholism. In 1945 his performance in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Ironically, he played an alcoholic in that movie. His success was short lived and by the beginning of the 1950s, he was unemployed, bankrupt, and once again depending on alcohol. He appeared in the sitcom It's A Great Life from 1954 until 1956. He was married to the actress Frances Gifford from 1938 until 1942. He died as a result of complications following stomach surgery in Santa Monica.

The Best Actress award went to Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce. The American Film Institute named Crawford among the Greatest Female Stars of All Time, ranking her at number 10. Starting as a dancer, Crawford was signed to a motion picture contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in 1925 and played in small parts. By the end of the '20s, as her popularity grew, she became famous as a youthful flapper. At the beginning of the 1930s, Crawford's fame rivaled that of fellow MGM colleagues Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo. She was often cast in movies in which she played hardworking young women who eventually found romance and financial success. These "rags to riches" stories were well-received by Depression-era audiences. Women, particularly, seemed to identify with her characters' struggles. By the end of the decade, Crawford remained one of Hollywood's most prominent movie stars, and one of the highest paid women in the U.S. Moving to Warner Bros. in 1943, Crawford won an Academy Award for her performance in Mildred Pierce and achieved some of the best reviews of her career in the following years. In 1955, she became involved with PepsiCo, the company run by her last husband, Alfred Steele. Crawford was elected to fill his vacancy on the board of directors after his death in 1959, but was forcibly retired in 1973. She continued acting regularly into the 1960s, when her performances became fewer, and retired from the screen in 1970 after the release of the horror film Trog. During the early 1930s, Crawford modified her image to better fit the hard-scrabble conditions of Depression-era America. In this new role, she played a glamorized version of the working girl who relied on her intelligence, looks and sheer determination to get ahead in life. This persona was fully realized in Possessed (1931), where Crawford was teamed with Clark Gable. During production, the two stars began an affair that resulted in an ultimatum from studio chief Louis B. Mayer to Gable that the affair end. Gable chose his career over the relationship, although their affair would resume spasmodically and secretly for many years. Upon release, Possessed was an enormous hit. An indication of Crawford's superstar-status was the studio's decision to cast her in its most prestigious movie of 1932, the all-star extravaganza, Grand Hotel. Upon leaving MGM, Crawford signed with Warner Bros. for $500,000 for three movies and was placed on the payroll on July 1, 1943. She appeared as herself in the star-studded production Hollywood Canteen (1944). She was also cast in the title role of Mildred Pierce (1945), in which she played opposite Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth and Butterfly McQueen. Director Michael Curtiz and producer Jerry Wald developed the property from the popular James M. Cain novel, which was adapted for the screen by Ranald MacDougall. Crawford was not, in fact, first choice for the role of Mildred Pierce, even though it would become the defining role of her career. Bette Davis was the studio's first choice and was offered first refusal. Davis turned the role down, as she did not want to play the mother of a 17-year-old daughter - Ann Blyth. Curtiz also didn't want Crawford. His first choice was Barbara Stanwyck, following her success in Double Indemnity (film) (1944). Curtiz only agreed to Crawford being cast as Mildred Pierce after she took a voluntary screen test to prove her suitability for the part, during which she had to endure Curtiz bellowing at her down his megaphone. Joan Crawford was not present at the awards ceremony and feigned ill that night. Meanwhile she listened to the show on the radio. When she won, she ushered the press into her bedroom, where she finally accepted her Oscar. After filming This Woman Is Dangerous (1952), Crawford asked to be released from her Warner Bros. contract. As she had done so before, Crawford triumphed as Myra Hudson in Sudden Fear (1952) at RKO, which was also the movie that introduced her co-star, Jack Palance, to the screen and earned Crawford a third and final Oscar nomination for Best Actress. After her triumph in RKO's Sudden Fear (1952), Crawford continued to star in films that ranged from the cult western Johnny Guitar (1954) to the drama Autumn Leaves (1956), opposite a young Cliff Robertson. By the early 1960s, however, Crawford's status in motion pictures had diminished significantly. Crawford's career rebounded when she accepted the role of "Blanche Hudson" in the highly successful thriller, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962), directed by Robert Aldrich. She played the part of a physically disabled woman, a former A-list movie star in conflict with her psychotic sister. Despite the actresses' earlier tensions, Crawford suggested Bette Davis for the role of Jane. The movie was completed and became a blockbuster. In 1929, at the time she wed Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Crawford purchased a mansion at 426 North Bristol Avenue in Brentwood, located midway between Beverly Hills and the Pacific Ocean. The home would be her primary residence for the next 26 years.Crawford had four confirmed husbands: actors Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (married June 3, 1929 in New York-divorced 1933); Franchot Tone (married October 11, 1935 in New Jersey-divorced 1939); Phillip Terry (married July 21, 1942 at Hidden Valley Ranch in Ventura County, California-divorced 1946); and Pepsi-Cola president Alfred N. Steele (married May 10, 1955 in Las Vegas, Nevada-his death 1959). A rumored first marriage to musician James Welton (married 1923-divorced 1924) has never been confirmed. Crawford moved to a lavish penthouse apartment at 2 East 70th St. with her last husband, Alfred Steele. He died there on April 19, 1959. Crawford then sold her Brentwood mansion and stayed in New York, moving to a smaller apartment, number 22-G in the Imperial House. She later moved to a smaller apartment in the same building (Apt.# 22-H) where she died, aged 72. She kept a small apartment in Los Angeles for her frequent trips there. Crawford was well-known for her relationship with her fans, often sending thousands of handwritten replies to fan letters each month. She also worked tirelessly with her official fan club, which disappeared after her death. It was re-established in 2007. Crawford adopted five children, though she raised only four. The first was Christina (born June 11, 1939), whom Crawford adopted in 1940 while a single, divorced woman. The second was a boy she named Christopher (born April 1941), whom Crawford adopted in June of that year. In 1942, his biological mother discovered his whereabouts and reclaimed the child as her own. The third child was Christopher Terry (born 1943). Crawford and Philip Terry adopted him that same year, and he remained her son, as Christopher Crawford, after she and Terry divorced. According to Christina, Crawford had changed this second birth date to October 15 because she was afraid he would also be taken away. He died of cancer on September 22, 2006 in Greenport, New York. The fourth and fifth children were twin girls Cynthia "Cindy" Crawford and Cathy Crawford (both born January 13, 1947). Crawford adopted them in June of that year, while she was a single, divorced woman. They were twins born in Dyersburg, Tennessee, to an unwed mother who died seven days after their birth. They said that Crawford was afraid their biological parents might try to get them back and would therefore say they were not twins. Their version is consistent with newspaper reports at the time of their adoption. Shortly after Crawford's death, the eldest of her four children, Christina, published a bestseller exposé entitled, Mommie Dearest, which contained allegations that Crawford was emotionally and physically abusive to her and her brother Christopher. Though many of Crawford's friends, as well as her other two daughters, harshly criticized and disputed the book's claims, other friends of her mother supported the abuse claims made in the book, and her reputation was severely tarnished. The book was later made into a movie, also entitled, Mommie Dearest, starring Faye Dunaway as Crawford. Her last public appearance was September 23, 1974, at a party honoring her old friend Rosalind Russell at New York's Rainbow Room. On May 8, 1977, Crawford gave away her beloved Shih Tzu "Princess Lotus Blossom," which signaled to her close friends that the end was near. Crawford died two days later at her New York apartment from a heart attack, while also ill with pancreatic cancer.

The Best Supporting Actress award went to Anne Revere for her role in National Velvet. She made her film debut in the 1934 film version of the latter, and she quickly established herself as a character actress, specialising in worldly wise but frequently sharp tongued supporting roles. She received Oscar nominations as Best Supporting Actress for her world-weary yet sympathetic roles as a blue-class working mother in three roles in the 1940s - as the mother of Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette (1943), Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (1944) for which she won the award as a woman who had swum the English Channel as a teenager, and as the mother of Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement (1947). She had previously worked with Peck on the 1944 film, The Keys of the Kingdom, in which she appeared as a Protestant missionary. Her last role of note was as the mother of Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun (1951), before her career was destroyed by the McCarthy-era witchhunts. Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Revere pleaded the Fifth Amendment and she was blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studio bosses and her career ruined. In her later years, she appeared in roles in television before her death from pneumonia in Locust Valley, New York. Among her soap opera roles were roles on The Edge of Night, Search for Tomorrow, and Ryan's Hope.

"It Might as Well Be Spring" is a song from the 1945 film State Fair. With music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year. State Fair was the only original film score by Rodgers and Hammerstein. In the film the song was sung by Jeanne Crain, who played Margy Frake. Dick Haymes, the original Wayne Frake, made the first hit recording of the song, followed by another hit recording in the mid-Sixties by Frank Sinatra. The recording by Dick Haymes was released by Decca Records as catalog number 18706. It first reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on November 8, 1945 and lasted 12 weeks on the chart, peaking at #5. It was the flip side of "That's for Me," another top-10 best seller. Other contemporary recordings were made by the Sammy Kaye orchestra and the Paul Weston orchestra (with vocals by Margaret Whiting).

The Honorary Awards went to:
Daniel J. Bloomberg; Republic Studio; Republic Sound Department- For the building of an outstanding musical scoring auditorium which provides optimum recording conditions and combines all elements of acoustic and engineering design (certificate).
Walter Wanger- For his six years service as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (special plaque).
House I Live In, The (1945) - Frank Ross (I); Mervyn LeRoy; Albert Maltz; Earl Robinson (I); Lewis Allen (II); Frank Sinatra- For tolerance short subject; produced by Frank Ross and Mervyn LeRoy; directed by Mervyn LeRoy; screenplay by Albert Maltz; song "The House I Live In" music by Earl Robinson, lyrics by Lewis Allen; starring Frank Sinatra; released by RKO Radio.
The Juvenile Award was awarded to:
Peggy Ann Garner- For the outstanding child actress of 1945.

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