Thursday, January 3, 2008

20th Academy Awards

The 20th Academy Awards spread awards around, with no film receiving more than 3 awards, the last time this would happen until the 78th Academy Awards. The Awards were held at the Shrine Auditorium on March 20th 1948 and there was no official host.

Gentleman's Agreement is a 1947 film about a journalist (played by Gregory Peck) who falsely represents himself as a Jew to research anti-semitism in New York City and the affluent community of Darien, Connecticut. The movie was controversial in its time, as was a similar film on the same subject, Crossfire, which was also released the same year and also nominated for an Oscar for best picture. Gentleman's Agreement was based on Laura Z. Hobson's 1947 novel of the same name. The film won 3 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress.

Elia Kazan was born Elias Kazancıoğlu in 1909 in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey), then capital of the Ottoman Empire, to a Greek family. He became one of the most visible members of the Hollywood elite. Kazan's theater credits included acting in Men in White, Waiting for Lefty, Johnny Johnson, and Golden Boy, and directing A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), two of the plays that made Tennessee Williams a theatrical and literary force, and All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman, (1949) the plays which did much the same for Arthur Miller. He received three Tony Awards, winning for All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and J.B. Kazan's history as a film director is scarcely less noteworthy. He won two Academy Awards for Best Director, for Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954). He elicited remarkable performances from actors such as Marlon Brando and Oscar winners Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) (the film version of Tennessee Williams' play), James Dean and Oscar winner Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden (adapted from the John Steinbeck novel), and Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd. Kazan's later career was marked by his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the postwar "Red Scare", in which he "named names." Some others who named names, for a variety of reasons, included Jerome Robbins, Robert Taylor, Sterling Hayden, Leo Townsend, Burl Ives, Budd Schulberg and Lela Rogers (mother of Ginger Rogers). In 1999, Kazan received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. He was accompanied by Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro who warned the audience sotto voce not to misbehave. Robert De Niro himself had appeared in a film about the Hollywood Red Scare. While many in Hollywood who had experienced the Red Scare felt that enough time had passed that it was appropriate to bury the hatchet and recognize Kazan's great artistic accomplishments, others did not. Some Hollywood celebrities expressed outrage, and former blacklisted writer Abraham Polonsky stated that he wished Kazan would be shot onstage. Some footage from the 1999 Oscars suggests that fully three-quarters of those present in the audience gave him a standing ovation, including Lynn Redgrave, Karl Malden, Meryl Streep and the very liberal Warren Beatty (Beatty later said that he was applauding because Kazan had directed him in his first film Splendor in the Grass, but was not endorsing the decision he made). However, the footage also showed actors such as Ed Harris, Nick Nolte, Ian McKellen, Richard Dreyfuss, Amy Madigan, Ed Begley, Jr. and Holly Hunter sitting on their hands or refusing to applaud. Still others, such as Steven Spielberg and Sherry Lansing applauded politely, but did not rise. Elia Kazan was married three times. His first wife was Molly Day Thacher, playwright; married from 1932 until her death in 1963, this marriage produced two daughters and two sons. His second wife was Barbara Loden, actress; married from 1969 until her death in 1980, this marriage produced two sons. Finally, he was married to Frances Rudge from 1982 until his death in 2003 from natural causes at his home in New York. He was 94 years old.

The Best Actor Oscar went to Robert Colman. Colman had first appeared in films in England in 1917 and 1919 under Cecil Hepworth, and subsequently with the old Broadwest Film Company in The Snow of the Desert. While appearing on stage in New York in La Tendress, Director Henry King saw him, and engaged him as the leading man in the 1923 film, The White Sister, opposite Lillian Gish, and was an immediate success. Thereafter Colman virtually abandoned the stage for film. He became a very popular silent film star in both romantic and adventure films, and successfully made the transition to "talkies" because of his elegant and sonorous speaking voice. His first major talkie success was in 1930, when he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for two roles — Condemned and Bulldog Drummond. He thereafter appeared in a number of notable films including Raffles, The Masquerader, Clive of India, A Tale of Two Cities in 1935, Under Two Flags, The Prisoner of Zenda and Lost Horizon in 1937, If I Were King in 1938, and The Talk of the Town in 1941. He won the Best Actor Oscar in 1948 for A Double Life. At the time of his death, Colman was contracted by MGM for the lead role in Children of the Damned. However, Colman died and the film became a British production starring George Sanders, who had married Coleman's widow, Benita Hume.Ronald Colman died on 19 May 1958, aged 67, from a lung infection in Santa Barbara.

The Best Supporting Actor award went to Edmund Gwenn. Gwenn appeared in more than eighty films during his career, including the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice, Cheers for Miss Bishop, Of Human Bondage, and The Keys of the Kingdom. He is perhaps best remembered for his role as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Upon receiving his Oscar, he said "Now I know there is a Santa Claus!" He received a second nomination for his role in Mister 880 (1950). Near the end of his career he played one of the main roles in Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry (1955). He has a small but hugely memorable role as a Cockney assassin in another Hitchcock film, Foreign Correspondent (1940). Edmund Gwenn died from pneumonia after suffering a stroke, in Woodland Hills, California.

The surprise winner for this year was Loretta Young as Best Actress for The Farmer's Daughter despite Rosalind Russell campaigning heavily for her performance in Mourning Becomes Electra. Loretta and her sisters Polly Ann Young and Elizabeth Jane Young (screen name Sally Blane) worked as child actresses, of whom Loretta was the most successful. Young's first role was at age 3 in the silent film The Primrose Ring. The movie's star Mae Murray so fell in love with little Gretchen that she wanted to adopt her. Although her mother declined, Gretchen was allowed to live with Murray for two years. Her half-sister Georgiana (daughter of her mother and stepfather George Belzer) eventually married actor Ricardo Montalban. It wasn't until 1928 that she was first billed as "Loretta Young", in The Whip Woman. That same year she co-starred with Lon Chaney in the MGM film Laugh, Clown, Laugh. In 1930, Young, then 17, eloped with 26-year-old actor Grant Withers and married him in Yuma, Arizona. The marriage was annulled the next year, just as their second movie together (ironically titled Too Young to Marry) was released. Young made as many as seven or eight movies a year and won an Oscar in 1947 for her performance in The Farmer's Daughter. The same year she co-starred with Cary Grant and David Niven in The Bishop's Wife, a perennial favorite that still airs on television during the Christmas season and was later remade as The Preacher's Wife with Whitney Houston. In 1949, Young received another Academy Award nomination (for Come to the Stable) and in 1953 appeared in her last film, It Happens Every Thursday. In 1935, Young had an affair with Clark Gable, who was married at the time, while on location for The Call of the Wild. During their relationship, Young became pregnant. Due to the moral codes placed on the film industry Young covered up her pregnancy in order to avoid damaging her career (as well as Gable's). Returning from a long "vacation" (during which she secretly gave birth to her daughter), Young announced that she had adopted the little girl. The child was raised as "Judy Lewis" after taking the name of Young's second husband, producer Tom Lewis. Young died at 87 from ovarian cancer at the Santa Monica home of her half-sister, Georgiana Montalban.

The Best Supporting Actress went to Celeste Holm. After she starred in the Broadway production of Bloomer Girl, 20th Century Fox signed Holm to a movie contract in 1946, and in her first two years as a film actress Holm cemented herself immediately as a formidable performer, especially when she won an Oscar and Golden Globe for best supporting actress in Gentleman's Agreement. After her famous performance in All About Eve, however, Holm realized she preferred live theater to movie work, and took on very few film roles over the following decade. The most successful of these was in the 1956 musical High Society, in which she duetted with Frank Sinatra. In the 1970s and 1980s, Holm returned more fully to screen acting, with roles in films such as Tom Sawyer, Three Men and a Baby and in television series (often as a guest star) such as Columbo and Falcon Crest. Holm's first marriage was to Ralph Nelson around 1938. Their son, Ted Nelson, is the co-creator of Hypertext. Holm and her son are reportedly estranged. She married Francis E. Davies, a Roman Catholic (for whom she was received into the Roman Catholic church for the purposes of their wedding) in 1940, but they divorced shortly thereafter. From 1946 until 1952 she was married to airline executive A. Schuyler Dunning, with whom she had a second son, Daniel Dunning. Holm was married to fellow actor Wesley Addy from 1966 until his death in 1996. It was by far her longest marriage. They had no children. They played a married couple on Loving. On April 29, 2004, on her 85th (or 87th) birthday, she married 40 year old waiter and struggling opera singer, Frank Basile.

"Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" is a song from the Disney 1946 live action and animated movie Song of the South, sung by James Baskett. The music was written by Allie Wrubel, the lyrics by Ray Gilbert and was published in 1946. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. For many years the song was part of an opening theme medley for the Wonderful World of Disney television program, and it has often been used in other TV and video productions by the studio. It is one of many popular songs that use a bluebird ("Mr. bluebird on my shoulder"), epitomized by the "Bluebird of Happiness," as a symbol of cheer. James Baskett received a special Oscar for portrayal of Uncle Remus in Song of the South, which had the effect of taking him out of the running for a Best Actor nomination. Nonetheless, civil rights organizations were unhappy at what was believed to be an unflattering portrait of African-Americans. Other Honorary Awards include: William Nicholas Selig; Albert E. Smith; Thomas Armat; George K. Spoor- (One of) the small group of pioneers whose belief in a new medium, and whose contributions to its development, blazed the trail along which the motion picture has progressed, in their lifetime, from obscurity to world-wide acclaim; Bill and Coo (1948)- In which artistry and patience blended in a novel and entertaining use of the medium of motion pictures (plaque).
Sciuscià (1946)- Italy. The high quality of this Italian-made motion picture, brought to eloquent life in a country scarred by war, is proof to the world that the creative spirit can triumph over adversity.

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