Sunday, January 6, 2008

23rd Academy Awards

The 23rd Academy Awards ceremony awarded oscars for the best in films in 1950, and the ceremony was held at the Pantages Theatre on March 29, 1951. The nominations were noticeable this year, as All About Eve was nominated for fourteen Oscars, beating the previous record of Gone with the Wind. Many of the nominees were in New York. They were holding a party at the La Zambra café - with which the awards ceremony set up an open-circuit broadcast line in case any of the winners were in attendance there. Best Actor winner José Ferrer actually was in New York and delivered his acceptance speech to the Hollywood audience in this manner.

All About Eve ultimately won 6 awards, including the one for Best Picture and Best Director (the second one for Mankiewicz). The film stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing, a highly regarded but aging Broadway actress. Anne Baxter plays Eve Harrington, a willingly helpful young fan who insinuates herself into Channing's life, ultimately threatening Channing's career and her personal relationships. Gary Merrill, George Sanders, Hugh Marlowe, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter also appear, and the film provided one of Marilyn Monroe's earliest important roles. Bette Davis was cast as Margo Channing only after Claudette Colbert severely injured her back and was forced to withdraw shortly before filming commenced. Davis, who had recently ended a 19-year association with Warner Brothers after several poorly received films, later commented she had read the script in one sitting and immediately accepted the role after realizing it was one of the best she had ever read. Channing had originally been conceived as genteel and knowingly humorous, but with the casting of Davis, Mankiewicz revised the character to be more abrasive. Among other actresses considered before Colbert were Mankiewicz's original inspiration, Susan Hayward, rejected by Zanuck as "too young", Marlene Dietrich, dismissed as "too German", and Gertrude Lawrence, who was ruled out of contention when her agent suggested, "Wouldn't it be nice if Gertie sat by the piano and sang?" Zanuck favored Barbara Stanwyck but she was not available. Mankiewicz praised Davis for both her professionalism and the calibre of her performance, but in later years continued to discuss how Colbert would have played the role. Anne Baxter had spent a decade in supporting roles, and had won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Razor's Edge. She got the role of Eve Harrington after the first choice, Jeanne Crain, became pregnant. Crain was at the height of her popularity and had established a career playing likable heroines; Zanuck believed she lacked the "bitch quality" required by the part, and audiences would not accept her as a deceitful character. The role of Bill Sampson was originally intended for John Garfield or Ronald Reagan. Reagan's future wife Nancy Davis was considered for Karen Richards and Jose Ferrer for Addison DeWitt. Zsa Zsa Gabor actively sought the role of Phoebe without realizing the producers were considering her, along with Angela Lansbury, for Miss Caswell (a role later given to Marilyn Monroe. Mankiewicz greatly admired Thelma Ritter, and wrote the character of Birdie Coonan for her after working with her on A Letter to Three Wives in (1949). As Coonan was the only one immediately suspicious of Eve Harrington, he was confident Ritter would contribute a shrewd characterisation casting doubt on Harrington and providing a counterpoint to the more "theatrical" personalities of the other characters. Marilyn Monroe, relatively unknown at the time, was cast as Miss Caswell, referred to by DeWitt as a "graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art". Monroe got the part despite Zanuck's initial antipathy and belief she was better suited to drama. Smaller roles were filled by Gregory Ratoff as the producer Max Fabian, Barbara Bates as Phoebe, a young fan of Eve Harrington, and Walter Hampden as the master of ceremonies at an award presentation. The final cast comprised Davis and Baxter, with Gary Merrill as Bill Sampson, Hugh Marlowe as the writer Lloyd Richards, Celeste Holm as his wife Karen, and George Sanders as the "venomous fish-wife" theatre critic, Addison DeWitt. In 2003, the character of Eve Harrington (interpreted by Anne Baxter) ranked #23 on the American Film Institute list of the 50 Best Villains of American Cinema. In 2005, the phrase, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night" (spoken by the character of Margo Channing in the film) ranked #9 on the American Film Institute list of the 100 Best Movie Quotes of American Cinema. In 2007, the film ranked #28 when the American Film Institute issued its 10th Anniversary Edition of the 100 Best American movies of all time -- a drop in 12 positions from its ranking of #16 on the original 1998 AFI list.

The Best Actor Award went to Jose Ferrer. Ferrer first became famous on Broadway in 1935. In 1940, he played his first starring role, the title role in Charley's Aunt — part of it in drag. But his next triumph was even greater, as Iago in Margaret Webster's famous 1943 Broadway production of Othello.Then, in 1946, came his greatest stage triumph, the title role in Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, a performance which won him a Tony Award, and which he would repeat throughout his career, always winning acclaim for it.Ferrer made his film debut with Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc in 1948, for which he received his first Academy Award nomination, for "Best Supporting Actor". Ferrer won an Academy Award as "Best Actor" for his portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1950 film version of Cyrano de Bergerac only weeks after being subpoenaed to appear before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee as a suspected Communist, charges that Ferrer vehemently denied. In 1952 Ferrer won a Tony Award for directing three plays (The Shrike, Stalag 17, The Fourposter) in the same season and earned another for his performance in The Shrike. Also in 1952, Ferrer portrayed French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in John Huston's Moulin Rouge , for which he was Oscar nominated for the third and last time (he spent most of the filming time on his knees). He appeared in 1953's Miss Sadie Thompson opposite Rita Hayworth, in 1954's The Caine Mutiny and the MGM musical Deep in My Heart (portraying composer Sigmund Romberg). In 1955 Ferrer directed himself in the film version of The Shrike, with June Allyson. The Cockleshell Heroes followed a year later, along with The Great Man, both of which he also directed. In 1958 Ferrer directed and appeared in I Accuse! and The High Cost of Loving. Ferrer also directed, but did not appear in, Return to Peyton Place in 1961 and also the remake of State Fair in 1962. In the midst of his film work, Ferrer would return to the stage every so often, and the most notable performance of his later career was in the dual role of Miguel de Cervantes and his fictional creation Don Quixote in the hit musical Man of La Mancha. Ferrer took over the role from Richard Kiley in 1967, and subsequently went on tour with it in the first national company of the show. Ferrer's other notable films include Otto Preminger's Whirlpool co-starring Gene Tierney in 1949, Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 (he considered this to be his finest film performance), The Greatest Story Ever Told in 1965, Ship of Fools also in 1965, Woody Allen's A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy in 1982, and Dune in 1984. Ferrer had five children with singer-actress Rosemary Clooney: Miguel was born in 1955, Maria in 1956, Gabriel in 1957, Monsita in 1958, and Rafael in 1960. Clooney was Ferrer's third wife. The two were married in 1953, divorced in 1961, and remarried in 1964, only to be divorced again in 1967. Ferrer had previously been married to famed actress and acting teacher Uta Hagen (1938-1948), by whom he had a daughter, Leticia (Lettie), and actress Phyllis Hill (1948-1953). At the time of his death, Ferrer was married to Stella Magee, whom he married in the late sixties. Ferrer was the uncle of actor George Clooney and the father-in-law of singer Debby Boone. José Ferrer died following a brief battle with colon cancer in Coral Gables, Florida at the age of 83.

Judy Holliday began her show business career in December, 1938, as part of a nightclub act called "The Revuers." It has been widely reported that when Columbia bought the rights to film Born Yesterday, studio boss Harry Cohn wouldn't consider casting the unknown (outside of Broadway) Holliday. Kanin, together with George Cukor, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, conspired to promote Holliday by offering her a key part in the 1949 film Adam's Rib. She got rave reviews and Cohn offered her the chance to repeat her part for the film version of Born Yesterday. She won the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actress beating out such formidable competitors as Gloria Swanson, who was nominated for Sunset Boulevard and Bette Davis for All About Eve. Holliday died from breast cancer, in 1965 at the age of 43. She was survived by her young son, Jonathan Oppenheim, and by her ex-husband, clarinetist and conductor David Oppenheim.

George Sanders was named Best Supporting Actor for All About Eve. He made his British film debut in 1934 and after a series of British films made his American debut in 1936 with a role in Lloyd's of London. His British accent and sensibilities, combined with his suave, snobbish and somewhat menacing air were utilised in American films during the next decade. He played supporting roles in prestige productions such as Rebecca, in which he goaded the sinister Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers, in her persecution of Joan Fontaine. He also played leading roles in lesser pictures such as Rage in Heaven. During this time he was also the lead in both The Falcon and The Saint film series. He played Lord Henry Wotton in a film version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. In 1947 he co-starred with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. In 1950 he gave his most widely recognised performance and achieved his greatest success as the acid-tongued, cold-blooded theatre critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role. Later, he provided the voice for the malevolent Shere Khan in the Walt Disney production of The Jungle Book. One of Sanders's final screen roles was in the 1972 feature film version of the popular television series Doomwatch. Sanders committed suicide in Castelldefels (a coastal town near Barcelona, Spain) with an overdose of barbiturates, leaving behind a suicide note that attributed his action to boredom.

Josephine Hull was named Best Supporting Actress. She had a successful 50-year career on stage before taking some of her best roles to film.Hull made her stage debut in stock in 1905, and after some years as a chorus girl and touring stock player, she married actor Shelley Hull (younger brother of the more well-known actor Henry Hull) in 1910. When her husband died, quite a young man, in 1919, the actress retired until 1923, when she returned under the name Josephine Hull. Hull only made five films, beginning with two 1932 Fox features, After Tomorrow (recreating her stage role) and The Careless Lady. She missed out on recreating her You Can't Take It With You role in 1938, as she was still onstage with the show (Spring Byington filled in onscreen). But Hull and Canadian-born Jean Adair did play the Brewster sisters in the 1944 film Arsenic and Old Lace (starring Cary Grant), and Hull was in the screen version of Harvey as well, playing Jimmy Stewart's sister. It is for that role that she won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Moving to The Bronx, Hull had been retired for some years before her death in 1957, aged 71, from a cerebral hemorrhage.

"Mona Lisa" is an Academy Award-winning song written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston for the film Captain Carey, U.S.A.. The soundtrack version by Nat King Cole spent 8 weeks as number 1 in the Billboard chart in the USA in 1950. Also, Cole's version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1987, it was used as the theme of the British film Mona Lisa. Various artists, including Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and Nat King Cole's daughter Natalie Cole, have released cover versions of this song.

Honorary Awards
To George Murphy for his services in interpreting the film industry to the country at large.
To Louis B. Mayer for distinguished service to the motion picture industry.
To The Walls of Malapaga (France/Italy) voted by the Board of Governors as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States in 1950.

Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award
Darryl F. Zanuck

The awards were hosted by Fred Astair. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of seventy-six years, during which he made thirty-one musical films. He is particularly associated with Ginger Rogers, with whom he made ten films. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute.


LifestyleDiva said...

Did you know that Anne Baxter got to play Margo Channing on stage in Applause, Applause decades later?

I enjoyed your blog! I'm Melissa Galt, Ms.Baxter's middle daughter.

Cheers! Melissa

tashmara said...

Thanks a lot! I knew about Applause, I think I covered that in an earlier post about Ms Baxter. If I didn't I apologize.

I am relatively new to the blogging thing but I hope what I wrote was accurate and correct. Since this is not a professional blog I hope you will enjoy many more and point out any mistakes I might have made.
Thanks again! Tammy