Tuesday, January 8, 2008

26th Academy Awards

The 26th Academy Awards honored the best in films of 1953 and were held at the Pantages Theater on March 25, 1954. The second national telecast of the Awards show drew an estimated 43,000,000 viewers. Shirley Booth, appearing in a play in Philadelphia, presented the Best Actor award through a live broadcast cut-in, and privately received the winner's name over the telephone from co-host Donald O'Connor. (Actor Fredric March co-hosted from New York City.) Gary Cooper filmed his presentation of the Best Actress award in advance on a set in Mexico, with O'Connor announcing the winner's name.

The big winner was Fred Zinnemann's eight-Oscar winning From Here to Eternity (with thirteen nominations and eight awards including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Daniel Taradash), Best Cinematography (Burnett Guffey), Best Sound, and Best Film Editing). All five of its major actors and actresses were nominated, with secondary players Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra taking home the Oscars. The candid film was based on James Jones' controversial, best-selling novel about Army life on an Hawaiian (Oahu) military base just prior to the Pearl Harbor attack and World War II, to illustrate the conflict between an individualistic private (Montgomery Clift) and rigid institutional authority (exemplified by the Army). Its achievement of eight awards matched the all-time record held by Gone with the Wind (1939). The story encompasses groundbreaking themes of prostitution, adultery, military injustice, corruption, violence, alcohol abuse, and murder. It involves the personal lives of its main characters – an enlisted man, an unappreciated officer's wife, a prostitute and a military outcast. The major male characters wage their own battle against corruption at higher levels. Donna Reed is a bar hostess and prostitute, Lorene; British actress Deborah Kerr is an unfaithful wife, and Montgomery Clift is a former boxer and insubordinate soldier. Burt Lancaster is rugged sergeant Milt Warden.

Fred Zinnemann (April 29, 1907–March 14, 1997) was an Austrian-American fil director. He won four Academy Awards and directed classic movies like From Here to Eternity, High Noon and A Man for All Seasons. Zinnemann enjoyed an outstanding career spanning six decades, during which he directed 22 features, 19 short subjects and won four Oscars. Perhaps his best-known work is High Noon (1952), one of the first 25 American film classics chosen in 1989 for the National Film Registry. With its psychological and moral examinations of its lawman hero, played by Gary Cooper, its allegorical political commentary (on McCarthy-era witch-hunting) and its innovative chronology whereby screen time approximated the tense 80-minute countdown to the confrontational hour, High Noon shattered the mould of the formulaic shoot-‘em-up western. The director's other eminent films, all compelling dramas of lone and principled individuals tested by tragic events, include From Here to Eternity (1953); The Nun's Story (1959); A Man For All Seasons (1966); and Julia (1977). Regarded as a consummate craftsman, Zinnemann traditionally endowed his work with meticulous attention to detail, an intuitive gift for brilliant casting and a preoccupation with the moral dilemmas of his characters. Perhaps the most unusual and perversely engaging loner in Zinnemann's films is Edward Fox as the cold-blooded anti-hero assassin in the taut thriller The Day of the Jackal (1973), a man who is impelled by sheer professionalism rather than politics to try to kill French president Charles DeGaulle. He won the Academy Award for Directing for From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons and also took home the Best Picture Oscar for producing the latter film. He received his first Oscar in 1951 for the documentary short Benjy.

The Best actor award went to William Holden for Stalag 17. His first starring role was in Golden Boy (1939), in which he played a violinist turned boxer. After Columbia Pictures picked up half of his contract, he alternated between starring in several minor pictures for Paramount and Columbia before serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, where he acted in training films. Beginning in 1950, his career rebounded when Billy Wilder tapped him to star as the down-at-the-heels screenwriter Joe Gillis who is taken in by faded silent-screen star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard, for which Holden earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. Following this breakthrough film, he played a series of roles that combined good looks with cynical detachment, including a prisoner-of-war entrepreneur in Stalag 17 (1953), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, a pressured young engineer/family man in Executive Suite (1954), an acerbic playwright in The Country Girl (1954), a conflicted jet pilot in the Korean War film The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), a wandering braggart in Picnic (1955), a dashing war correspondent in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), an ill-fated prisoner in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and a WWII tug boat captain in The Key (1958). He also played a number of sunnier roles in light comedy, such as a handsome architect pursuing virginal Maggie McNamara in The Moon is Blue (1953), Judy Holliday's tutor in Born Yesterday (1950), a playwright captivated by Ginger Rogers' character in Forever Female (1953) and Humphrey Bogart's younger playboy brother in Sabrina (1954). In 1969, Holden starred in director Sam Peckinpah's graphically violent Western The Wild Bunch, winning much acclaim. Also in 1969, Holden starred in director Terrence Young's family film L'Arbre de Noel, co-starring french actress Virna Lisi, based on the novel of the same name by Michel Bataille. This film was originally released in the US as The Christmas Tree and on home video as When Wolves Cry. Five years later, he starred with Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in the blockbuster, The Towering Inferno. He was also praised for his Oscar-nominated leading performance in Sidney Lumet's Network (1976), playing an older version of the character type he had perfected in the 1950s, only now more jaded and aware of his own mortality. In 1980, Holden appeared in The Earthling with child actor Ricky Schroder, playing a loner dying of cancer who goes to the Australian outback to end his days, meets a young boy whose parents have been killed in an accident, and teaches him how to survive. Holden was married to actress Brenda Marshall from 1941 until their divorce (after many long separations) in 1971. They had two sons, Peter Westfield (born in 1944) and Scott Porter (born in 1946). He also adopted Virginia, his wife's daughter from her first marriage. William Holden died as the result of a fall in his high-rise apartment on the seaside cliffs of Santa Monica, California in November 1981.

Audrey Hepburn (May 4, 1929 - January 20, 1993), that year's winner for Best Actress, was an Anglo-Dutch film and stage actress, fashion icon, and humanitarian. In 1999, she was ranked as the third greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute. She also served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work. Her acting career started with the educational film Dutch in Seven Lessons. She then played in musical theatre in productions such as High Button Shoes and Sauce Piquante. Hepburn's first role in a motion picture was in the British film One Wild Oat in which she played a hotel receptionist. She played several more minor roles in Young Wives' Tale, Laughter in Paradise, The Lavender Hill Mob, and Monte Carlo Baby. During the filming of Monte Carlo Baby Hepburn was chosen to play the lead character in the Broadway play Gigi that opened on 24 November 1951 at the Fulton Theatre and ran for 219 performances. Her first significant film performance was in the 1952 film Secret People, in which she played a prodigy ballerina. Naturally, Hepburn did all of her own dancing scenes. Hepburn's first starring role and first American film was opposite Gregory Peck in the Hollywood motion picture Roman Holiday. After Roman Holiday, she filmed Billy Wilder's Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. In 1954, Audrey went back to the stage to play the water sprite in Ondine in a performance with Mel Ferrer, whom she would wed later that year. During the run of the play, Hepburn was awarded the Golden Globe for "Best Motion Picture Actress" and the Academy Award, both for Roman Holiday. Six weeks after receiving the Oscar, Hepburn was awarded the Tony Award for Best Actress for Ondine. Hepburn is one of only three actresses to receive a Best Actress Oscar and Best Actress Tony in the same year (the other two being Shirley Booth and Ellen Burstyn). Having become one of Hollywood's most popular box-office attractions, Audrey Hepburn co-starred with major actors such as Humphrey Bogart in Sabrina, Henry Fonda and Sir John Mills in War and Peace, Fred Astaire in Funny Face, Maurice Chevalier and Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon, Anthony Perkins in Green Mansions, Burt Lancaster and Lillian Gish in The Unforgiven, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner in The Children's Hour, George Peppard and Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Cary Grant and Walter Matthau in the critically acclaimed hit Charade, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, Peter O'Toole in How to Steal a Million, and Sean Connery in Robin and Marian. Many of her leading men became very close to her. Hepburn married twice, first to American actor Mel Ferrer, and then to an Italian doctor, Andrea Dotti. She had a son with each— Sean in 1960 by Ferrer, and Luca in 1970 by Dotti. In 1992, when Hepburn returned to Switzerland from her visit to Somalia, she began to feel abdominal pains. She went to specialists and received inconclusive results, so she decided to have it examined while on a trip to Los Angeles in October. On November 1, doctors conducted a laparoscopy surgery and discovered abdominal cancer that had spread from her appendix. Audrey Hepburn died of the cancer on January 20 1993 , in Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland, and was interred there. She was sixty-three. She won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Actress for Roman Holiday. She was nominated for Best Actress four more times; for Sabrina, The Nun's Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Wait Until Dark. She was not nominated for her performance as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, one of her most acclaimed performances. For her 1967 nomination, the Academy chose her performance in Wait Until Dark over her critically acclaimed performance in Two for the Road. She lost to Katharine Hepburn (in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner). Audrey Hepburn was one of the few people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award.

The Best Supporting Actor award went to Frank Sinatra. Beginning his musical career in the swing era with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra became a solo artist with great success in the early to mid-1940s, being the idol of the "bobby soxers". His professional career had stalled by the 1950s, but it was reborn in 1954 after he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Despite failing to obtain the role of Sky Masterson, Sinatra co-starred with Marlon Brando in the hugely popular and successful Guys and Dolls, which was the highest grossing film of 1955. It was during these years in Hollywood that Sinatra would associate with Humphrey Bogart's "Holmby Hills Rat Pack", a group of actors — including Lauren Bacall, David Niven and Judy Garland — who had grown dissatisfied with the studio system. By this time Sinatra had become close to the Kennedy family and was a friend and strong supporter of the soon-to-be President John F. Kennedy. Following hot on the heels of Can Can was Ocean's 11, the film that would become the definitive on-screen outing for "The Rat Pack". In 1962, Sinatra resumed his strong film work in John Frankenheimer's classic thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Here, Sinatra gave one of his finest acting performances, playing the disturbed Major Bennett Marco, whose recurring nightmares about events during the Korean War lead him on a quest to find the meaning behind what's going on in his mind. Widely hailed as a masterpiece, The Manchurian Candidate featured career-best performances from both Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury, in a film with dark comic undertones, shades of noir and a cutting satirical edge that made it one of the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Films. In 1965, Sinatra made his directorial debut with the anti-war film None But The Brave. In April 1971, Sinatra was awarded his third Academy Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, for his humanitarian and charitable efforts. After suffering another heart attack, Frank Sinatra died at 10:50 pm on May 14, 1998, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with wife Barbara and daughter Nancy by his side. Sinatra's final words were "I'm losing." He was 82. The next night the lights on the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor. Sinatra had three children; Nancy, Frank Jr. and Tina by his first wife Nancy Barbato. He was married three more times, to the actresses Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow and finally to Barbara Marx, to whom he was married at his death.

The Best Supporting Actress Oscar went to Dona Reed. Reed is probably best remembered for her roles as the wholesome housewife "Donna Stone" on television's The Donna Reed Show and as "Mary Bailey" in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). However, she occasionally stepped outside that image: early in her career, she posed topless for a series of cheesecake glamour photographs and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing a prostitute in From Here to Eternity(1953). Donna Reed was the mother of four children with husband Tony Owen, two of whom the couple adopted at The Cradle in Evanston, Illinois. In her later years she temporarily replaced an ailing Barbara Bel Geddes as "Miss Ellie" in the television series Dallas in the 1984-1985 season. When Bel Geddes was well enough to return to the role, Reed was fired. She sued the show's production company and received an undisclosed seven-figure settlement, but this settlement came shortly before her death from cancer. She died, aged 64, in Beverly Hills, California from pancreatic cancer.

Walt Disney achieved a milestone in the 1954 awards ceremony - as the individual with the most Oscar wins in a single year. He won the award in four awards categories: Best Cartoon Short Subject: Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953), Best Documentary Short Subject: The Alaskan Eskimo (1953), Best Documentary Feature: The Living Desert (1953), and Best Two-Reel Short Subject: Bear Country (1953). "Secret Love" is a popular song written in 1953 with music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Its first performance was in the film Calamity Jane by Doris Day. It received an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Doris Day also recorded the best-selling record of the song, which reached #1 on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts in 1954.

Honorary Awards
20th Century-Fox Film Corp.- In recognition of their imagination, showmanship and foresight in introducing the revolutionary process known as CinemaScope.
Bell and Howell Co.- For their pioneering and basic achievements in the advancement of the motion picture industry.
Joseph Breen - For his conscientious, open-minded and dignified management of the Motion Picture Production Code.
Pete Smith - For his witty and pungent observations on the American scene in his series of "Pete Smith Specialties".

The Irving G Thalberg Memorial Award
George Stevens

The awards were co-hosted by Fredric March and Donald O’Connor, an American dancer, singer, and actor who came to fame in a series of movies in which he co-starred alternately with Gloria Jean, Peggy Ryan, and Francis the Talking Mule. Perhaps his most famous performance was as Gene Kelly's sidekick in the musical Singin’ in the Rain (1952).O'Connor died from congestive heart failure on September 27, 2003 at the age of 78. Among his last words, he is reported to have expressed tongue-in-cheek thanks for the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement that he expected to win at some future date. He left behind his wife, of over 40 years, Gloria, and four children.

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