Monday, January 14, 2008

34th Academy Awards

The 34th Academy Awards, honoring the best in film for 1961, were held on April 9, 1962 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California. They were hosted by Bob Hope; this was the seventh time Hope hosted the Oscars. An habitual gate-crasher managed to get past the 125 security guards and went on stage to present him with a home-made Oscar. For the first time in Oscar history, the show lasted longer than two hours.

The Best Picture winner of the year was West Side Story, a 1961 film directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. It is an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name, loosely adapted from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It stars Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn, Richard Beymer, and Tony Mordente, and was photographed by Daniel L. Fapp, A.S.C. in Super Panavision 70. The action was filmed largely in Los Angeles on sets designed by Boris Leven, although the film's opening sequence was shot on the streets of New York City, mainly in the area where the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham University now stands. It received praise from critics and the public and became the second highest grossing film of the year, domestically. The film won ten Academy Awards in its eleven nominated categories as well as a special award for Robbins, including Best Picture. The soundtrack album made more money than any other album before it.Jerome Robbins, who had directed the stage version, was responsible for planning and directing all music and dance sequences in the film, as well as all the fight scenes. When approximately 60% of principal photography was complete, the producers became concerned that the production was over-budget and Robbins was fired. His final contribution before leaving the film was to write out the staging for the rumble. The film ranked #41 on American Film Institute's list of greatest American movies, #2 on its list of best musicals and #3 on its list of the best romantic American movies. On the list of the greatest songs from American movies, "Tonight" ranked #59, "America" ranked #35, and "Somewhere" ranked #20. The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1997.

Through a Glass Darkly is a 1961 Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, and produced by Allan Ekelund. The film is a three-act “chamber film,” in which four family members act as mirrors for each other. It is the first of many Bergman films to be shot on the island of Fårö. It was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for 1961.

The Best Director went to Robert Wise and Jerrome Robins for West Side Story. Jerome Robbins was an American Academy Award winning film director and choreographer whose work has included everything from classical ballet to contemporary musical theater. Among the numerous stage productions he worked on were On the Town, High Button Shoes, The King And I, The Pajama Game, Bells Are Ringing, West Side Story, Gypsy: A Musical Fable and Fiddler on the Roof. Robbins collaborated with George Abbott on The Pajama Game (1954), which launched the career of Shirley MacLaine, worked on the 1955 Mary Martin vehicle, Peter Pan (recreated for the small screen in 1955, 1956 and 1960) and directed and co-choreographed (with Bob Fosse) Bells Are Ringing (1956), starring Judy Holliday. In 1957, he conceived, choreographed and directed a show that some feel is his crowning achievement: West Side Story. West Side Story is a modern-day (for 1957) version of Romeo and Juliet, set in Hell's Kitchen. The musical marked the first collaboration between Robbins and Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics. The two, along with book writer Arthur Laurents and composer Leonard Bernstein, worked well together, only disagreeing on minor issues such as whether the lead character Maria should die. To help the young cast grow into their roles, Robbins did not allow those playing members of opposite gangs (Jets and Sharks) to mix during the rehearsal process. The original Broadway production featured Carol Lawrence as Maria, Larry Kert as Tony and Chita Rivera as Anita.On screen, Robbins recreated his stage dances for The King and I (1956) and shared the Best Director Oscar with Robert Wise for the film version of West Side Story (1961). In fact, Robbins was one of only six directors who won the Academy Award for Best Director for a film debut. That same year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored him with a special award for his choreographic achievements on film.

Robert Wise directed many famous films such as The Sand Pebbles, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, The Hindenburg, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Run Silent, Run Deep, The Andromeda Strain, The Set-Up, The Haunting, and The Body Snatcher. Wise's working period spanned the 1930s to the 1990s. In the 1950s, Wise proved adept in several genres, from the science fiction of The Day the Earth Stood Still to the melodramatic So Big, to Susan Hayward's Oscar winner in I Want to Live!, for which he was nominated for Best Director. In 1961, teamed with Jerome Robbins, he won the Academy Award for Best Director for West Side Story, which he also produced. He repeated this achievement in 1965 with The Sound of Music. In the 1970s he directed such films as The Andromeda Strain, The Hindenburg, the horror film Audrey Rose, and the first Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In 1989 he directed Rooftops, his last theatrical feature film.Wise was a past president of both the Directors Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. After suffering a heart attack at home, Wise was rushed to UCLA Medical Center, where he died from heart failure. He died on 14 September 2005, four days after his birthday.

The Best Actor award went to Austrian actor Maximillian Schell for his role in The Judgement at Nuremberg. Schell made his Hollywood debut in 1958 in the World War II film The Young Lions. In 1961, he took the role of the defense attorney in Judgment at Nuremberg, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, a role he had initiated in a live television performance. Year 1974's The Pedestrian, which Schell wrote, produced, directed, and starred in, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Schell has refused to be typecast. Although he was top billed in a number of Nazi-era themed films as The Man in the Glass Booth, A Bridge Too Far, Cross of Iron, The Odessa File, Julia, and Judgment at Nuremberg, he has also appeared in Topkapi, The Black Hole, The Freshman, Stalin, Deep Impact, Candles in the Dark, and Erste Liebe. Since the 1990s, Schell has appeared in many German language made-for-TV films. In addition to his international film career, Schell has been active as director, writer and actor in European theatre, making his stage debut in 1952, three years before his first cinematic role. In the mid 1960s, Schell reportedly was engaged to marry the African American fashion model Donyale Luna, though the wedding never happened. He did marry famous Russian actress Natalia Andreichenko, whom he met on the set of Peter the Great. They have one daughter, Anastasia Schell, born in 1989.

The Best Actress award went to Sophia Loren for her role in the italian movie Two Women or La Ciociara. In 1949, at age 15, Loren left for Rome and about a year later began her film career with bit parts in mostly minor Italian films. In 1950 she was among the contestants of the Miss Italia beauty pageant, earning the 2nd place behind the winner Anna Maria Bugliari. In 1951, Loren and her mother worked as extras in Quo Vadis, which was being filmed in Rome and provided Loren with an early brush with Hollywood. She also appeared in the title role of the movie Aida (1953), in which the singing of Loren's character was dubbed by opera star Renata Tebaldi, and caught the eye of Cecil B. DeMille,Loren was discovered by her future husband, the much older and already-married film producer Carlo Ponti, and they wed on September 17, 1957, three days before her 23rd birthday. Their first marriage had to be annulled in order to keep Ponti from being charged with bigamy. The couple remarried on April 9, 1966, but only after Sophia, Ponti, and Ponti's first wife all obtained French citizenship, thus enabling Carlo to divorce his first wife and marry Sophia in France, where, at the time, Catholic doctrines regarding divorce did not prevent legal civil marriage. The couple eventually had two sons together, Carlo Ponti, Jr., and Edoardo Ponti. The couple remained together until Ponti's death on January 9, 2007.By the late 1950s, Loren's star had begun to rise in Hollywood, with films such as 1957's Boy on a Dolphin and The Pride and the Passion in which she co-starred with Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. Loren became an international film star with a five-picture contract with Paramount Studios. Among her films at this time: Desire Under the Elms with Anthony Perkins, based upon the Eugene O'Neill play; Houseboat, a romantic comedy co-starring Cary Grant; and George Cukor's Heller in Pink Tights in which she appeared with blonde hair (a wig) for the first time. Loren demonstrated considerable dramatic skills and attracted respect as a dramatic and comedic actress, especially in Italian projects where she could express herself more freely, although she acquired great proficiency in English. In 1960, her acclaimed performance in Vittorio De Sica's Two Women earned many awards, including the Cannes, Venice and Berlin Film Festivals' best performance prizes. Her performance was also awarded an Academy Award for Best Actress, the first major Academy Award for a non-English-language performance. Initially, the stark, gritty story of a mother and daughter surviving in war-torn Italy was to cast Anna Magnani as Sophia's mother. Negotiations, perhaps due to billing, broke down and the screenplay was rewritten to make Sophia the mother; Eleonora Brown portrayed the daughter.During the 1960s Loren was one of the most popular actresses in the world, and she continued to make films in both the U.S. and Europe, acting with leading male stars. In 1964, her career reached its zenith when she received $1 million to act in The Fall of the Roman Empire. Among her best-known films of this period are The Millionairess (1960) with Peter Sellers, Vittorio De Sica’s triptych Ieri, oggi, domani (1963) with Marcello Mastroianni, Peter Ustinov's Lady L (1965) with Paul Newman, the 1966 classic Arabesque with Gregory Peck, and Charlie Chaplin's final film, A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) with Marlon Brando. Despite the failure of many of her films to generate sales at the box office, she has an impressive roster of credits and work with famous co-stars. Invariably, she has turned in a charming performance and worn some of the most lavish costumes ever created for the movies. Some of her most attractive performances include A Breath of Scandal (1960), Madame Sans-Gêne (1962), Heller in Pink Tights (1960) and More Than A Miracle (1967).In her 60s, Loren became selective about choosing her films and ventured into various areas of business, including cook books, eyewear, jewelry and perfume. She also made well-received appearances in Robert Altman's Ready to Wear and the 1995 comedy Grumpier Old Men playing a femme fatale opposite Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.In 1991, Loren received an honorary Academy Award for her contribution to world cinema and was declared "one of the world cinema's treasures".

The Best Supporting Actor award went to George Chakiris for West Side story. Chakiris was born in Norwood, Ohio to immigrants from Greece. He made his film debut in 1947. For several years he appeared in small roles, usually as a dancer or a member of the chorus in various musical films. He was one of the dancers in Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and also appeared as a dancer alongside Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas. His biggest success came with the film West Side Story (1961), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Bernardo.Chakiris last acted in a 1996 episode of the sitcom Last of the Summer Wine and has given occasional television interviews since then. He is mostly retired and has taken up jewelry making as an occupation.

The Best supporting Actress award went to Rosa Moreno also for West Side Story. She is the first female and only Puerto Rican actress in history to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award. Moreno appeared in Singin' in the Rain (1952), The King and I (1956), and Carnal Knowledge in (1971). In the 1970s and 1980s, she appeared on the PBS children's series The Electric Company notably as Millie the Helper. During the mid 1990s, Moreno provided the voice of Carmen Sandiego on the hit animated FOX show Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? In the late 1990s, she gained exposure to a new generation of viewers, as she played Sister Pete, a nun trained as a psychologist in the popular HBO series, Oz. Moreno has participated in more than fifty productions, combining her television, movie and theatrical works. She made a guest appearance on The Nanny as Coach Stone, Maggie's tyrannical gym teacher. Moreno continues to be active on stage and screen. On June 18, 1965, Moreno married Lenny Gordon, who remains her husband and manager. They have one daughter, Fernanda (Gordon) Fisher.

"Moon River" is a song composed by Johnny Mercer (Lyrics) and Henry Mancini (Music) in 1961, for whom it won that year's Academy Award for Best Original Song. It is most well-known for being sung in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's by Audrey Hepburn, although it has been covered by many other artists.
Honorary Award
Fred L. Metzler- For his dedication and outstanding service to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Jerome Robbins- For his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.
Force in Readiness, A (1961) - William L. Hendricks- For his outstanding patriotic service in the conception, writing and production of the Marine Corps film, A Force in Readiness, which has brought honor to the Academy and the motion picture industry.

Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award
Stanley Kramer

Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
George Seaton

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