Sunday, January 13, 2008

31st Academy Awards

The telecast of the 31st Academy Awards, that were held at the Panatages Theater on April 6th 1959, is among the most infamous. The show’s producer Jerry Wald started cutting numbers from the show to make sure it ran on time. Unfortunately, he cut too much material and the ceremony ended 20 minutes early, leaving Jerry Lewis to attempt to fill in the time. Eventually, NBC cut to a re-run of a sports show.

Gigi is a 1958 motion picture musical set in Paris, France. The screenplay was written by Alan Jay Lerner and the music was composed by Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music). It is based on the bestselling novella of the same name by French author, Colette which was first adapted for the screen with Danièle Delorme in 1948. In 1951, Anita Loos adapted the novel as a play for the stage, and the Broadway production starred Audrey Hepburn in her first major role. Seven years later, producer Arthur Freed approached Lerner about writing a feature film musical adaptation. Gigi proved to be a major critical and commercial success and the winner of nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In 1991, Gigi was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is considered the last great MGM musical, and the last great achievement of the Freed Unit, headed by producer Arthur Freed, although he would go on to produce several more films, including the musical Bells Are Ringing in 1960. The film also spawned a stage musical, produced on Broadway in 1973. Lerner had a short list of stars with whom he wished to work before his career was over: Audrey Hepburn (she starred in the non-musical Broadway stage version of Gigi), Fred Astaire , who had worked with Lerner on Royal Wedding), and Maurice Chevalier. After reading the novel, Lerner thought Chevalier would be perfect for the role of Uncle Honoré. However, Lerner was left without a composer. Lerner's collaborator, Frederick Loewe, had vowed never to work in movies, but he was charmed by the book and agreed to collaborate on the project, working in France. After a few songs were finished, the duo contacted Chevalier, who loved the songs and agreed to act in the film. In turn-of-the-century Paris, Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan) is a rich bon vivant, much like his uncle, Honoré (Maurice Chevalier). But Gaston is becoming bored with the high life, and his series of mistresses. He only truly enjoys the time that he spends with one of his uncle's old friends, Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold), and especially her granddaughter, the precocious, carefree Gilberte, or "Gigi" (Leslie Caron). Madame Alvarez sends Gigi to her Aunt Alicia's (Isabel Jeans) to be groomed as a famous courtesan, and there she learns etiquette and charm. During these preparations, it occurs to Gaston that he could become Gigi's first patron, providing her with luxury as his mistress. However, the situation makes him uneasy until he discovers that he's in love with Gigi, whom he eventually marries. The film went on to win the Academy Award for every category in which it was nominated; a total of nine Oscars, more than any other film at that point in Academy Award history. The awards included Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Song, and Best Picture. Maurice Chevalier, although not nominated for an acting award, received a Special Award "for all the joy he had brought to the screen during his lifetime."

The Best Director award was won by Vincente Minelli for Gigi. The first movie that he directed, Cabin in the Sky (1943), was visibly influenced by the theater. Shortly after that, he directed Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), during which he befriended the film's star, Judy Garland, although it is probable the two had met casually in 1938 when Minnelli did uncredited set designing for The Wizard of Oz, most notably the opulent Emerald City. The two then began a courtship that eventually led to their marriage the following year. Their one child together, Liza Minnelli, grew up to become an Academy Award-winning singer and actress. Though widely known for directing musicals, including An American in Paris (1951), Brigadoon (1954), Kismet (1955), and Gigi (1958) he also helmed comedies and melodramas, including Madame Bovary (1949), Father of the Bride (1950), Designing Woman (1957) and The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963). His last film was A Matter of Time (1976). He received an Oscar nomination as Best Director for An American in Paris (1951) and later won the Best Director Oscar for Gigi (1958). He was awarded France's highest civilian honor, the Commander Nationale of the Legion of Honor, only weeks before his death in 1986.He died at the age of 83 from Alzheimer's disease, and is survived by his British-born wife Lee Anderson Minnelli (born c. 1907).

The Best Actor award went to David Niven for Separate Tables. Niven arrived in Hollywood, armed with nothing more than a letter of introduction addressed to Fred Astaire. It is speculated that as Fred's sister Adele had recently married into the English aristocracy, that the letter came from her and her husband Lord Charles Cavendish. From this first meeting, Niven went on to develop a close friendship with Astaire that would last until Niven's death. As a friend of Astaire, Niven was able to break into movie work. He first worked as an extra in westerns, then had a walk-on part in the 1935 version of Mutiny On The Bounty. He then landed a longterm contract as a supporting player with independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn, which firmly established his career and enabled him to become a leading man in many films. Given his privileged English upbringing, Niven had no problems infiltrating what became known as the Hollywood Raj, a select group of British actors who had made Hollywood their home. Other members of the group, included Boris Karloff, Stan Laurel, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and their self appointed leader C Aubrey Smith, who came to adore Niven like a son. One of his first major roles was in The Charge of the Light Brigade in 1936, in which he starred alongside one of his closest friends Errol Flynn. A year later he starred as Capt. Fritz von Tarlenheim in 1937's The Prisoner of Zenda with C Aubrey Smith and Ronald Colman. However, not wanting to be typecast as a 'swashbuckler' as Flynn had been, Niven also made films in a light hearted vein such as the 1939 RKO comedy Bachelor Mother with Ginger Rogers, and Raffles (1939 film), in which he played a gentleman thief. He resumed his career after the war, with films such as A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) (as Phileas Fogg), The Guns Of Navarone (1961), and The Pink Panther (1963). The same year as he hosted the show with Jack Lemmon and Bob Hope, Niven won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Separate Tables (1958). After a whirlwind two-week romance in 1940, Niven married Primula Susan Rollo, the aristocratic daughter of a British lawyer. The couple had two sons, David Jr. and Jamie. Primula died at age 28, only six weeks after moving to America, of a fractured skull and brain lacerations from an accidental fall in the home of Tyrone Power. While playing hide and seek, she walked through a door believing it led to a closet. Instead, it led to a stone staircase to the basement. Niven recalled this as the darkest period of his life, years afterwards thanking his friends for their patience and forbearance during this time. Niven met Hjördis Paulina Tersmeden (née Genberg, 1921–1997), a divorced Swedish fashion model and frustrated actress, in 1948. They married ten days later. They had two adopted daughters, Kristin and Fiona. The marriage was as tumultuous as Niven's previous marriage had been happy. Thwarted from pursuing an acting career, Hjördis was reported as having affairs with other men and became an alcoholic. In February 1983, using a false name to avoid publicity, Niven was hospitalised for ten days for treatment, ostensibly for a digestive problem. Afterwards, he returned to his chalet at Chateau d'Oex in Switzerland, where his condition continued to decline. He refused to return to the hospital, and his family supported his decision. Niven died in Switzerland on July 29, 1983 of motor neurone disease (Lou Gehrig's Disease) at age 73. Bitter, estranged, and plagued by depression, Niven's wife Hjördis showed up drunk at the funeral, having been convinced to attend by family friend Rainier III of Monaco.

Burl Ives was an Academy Award winning American actor and acclaimed folk music singer and author. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie The Big Country; however, he is probably better remembered for his music. On Dec. 6, 1945, Ives married 29-year-old script writer Helen Peck Ehrlich. The next year, Ives was cast as a singing cowboy in the film Smoky. Other movie credits include East of Eden (1955); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958); The Big Country (1958), and Our Man in Havana (1959), based on the Graham Greene novel; and many others. Ives and Helen Peck Ehrlich were divorced in 1971. Ives then married Dorothy Koster Paul in London in that same year. In his later years, Ives and his wife, Dorothy, lived with their children in a home located alongside the water in Anacortes, in the Puget Sound area of Washington. In 1995 Ives died of cancer of the mouth at the age of 85.

The Best Actress Award went to Susan Hayward for I Want to Live!. She began her career as a photographer's model, going to Hollywood in 1937, aiming to secure the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Although she did not win the role of Scarlett O'Hara, Hayward found employment playing bit parts until she was cast in Beau Geste (1939) opposite Gary Cooper. During the war years, she played leading lady to John Wayne twice, in Reap the Wild Wind (1942) and The Fighting Seabees (1944). She also starred in the film version of The Hairy Ape (1944). Later in 1955, she was cast by Howard Hughes to play Bortai in the historical epic The Conqueror, again opposite John Wayne. After the war, she established herself as one of Hollywood's most popular leading ladies in films such as Tap Roots (1948), My Foolish Heart (1949), David and Bathsheba (1951), and With a Song in My Heart (1952). In 1947, she received the first of five Academy Award nominations for her role as an alcoholic and fast-rising night-club singer in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman. During the 1950s she won acclaim for her dramatic performances as President Andrew Jackson's melancholic wife in The President's Lady (1953); the alcoholic actress, Lillian Roth, in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), based on Roth's best-selling autobiography of the same name, for which she received a Cannes award; and the real-life California killer Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (1958). Hayward's unglamorous and gritty portrayal of Graham won her an Oscar as Best Actress. She continued to act throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her final film role was as Dr. Maggie Cole in the 1972 made-for-TV drama Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole. (Her last public appearance was at the 1974 Oscar telecast to present the Best Actress award, despite the fact she was very ill. With Charlton Heston supporting her, and having been given massive doses of dopamine, she managed to get through it. Hayward died at age 57 on March 14, 1975, of pneumonia-related complications of her brain cancer, having survived considerably longer than doctors had originally predicted. She was cremated and buried next to her second husband, Eaton Chalkley, with whom she had converted to Roman Catholicism, in Carrollton, Georgia. She was survived by her two sons. Chalkley was by all accounts the love of Hayward's life, and they had lived together happily in Carrollton for years before his death in 1966.

Wendy Hiller won the award for Best Supporting Actress. She first found success as slum dweller Sally Hardcastle, in the stage version of Love on the Dole in 1934. The play was an enormous success and toured the regional stages of England. This play saw her West End debut in 1935 at the Garrick Theatre. She married the play's author Ronald Gow, fifteen years her senior, in 1937. In the early 1940s the couple moved to Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, where they had two children, Ann (1939 – 2006) and Anthony (b. 1942), and lived together in the house called "Spindles" until Gow's death in 1993. Dame Wendy Hiller eventually retired from acting in 1992, spending the last decade of her life in quiet retirement at her home in Beaconsfield. She died of natural causes at home, aged 90.At Shaw's insistence, she starred as Eliza Doolittle in the film Pygmalion (1938) with Leslie Howard as Professor Higgins. This performance earned her her first Oscar nomination and became one of her most famous film roles. Her 1939 nomination marked the first time a British actress in a British film had been nominated for an Academy Award. She followed up this success with another Shaw adaptation, Major Barbara with Rex Harrison and Robert Morley, in 1941. The ground-breaking film team of Powell & Pressburger signed her for their 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, but she was forced to back out due to pregnancy. The role eventually went to Deborah Kerr. Determined to work with Hiller, it would not happen until 1945, when she starred in I Know Where I'm Going!, which became a classic of British cinema. Despite her early film success and offers from Hollywood, she returned to the stage full-time after 1945 and only occasionally accepted film roles. With her return to film in the 1950's, she portrayed an abused colonial wife in Carol Reed's Outcast of the Islands (1952), but had already transitioned into mature, supporting roles with Sailor of the King (1953) and a memorable victim of the Mau Mau uprising in Something of Value (1957). She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1959 for the film Separate Tables (1958), as a lonely hotel manageress and mistress of Burt Lancaster. She received a third Oscar nomination for her performance as the simple, unrefined but dignified Lady Alice More, opposite Paul Scofield as Thomas More, in A Man for All Seasons (1966). She reprised her London stage role in the southern gothic Toys in the Attic (1963), which earned her a Golden Globe nomination as the elder spinster sister of Dean Martin and Geraldine Page. Her portrayal of the domineering, possessive mother in Sons and Lovers (1960) earned her a BAFTA nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Her role as the grande Russian princess in the huge commercial success, Murder on the Orient Express (1974), won her international acclaim and the Evening Standard British Film Award as Best Actress. Other notable roles continued with a Jewish refugee fleeing Nazi Germany with her dying husband in Voyage of the Damned (1976) and the formidable London Hospital matron in The Elephant Man (1980) were also considered memorable.

Gigi is the title song from the 1958 multi-Academy Award winning film, directed by Vincente Minnelli. It was written by Frederic Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, sung by Louis Jourdan in the film. It then went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1959.

Mon Oncle ("My Uncle") is a 1958 film by Jacques Tati. It was Tati's first colour film — not counting the colour-debacle of Jour de fête — and that same year won him the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, a Special Prize at Cannes, as well as the prestigious New York Film Critics Award, making it the most-awarded of Tati's films. The film centers on the character of Monsieur Hulot (who had already appeared in Tati's previous comedy, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot) and his comedic, quixotic and childlike struggle with postwar France's mindless obsession with modernity and American-style consumerism. As with most Tati films, Mon Oncle is largely a visual comedy, with voices and dialogue merged into the background noise of daily life.

Honorary Award
Maurice Chevalier
- For his contributions to the world of entertainment for more than half a century.

Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award
Jack L. Warner

The awards were co-hosted by Jerry Lewis, David Niven, Bob Hope, Laurence Olivier, Mort Sahl (credited with pioneering a style of stand-up comedy that paved the way for Lenny Bruce, Nichols & May and Dick Gregory. He also wrote speeches for John F. Kennedy) and Tony Randall. Randall's film roles included Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), Pillow Talk (1959), Let's Make Love (1960), Boys' Night Out (1962), The King of Comedy (1983), and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). He appeared in Pillow Talk (1959), the first of three movies in which Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Randall all starred. The other two are Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1963). Elements from the plots of these films, particularly Pillow Talk, were parodied in the 2003 comedy Down With Love, with Renée Zellweger in the Doris Day role, Ewan McGregor in the Rock Hudson, and David Hyde Pierce as the Tony Randall character. Randall's final role was a cameo in this film.At the age of 84 Tony Randall died in his sleep of complications from pneumonia, which he contracted following bypass surgery in December 2003.

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