The 1963 Oscar ceremony marked a significant milestone in the history of the Academy Awards—and for African-American actors. Sidney Poitier took the best actor prize for Lilies Of The Field, an “Amen” moment, to quote the best picture nominee’s famous song, if ever there was one. Until Poitier, only Hattie McDaniel, who won best supporting actress in 1939 for Gone With The Wind, held the distinction for any African-American actor, and it would take another two decades after Poitier’s seminal win for it to happen again (when An Officer And A Gentleman’s Louis Gossett Jr. won a supporting statuette in 1982). After presenter Anne Bancroft opened the envelope and excitedly read Poitier’s name, he bounded to the stage as the orchestra played “Amen” and he famously called it, “a long journey to this moment.” Poitier said he didn’t expect to win, and many predicted Tom Jones star Albert Finney would take it. (Neither Finney nor the other nominated actors—Paul Newman (Hud), Richard Harris (This Sporting Life) and Rex Harrison (Cleopatra)—were in attendance, but that was not uncommon in Oscar’s earlier days.) After all, Tom Jones would prove to be the evening’s big winner, taking best picture and three other Oscars.
OSCARS: A Look Back On The 50th Anniversary Of Sidney Poitier’s Historic Win – How Far Have We Come?
Noticing a significant trend that defines a large part of this awards season and movie-going year, the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) announced Tuesday that they have partnered with L.A.’s House Of Blues to produce an evening devoted to …
Universal, Fox Executives – Past And Present – Gather To Honor Chris Meledandri At Fulfillment Fund Dinner
“I feel sort of a disconnect. It’s overwhelming. Very surreal,” the Fulfillment Fund Stars 2013 benefit gala honoree Chris Meledandri told me as he made his way around the Beverly Hilton ballroom last night. “There are some very interesting machinations intertwined in the room.”
It seems like every studio executive — current, fired or in limbo — that had great success with Meledandri’s brand of filmmaking was there. There was a Fox contingent honoring the man who brought them the Ice Age franchise including Chairman Jim Gianopulos, former co-Chair Tom Rothman, Peter Chernin and creative advertising whiz Tony Sella who may, or may not, be staying at Fox under the new re-structure. And of course a Universal contingent that included Ron Meyer, Donna Langley, new Chairman Jeff Shell, old Chairman Adam Fogelson, and Comcast’s Steve Burke among others.
Meledandri’s latest hit is Despicable Me 2, and when your movie makes over $800 million it’s not surprising to see thankful executives turn out in force. But as Meledandri said it was an “interesting machination”: Fogelson was one of the event co-chairs with Chernin, Meyer and Langley (among others) but sat a few tables away from the Uni power center. Another former Universal chairman, Marc Shmuger, was also in the room making for one of those uniquely ironic Hollywood nights — but a fun one with Ed Helms hosting. Presenter Steve Carell, who voices Gru in DM2, got the biggest laugh of the night in introducing Meledandri. “Chris now enjoys a successful partnership with Universal Studios and has provided them with a string of hits. Conventional wisdom tells us that he will soon be fired,” he said. I checked: The Universal table was laughing too.
Tuesday night is a big one for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They hold their annual election for president (expect current prexy Tom Sherak to be easily re-elected for his third and final one-year term) and they will choose the 2011 recipients of the Governors Awards, which will be some combination of Honorary Oscars, The Irving G. Thalberg Award and/or the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. At that meeting, Sherak could also tell the board who is going to produce the 84th Annual Academy Awards among the other things that may come up, including proposals to further regulate Oscar-season campaigning and parties (a move inspired by and initiated in part because of my Jan. 7 Deadline article on the issue, I am told by an Academy insider involved with the new proposals).
Even though recipients of last year’s 2nd Annual Governors Awards, (Jean-Luc Godard, Eli Wallach, Kevin Brownlow and Thalberg winner Francis Ford Coppola) weren’t announced until the last week in August a year ago, Sherak told me he is determined to get this done at the early August meeting this year in order to give Governors Awards producer Phil Robinson more time to put all the logistics of the event together; the ceremony is set for Saturday Nov. 12 and is not televised.
This all leads to the annual game of who will and who should get these prized awards, which were created in 2009 as their own separate show so more of them could be handed out and there would be more time to celebrate the careers of the recipients than during the time-crunched Oscar show. In the recent past, before the creation of the event, the Academy’s board had been limiting presentation of the Honorary awards to one per show. The Jean Hersholt Award to Jerry Lewis was the last given, on the (81st) Oscar telecast. Since then, they have handed out the maximum of four of these honors at each Governors Awards dinner. Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, cinematographer Gordon Willis and Thalberg winner John Calley received the inaugural awards.
In terms of who will win them this year, it’s anybody’s guess as each of the 43 Governors of every branch has an opportunity to put a name in contention if they wish and a simple majority is generally all that’s required to make someone a winner. It’s clear the Academy likes diversity, repping all corners of the motion picture arts and sciences, and it seems like they have been favoring people who are still active. Wallach may have been 95 when he finally got his Honorary Oscar last year, but he is also still working.
For years, every time the board set about voting for these honors some subtle (and not-so-subtle) lobbying would take place. Veteran stars like Glenn Ford and Richard Widmark were often mentioned but never got the call despite annual letters and pleas on their behalf. Doris Day’s name always comes up in speculation about Honorary Oscars, but it’s never happened and the reclusive 87-year-old star hasn’t made a film since 1968. Director Jules Dassin had his supporters at one time on the board but went to his grave without getting the big honor. On the other hand, a large profile piece on producer Dino De Laurentiis that was (coincidentally?) placed in the L.A. Times on the morning of the selections in 2000 certainly couldn’t have hurt his chances when he was voted the Thalberg later that day.
He may have only received his first major big-screen break at the age of 50 in 1987′s Street Smart, but Morgan Freeman has created such a distinguished body of work in the quarter of a century since then that Thursday night he was named the 39th recipient of the AFI Life Achievement Award for a career in film. Just after the honor was announced by the American Film Institute on October 11th, I ran into Freeman at an awards-season event and he was ebullient, telling me, “Now I am one of the big boys.” During Thursday’s warm ceremony on Sony’s Stage 15 and at the after-party nearby on the lot, Freeman still seemed just as happy about the honor.
In fact, after he accepted the award from his Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby co-star and director Clint Eastwood and made his speech, he became the first of the AFI’s 39 honorees to actually remain on stage and sing along to one of his theme songs, “Lean On Me,” from the 1989 film in which he starred as real-life school principal Joe Clark. Earlier in the evening, Garth Brooks and a large chorus sang the song — actually twice, as a snafu forced them to perform it again. The black-tie industry crowd didn’t seem to mind at all.
Among those in attendance who offered toasts or onstage tributes with personal anecdotes about Freeman were Sidney Poitier, AFI Board of Trustees chair Howard Stringer, AFI president and CEO Bob Gazzale, Betty White, Samuel L. Jackson, Rita Moreno, Don Cheadle, Matthew Broderick, Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding Jr, Matthew McConaughey, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker and Tim Robbins. Filmed tributes were also shown from Chris Rock, Dan Ackroyd, Steven Spielberg, David Fincher and Ashley Judd.