Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Winner Is....

So I watched the Oscars last night, or I should say I recorded them so I could fast-foward through the commercials and the boring acceptance speeches. The older I get the less I recognize any of the so-called celebrities walking the red carpet. This year I actually saw a couple of the films in contention for Oscars. "The Help" was a wonderful story about the struggles of African-American maids working for white folks in the deep South during the 1960s. I also enjoyed Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris", a thinly disguised, autobiographical fantasy about Woody's admiration for the artists who gathered in Paris during the 1920's.

Oh how the Oscars have changed since the 1950s when we all gathered around our black and white console TV sets busting with curiosity over who the big winners would be. It was a time when Hollywood was a fairy-tale place filled with real movies stars whose careers spanned decades, not months. Stardom was earned by staying power; it was not uncommon for actors and actresses (yes, women were called actresses then unlike today when they all refer to themselves as actors) to make two or three films a year under the old "studio" system. Major studios like MGM, Warner Brothers and RKO placed promising newcomers under contract and worked them like mules. They were told what films they had to appear in, and could not work for another studio unless they were "loaned out" like property, with the approval of the tyrannical studio heads.

Real movie stars didn't make a film or two and then disappear. They didn't come and go at the whim of audiences. They were established performers who paid their dues and were there year after year on the big screen. Not all their movies were blockbusters, but they always worked. In-between clunkers they turned out some of the most memorable films ever made. James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck...marquis names whose faces were known to movie fans around the world. And the talented, glamorous actresses who played opposite them...Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Liz Taylor, Katharyn Hepburn, Lauren Bacall; those gals had star power.

The Oscars were broadcast in April during the 1950s; for some reason having to do with money I'm sure, they moved up the broadcast to February a few years ago. The venue was different too. Grauman's Chinese Theater hosted the Oscars for so many years until they were moved to several different locations, the latest being the Kodak Theater, until recently when Kodak went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. I miss the old Graumann's venue since it had been so closely tied to the Oscars for so many years. The other constant was the wisecracking Bob Hope acting as Master of Ceremonies for the event. Bob made it look so easy; it was only after he was gone that the Academy learned how hard it would be to fill his shoes. Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal have done credible jobs, but nobody will ever be as good as Bob Hope.

Yes, the old Oscar telecasts went on forever and I'm glad they've taken measures to shorten the evening. The speeches used to drone on, as winners thanked everyone they'd ever met in the business. There were some unpredictable and fun moments too, like when Marlon Brando had a lovely young Native-American woman named Sacheen Littlefeather take the stage to refuse his best actor Oscar for his role in The Godfather. There was also the time when a slim young man "streaked" buck naked past the suave British actor David Niven who was onstage to make a presentation. The ever-poised Niven deadpanned, “The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping ... and showing his shortcomings.”

The famous catch phrase of the Academy Awards show used to be: "And the winner is...." Now, because we can't have people's self-esteem bruised by the idea that they are losers, the presenters say instead: "And the Oscar goes to...." If truth be told, I'd rather look at Cary Grant and Myrna Loy than Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez. But hey, that's me.


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Joseph Del Broccolo said...

I was never a fan of the Oscars,Emmys, Toni's etc. I could never relate to actors and although I enjoyed great movies, the superficiality of the actors and actresses turned me off. I do have favorites, such as Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, but not many.

Jim Pantaleno said...

I'm glad Meryl won. She's done so many great movies, they owe her the recognition.