by Dennis Dalman
Shirley Temple, the most world-famous and beloved of all child movie stars, won the first “Special Juvenile Oscar” at the 1935 Academy Awards ceremony.
She died Feb. 10 at her California home at the age of 85.
Temple was just 7 when she was given an Oscar, still the youngest winner in the 86-year history of Academy-Award recipients.
That was one of many fun facts in a presentation about the history of the Oscars Feb. 11 by Sartell resident and former Sartell Middle School science teacher John Augustin at the Sartell Senior Connection. A long-time Oscar buff, Augustin was unaware Temple had died the day before and expressed stunned surprise when an audience member told him. He had already prepared to talk about Temple and even had a photo of her presenting a best actress Oscar to Claudette Colbert during the 1935 ceremony.
Augustin gave his talk Feb. 11 because the 86th annual Oscar show is about to be broadcast March 2 from Los Angeles. Along with the Super Bowl, the Oscar telecast has long been the most widely watched annual program in television history.
When he was young, growing up in New Ulm, Augustin loved movie-going and relished watching the Oscars, although one night he was sent to bed and had to listen to most of the program on the living-room TV while crouched in the dark at the top of the stairs.
The first Academy Awards broadcast was in 1955 when On the Waterfront garnered the Oscar for best picture, with best actor and actress awards going to Marlo Brandon in Waterfront and Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. That ceremony, Augustin said, resulted in one of the biggest “upsets” in Oscar history. Judy Garland was widely considered certain to win best actress for her stunning performance in A Star is Born. During the telecast, Garland was in the hospital, recovering from the birth of her third child. Camera-set ups were all over her hospital room, preparing for the big moment when Garland would give a live telecast acceptance speech from her bed. When the presenter opened the envelope and said, “The winner is Grace Kelly,” many people were left speechless with disbelief, including Garland.
In 1927, famed movie studio mogul Louis B. Mayer gathered together some movie people and decided to initiate a recognition award to honor excellence in film.
Cedric Gibbons, an art director at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, sketched out his idea on a napkin during a banquet of what an award should look like, and Mayer agreed. The design was of a stylized man with a rather flattened head, holding a long sword vertically, its point resting on a film can under his feet. A Los Angeles sculptor, George Stanley, then morphed that sketch into three dimensions and Oscar was born, although it wasn’t called Oscar until the 1935 ceremony. For the first six years, the statuette was called the “Academy Award of Merit.”
No one is sure as to how the statue came by its name, but the most famous claim is by actress Bette Davis, who said the statuette’s rear-end reminded her of her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson.
The first statuettes were made of 90 percent tin and 10 percent pewter. During World War II, they were made of plaster. Later and now, they are made of brittanium covered with highly polished coats of silver, copper and gold. The base is black-coated bronze. Each stands 13.5 inches tall and weighs 8.5 pounds.
For his presentation, Augustin brought two of his own “Oscars.” They are actually replicas he bought on ebay. One, made of plastic, was used in a Henry Fonda movie, whose name Augustin could not remember. The other, a gold-painted plaster one, was used in another movie, but Augustin is not sure which one it was.
To determine nominations, votes are cast within each category only by those who are members of that category (i.e. actors vote for actors, art directors vote for art directors, and so forth).
For the final vote, all members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can vote for all the categories. There are currently about 6,000 members of the Academy.
The first Oscar ceremony took place in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. It was strictly a movie-world gathering with no hoopla or press attention from the rest of the world.
All of the nominees were silent films as the “talkies” had not yet made their big splash.
The first movie to win an Academy Award was Wings, a movie about ace pilots in World War I that contains what many still consider to be the greatest aviation footage ever filmed.
The first acting honors went to Emil Jannings for two performances – The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh; and to Janet Gaynor for three movies – Seventh Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise. The latter film, a dark and moody love story directed by F.W. Murnau, is to this day widely considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made.
Winner Jannings, disillusioned with Hollywood, returned to his home country, Germany, where Hitler’s regime, impressed by Jannings talent, put him to work starring in anti-Jewish war-propaganda films, even though he himself had some Jewish blood in his veins. After the war, nearly charged as a war criminal, he was forbidden to work anymore in movies. He carried his Oscar around with him, to show it to the Allied soldiers and to prove he once lived in Hollywood as a good American and outstanding actor. He died in 1950 in Austria. His Oscar is now on display at a Berlin film museum.
Augustin shared with his audience some of his Oscar stories:
In 1940, Hattie McDaniel won the best-supporting actress award for her role as the family slave, Mammy, in the 1939 epic Gone with the Wind. She was the first black performer to win an Oscar. During the ceremony, she had to sit way in the back of the ballroom, away from the other nominees toward the front of the room. Adding insult to injury, her speech was written for her by the movie’s studio officials because they wanted her to say only what they wanted her to say.
The first black man to win Best Actor was Sidney Poitier for the 1963 movie, Lilies of the Field. Ann Bancroft, who had won the previous year for The Miracle Worker, presented the Oscar to Poitier on the stage, giving him a kiss on the cheek as she did so. In the American South, some TV station officials were outraged a white woman would kiss a black man on national TV. Many stations, incensed by the “outrage,” unplugged the rest of that night’s Oscar telecast.
Barry Fitzgerald won a 1945 best-supporting Oscar for his role as a boozy priest in Going My Way. Back home he was practicing his golf swing in his living room when the club hit the statue, flinging it across the room, where it hit a wall, decapitating it. At that time, during the war, the Oscars were made of gold-gilded plaster. Augustin shared an old photo of Fitzgerald, puffing on a pipe and looking quizzically at Oscar’s detached head, which Fitzgerald is holding in his right hand, Oscar’s body in the other hand.
During the 1935 Oscar night, best-actress nominee Claudette Colbert (for It Happened One Night) was certain she wouldn’t win and did not attend the ceremony. Everybody, including Colbert, was positive the winner would be Bette Davis for a sensational, ground-breaking performance as an acid-tongued prostitute in Of Human Bondage. Davis had been snubbed by the Academy, and it was decided not to nominate her, most likely because of the controversial nature of her incendiary performance. However, a huge uproar followed about her not being nominated, and the Academy was compelled to add Davis’s name as a write-in nominee on the ballots. Believing Davis would cinch the honor, Colbert went to the train station and boarded a train for a cross-country trip. When her name was announced as the winner, an Academy Award official, with police escort, hurried to the train station and hustled a stunned Colbert back to the banquet. Dressed in her sensible two-piece traveling suit, she was handed her Oscar by little Shirley Temple, who herself won a special Oscar that night.
St. Cloud’s Byron Barr (aka Gig Young) won the best-supporting actor Oscar in 1970 for his role as the cynical emcee of a 1930s dance marathon in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, which starred Jane Fonda, a best-actress nominee that year. Young had been nominated for best-supporting actor twice before – for his performance as a drunk in Come Fill the Cup, 1951; and his turn as a boozy intellectual in Teacher’s Pet, 1957.
Born in St. Cloud in 1913, Barr graduated from Tech High School and was a member of the “Peppy Techs” male cheerleading team.
Augustin met Young years ago when he attended a performance of the play Harvey in Denver, Colo. Young and famed actress Shirley Booth were starring in that classic comedy. Booth, by the way, was a best-actress Oscar winner for her great performance as a dowdy, lonely housewife in Come Back, Little Sheba. That night in Denver, Young had heard that someone from St. Cloud was in the audience. Right after the play, someone announced, “Would the people from St. Cloud please come back-stage?” Augustin and his mother were impressed with Young’s kindness. He asked them if teenagers still cruised in their cars up and down St. Cloud’s downtown main street, as he and his friends had done once upon a time. When Augustin said “yes,” Young’s face beamed with his broad, likable wide-screen smile.
In a tragic ending in 1978, Young shot his wife of three weeks (Kim Schmidt) to death and then shot and killed himself in their New York City apartment. He had been married five times, including to Elizabeth Montgomery (of TV’s Bewitched fame). Young had one daughter, Jennifer Williams Young, born in 1964. Like many others, Young often said Oscar was a “kiss of death” because so many actors, including himself, had a string of bad luck after being nominated or winning the award. Following his 1970 win, Young’s life, which had always been plagued by alcohol abuse, spiraled out of control in a worsening whirlwind of alcoholism. In his will, Young left his Oscar to his movie agent, Martin Baum. Young is buried in Waynesville, N.C.
Young’s Golden Globe award for his performance in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is on display in the Stearns History Museum in St. Cloud.
In 1935, Academy Award officials decided to add two new categories: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. They did so because they agreed some of the finest performances are given by actors and actresses in smaller roles within movies.
The first two to win those awards, at the 1937 ceremony were Walter Brennan and Gale Sondergaard. Brennan won for Come and Get It. Sondergaard won for Anthony Adverse, which was her first movie. She was, incidentally, born in Litchfield, Minn. in 1899. Sondergaard was originally cast as the wicked witch in the classic The Wizard of Oz, but she backed out when she learned she would have to wear makeup that could possibly be disfiguring. The iconic role then went to Margaret Hamilton.
Sondegaard received a second Oscar nomination as best supporting actress for her performance in Anna and the King of Siam, 1946.
Oscar buffs, including Augustin, enjoy pondering annual “snubs” – actors or movies that were passed by for nominations.
This year, Augustin said, the two biggest snubs were The Butler and Oprah Winfrey for her much lauded performance in that film. Winfrey did, however, earn a previous best-supporting nomination for her role in The Color Purple, 1985.
The movie had been well received by movie critics, but for some odd reason it did not get any Oscar nods. Some speculate that movies released early in a year tend to fade in voters’ memories. In addition, 2013 was one of the best years in recent memory for a high number of critically acclaimed movies, thus leaving many very good movies in the lurch.
Three movies are tied for winning the most Oscars, 11 each: Ben Hur, 1959; Titanic, 1997; Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003.
Two films earned 14 nominations: All About Eve, 1950; and Titanic, 1997.
Most awards won by an individual: Walt Disney with 22 Oscars.
Katherine Hepburn won the most best-actress Oscars – four of them.
Daniel Day Lewis has the most best-actor Oscars – three.
The most-nominated actress in Oscar history is Meryl Streep with 18 nominations, including one for the March 2 ceremony. She has won three.
The most-nominated actor is Jack Nicholson with 12. He also won three.
Three movies won the “Big Five” top awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay. Those movies are It Happened One Night, 1934, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975; and The Silence of the Lambs, 1991.
After his Feb. 13 talk, Augustin made his Oscar predictions for 2014:
Best Movie: 12 Years a Slave.
Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave.
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine.
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbinder for 12 Years a Slave.
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave.
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity.
Augustin said it’s very possible Matthew McConaughy might win best actor for Dallas Buyers Club, and Jerod Leto could win for best supporting actor for that same movie. Both actors, Augustin noted, have received rave reviews and other awards, but Augustin has not seen Dallas Buyers Club yet and so was hesitant to predict its actors as winners.
Augustin said 12 Years a Slave is one of the most emotionally powerful movies he has ever seen, and he predicted it would come to be recognized as the greatest movie ever made about the horrible injustice of slavery.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.