Academy Awards Curtain Call Ethics: The Unkindest Snub of All

Every year the Academy Awards manages to neglect a distinguished actor or actress who has died since the previous Oscars ceremony, and usually it is inexplicable. Two years ago, it was Farrah Fawcett who was snubbed. This year  Oscar was more callous and negligent than ever before, robbing at least eight deserving performers of their final curtain calls, and there is  just no excuse for it. As usual, Oscar flacks will claim that time was limited, but that won’t fly: why was there time to include, for example, Whitney Houston, who not only had minimal film credentials but who also  had an entire awards show dedicated to her just a week ago? Whitney hardly rated a gratuitous nod from Oscar, especially while it was snubbing so many real actors.

I will be generous and apply Hanlon’s Razor, but with reluctance: it seems to me that there were too many blatant omissions and too many obscure insiders included for it all to be accidental. Did the behind-the-scenes members of the Academy stage a coup, and demand that their fallen colleagues get their names displayed this year to millions of Americans who almost certainly never heard of them? If so, that still couldn’t justify the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences showing such apathy and disrespect for deceased actors that audiences do remember, or if not, should be reminded of one last time.

Here are the actors who Oscar neglected to help us remember, appreciate, and thank:

Dana Wynter (1931-2011)

You would think that having a starring role in both a film classic and one of the most famous TV episodes of all time would have guaranteed a tribute from the Academy, but in Dana Wynter’s case, you would be wrong. She starred in several popular films in both the U.S. and Great Britain, such as “The List of Adrian Messenger” and “Sink the Bismarck!”, but the cool and beautiful actress made nightmares for a generation with her role in “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” as a doomed young nurse trapped in a house with a maniac—a show with one of the most shocking climaxes ever to air. Even that paled, however, compared to her role as “Becky” in the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” as the love interest of hero Kevin McCarthy. When Wynter stares into McCarthy’s horrified face with her new pod-gaze, it is one of the creepiest moments in film history.

James Arness (1923-2011)

Arness is famous for starring as Matt Dillon in TV’s longest-running drama, “Gunsmoke,” but he made over 20 films before becoming a TV icon. One of them was “Hondo,” with John Wayne, which led to Wayne’s recommending Arness for the Dillon role after it was first offered to the Duke himself. But Arness’s greatest film role was undoubtedly as the so-called “killer carrot” (left) in Howard Hawks’ classic, “The Thing from Another World.” Oddly, the Academy also ignored the passing of Arness’s brother, Peter Graves, a couple years ago. Graves’s career in film and TV were vastly inferior to that of big brother Jim, but he was an well-known and well-loved actor. What did the Arness family ever do to Oscar?

Bubba Smith (1945-2011)

Smith was an NFL Hall of Famer, but he made a successful transition to acting, most famously as the giant police trainee “Moses Hightower” in all six “Police Academy” films, as well as their TV spin-off. You can deride the legitimacy of his output if you like, but he was a core cast member of a successful Hollywood franchise, and by any standard, a far more legitimate representative of the film industry than…Steve Jobs, who somehow made the cut.

 Charles Napier (1936-2011)

One of those faces you immediately recognize but can never identify, Napier was ubiquitous in TV series  ( especially “Dallas,””B.J and the Bear,” and “The Simpsons”)  for three decades and also was featured in films like “Rambo,” “The Blues Brothers,” and “Silence of the Lambs.” He was exactly the kind of hard-working, useful and too often unappreciated professional character actor that needs to be given the spotlight, just once, before he fades into obscurity.

John Neville (1925-2011)

A flat-out wonderful British actor who was a fixture on British TV, Neville gave a marvelous performance as the hero of Terry Gilliam’s famous box office disaster, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1988), which is, I must confess, one of my favorite films of all time. He also had significant roles in films like “The Fifth Element,” “Urban Legends,” “Little Women,” and “Dangerous Minds.”

Jeff Conaway (1950-2011)

Talented, tragic Jeff Conaway was one of the co-stars of “Grease” on stage and in film, and then a regular on “Taxi” before substance abuse problems sent him into a classic career death spiral of bad made-for-TV movies, worse independent films, reality shows, “Celebrity Rehab,” and finally a premature demise. Are Hollywood’s elite embarrassed by Conaway, whose story could so easily have been any of theirs as well? He was a casualty of the business, and attention should be paid.

Michael Gough (1916-2011)

Cross Charles Napier and John Neville, and you get Michael Gough, a hardy and versatile British character actor who seldom had a lead role, but was always memorable and fun to watch. Until Michael Caine took over, Gough was Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler in the first set of Batman movies. He also appeared in classics like Ken Russell’s “Women in Love” in the Sixties, and was a member of Tim Burton’s film rep company until his death, doing the voice of  the Dodo bird in 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland.” You would think a career so long and distinguished would ensure more respect.

Harry Morgan (1915-2011)

Incomprehensible.

How could Oscar fail to note the death of Harry Morgan? Yes, he was best remembered as a TV star in “MASH” and “Dragnet,” but Morgan had important and memorable roles in classic Hollywood films, such as “The Ox Bow Incident,” “High Noon,’ “State Fair”, “Bend in the River” and “The Shootist.” Is it possible that whoever was charged with compiling the “In Memoriam” list this year  was confused by Morgan’s mid-career name change from “Henry,” which was the name he used in those films, to “Harry”? Could the Academy be that careless?

Well, my tribute isn’t the Oscars, but that’s the best I can do, guys (and Dana). You were all part of my movie-watching experience, and I’m grateful for it. Don’t mind your foolish colleagues. You know what they’re like, I’m sure.

28 thoughts on “Academy Awards Curtain Call Ethics: The Unkindest Snub of All

  1. This is one of the reasons I dont watch the Oscars who really care who wins them. Its a popularity contest while the artists are alive and now it seems in death also.

    And on the subject of Bubba Smith and other actors like him who are looked down upon I bet by most “artists”. My responce to people who bad mouth him and others like him is always “How many movies have you made?”. That shuts them up.

    • i couldn’t agree more. The clubbiness defies belief. I was watching “Drive” and could not believe that they were pumping Albert Brooks for an Oscar for a one-dimensional role like that. There are no standards at all.

      • Gotta say that ” they ” needs clarification. Sure the movie company publicity people were pumping him, but the Academy did not go along. Also, I thought it was quite a nuanced performance and a radical departure for Brooks.

        • Critics, mostly. Sure, it was fine, but there are 100 character actors that play that part in their sleep. I don’t see how playing against type is a pretty straightforward role becomes award-worthy. If that performance had been by an unknown, absolutely no one would have been plugging it.

  2. Great Post, and nice job even KNOWING that these stars slipped thru the cracks. Knowledge is power, and I agree with you – there has to be an agenda behind the snubbing of these well-deserving actors not being recognized – however there were 10+ “executives” who passed whom I’d never heard of whose names, sound bites and pictures were up on the screen.

    Now you know how it feels to be a Conspiracy Theorist. Welcome to the Club.

  3. I’ve never really cared about the Oscars, and I honestly feel like it’s a sham. You’ve got your derivative summer blockbusters and your Oscar Bait, and there’s nothing in between (out of Hollywood at least) because nobody outside the club really has a chance to win one.

  4. That is very disappointing. They always forget about who puts people in the seats. Especially in the era of tv. Between Broadway, theater and tv, people go to the movies to see the talent besides the movie. No talent-no movie. Many of these people could actually entertain, not just act or sing songs. Many of the so-called actors now days can’t do much more when they aren’t behind the camera.

  5. “…too many blatant omissions and too many obscure insiders included for it all to be accidental…”

    Jack, I think you’re overreacting and adding fuel to the Matt’s Conspiracy Theorists fire. If you visit the academy’s website they list all of its members who passed away since Feb. 1, 2011.

    http://www.oscars.org/academy/members/memoriam.html

    “Members” probably being the operative word here. While you may have fond memories of these seven actors, only one of them appears on the list (Harry Morgan). So my assumption is that the other six abandoned the Academy sometime in the past.

    • I have never, ever, heard of membership in the Academy being a requirement for the Tribute. It certainly isn’t announced to the public that way. Nor has the Academy ever used membership or lack of it as the excuse for omitting someone of significance when a controversy has erupted.. I’m not advocating a conspiracy, I’m suggesting that whereas performers and artists once dominated the list, now its heavy with agents and executives. Is Whitney Houston a member? No. Is Dana Wynter, a major actress who was also snubbed? Yes, like Morgan.

      Sorry: membership is obviously not the criteria.or even the excuse….but thanks for the theory, and the list.

      Note also I said I was applying Hanlon’s Razor, which explicitly means that I’m not alleging a conspiracy.

      • I’m applying Occam’s Razor to understand what happened:
        The Academy is made up of 15 general areas. Proportionally, actors only make up a small percentage of the Academy’s 6000 members. They may be more recognized in public, but are no more deserving of inclusion in a memorial tribute. The web page lists 87 members that passed away last year–too many to list all in the allotted time. It makes sense that the televised show had a balanced cross-section of its members. It would be unfair to only list actors– especially ones that weren’t members of the Academy.

        I don’t know if Whitney was a member or not.

        Your omissions should be more appropriately handled by SAG.

        Yes, I know that you weren’t alleging a conspiracy but was responding to your original post as well as Matt’s excitement.

        • If that’s a policy, than it’s a major change. I’ve been watching the Oscars for a long time, and this is, by far, the lowest proportion of actors that they have had in the tribute…which is why I suggested that the non-performers may have forced a policy alteration (and that’s hardly ” a conspiracy.”). Without an explanation,it looks like a snub. The telecast is staged for the pubic, not members. The membership explains Jobs, I suppose, but I have never seen anyone so tangential to the industry included in the tribute.
          Houston isn’t on the dead members list, so presumably she was no member. Morgan, who was at least as significant an actor as Cliff Roberson, included, WAS a member. If they had enough time to include non-members who had little or nothing to do with the industry, then my complaint remains: it was careless and arbitrary, and the performers deserve better. Both Occan’s Razor and Hanlon’s then reach the same result: the Academy was incompetent and negligent.

  6. If you’re referring to the photo montage, I could have sworn I saw Whitney Houston. But I did think there were very few people I recognized–there seemed to be more behind the scenes people this year–which is fine, I just thought it odd.

    • Yes, I wrote that Whitney was there; I also said she doesn’t belong there, if real, career actors were going to be omitted. I don’t know how it can be fine, when the point is to honor major figures in the film industry who died since the last Oscars. I’m sure the fans and families of the 8 actors arbitrarily left out didn’t think it was fine.. Rightfully or not, the omission is seen as a statement regarding career worth.

      The Academy holds a separate ceremony for the membership, and it is not televised. A lot of the honorary and technical awards are given out there, If they want to honor an agent, an accountant or a gaffer, that’s the place. The artists should be in the spotlight on Oscar Night.

  7. No Harry Morgan? Incomprehensible, indeed. The intensity of his presence in “The Oxbow Incident” was riveting. Who else could share the big screen (as he did in “The Glenn Miller Story”) with Jimmy Stewart, and have such presence? And what about Judge Coffey in “Inherit the Wind”? Leaving Harry Morgan out of the memorial is a travesty.

  8. Now comes the question: just how significant or important is the Oscar show anyway? I’m going to paraphrse the great Walter Cronkite about another subject:

    “I find it astonishing that the attention of this whole great country, from coast to coast, can be concentrated here, on an event so utterly meaningless.”

    Of course, if you’re talking about the annual show for the Antoinette Perry awards (the Tony), that’s a whole different proposition.

    (Yeah, I’m a member of Actors Equity, but not of SAG. Biased? Who, me?)

  9. I missed the news of John Neville’s passing. I guess the Academy is not big into memorials for its recently deceased compatriots. Dana Wynter and Michael Gough, at the very least, should have been accorded a mention.

  10. Thank you so very much for posting this Homage to the Forgotten and thereby neglected. For me, it’s all about Dana Wynter with whom I was smitten when I saw her in Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956 when I was a 15yo. No one else effected me quite as much. I’m barely surviving with Keira Kneightley. Barely. Thanks again.

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