Once, the excuse that routinely issued from the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences when a significant film actor was omitted from the annual “In Memoriam” segment at the Oscars—“There just wasn’t enough time!”-–seemed almost plausible. It was still a lousy and dishonest excuse, don’t get me wrong: in a broadcast that routinely approaches four hours and wastes time like it is money in Washington, we are supposed to believe that there aren’t three seconds to give a proper send-off to the likes of Harry Morgan (last year) or Farrah Fawcett (the previous one)? That excuse won’t fly at all now, however, as some diabolical deal with the behind the camera members, the warped priorities of the Oscar show’s Broadway musical nerd producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, and the final decisions regarding who would be featured in the movie industry’s public goodbye being made by, apparently, throwing darts at a dartboard combined to produce the most extensive and egregious snubs within memory.
This is a television broadcast and tailored for the public audience, after all. The Academy gives its technical awards in a separate private ceremony: wouldn’t that be the place to bid a respectful farewell to the seemingly endless list of deceased publicity agents, make-up artists,movie executives and key grips whose completely unrecognizable faces and names were paraded before us last night, often with out of context quotes that made no sense at all? Then, guaranteeing that the “we ran out of time!” alibi would be risible, the segment’s editors chose a non-actor for the prestigious final place on the death list, composer Marvin Hamlisch, as an excuse to drag Barbra Streisand into the proceedings. I appreciate Hamlisch’s achievements, but his movie credits were not so extensive as to justify the honor (we are basically talking about one Academy Award-winning song, “The Way We Were,” and his arrangements of Scott Joplin’s music in “The Sting”), and the award show’s misbegotten “theme” of movie music was not sufficient justification to place a non-actor in the position of highest honor.
Meanwhile, the following actors, all who made significant contributions to American film in their careers, were cheated out of their final bow, and we, the film-going audience, were cheated of our chance to remember them, and say goodbye. It was a disgrace.
Ethics Alarms isn’t the Academy, but here, like last year, is its salute to the faces and careers Oscar forgot:
Harry Carey, Jr. (1921-2012)
One of the last surviving members of John Ford’s Western acting company, Carey’s long, long career ranged from the Mickey Mouse Club’s iconic series “Spin and Marty” to nearly a hundred TV roles and memorable moments in classic films like “The Searchers,” “Red River,” “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” and more. When Robert Zemeckis sought three recognizable Old West movie types to cast as a trio of “old timers” for “Back to the Future III”, Carey was one of them (the others: Pat Buttram and Dub Taylor). Carey was also the son of ace character actor Harry Carey Sr. (the helpful Vice President in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”), who was John Wayne’s mentor and surrogate father, making Carey, Jr. Hollywood royalty. His omission last night was not just an insult to his memory, but to an entire generation.
Phyllis Diller (1917-2012)
Diller just can’t get her due, apparently. She was a true trailblazer in stand-up comedy, and one of the wittiest joke writers of all time, yet had to sit by and watch her inferiors get the Mark Twain Award honor she had deserved for decades because of popular culture’s short memory. Then she was ignored, again, last night. Diller was better known for her TV work than her film appearances—she didn’t appear at all in her best film, playing the voice of the queen ant in Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life”—but she made plenty of movies, and like all of those listed here, deserved more respect from the Academy.
Gore Vidal (1925-2012)
Vidal’s acting credits were relatively few (he notably played the villainous Senator in Tim Robbins’ “Bob Roberts,”) but he was also an important screenwriter, adapting Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” (with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift), his own “The Best Man,” and having a major hand in the dialogue in “Ben Hur.” Vidal’s reputation for being unsympathetic to Jews didn’t help him with the Hollywood crowd, and he made enemies for sport, but “In Memoriam” is supposed to be about film, not score-settling.
Alex Karras (1935-2012)
“Blazing Saddles” was far from his only major film (remember James Garner’s gay bodyguard in “Victor Victoria”?), but my God! How could the Academy leave out Mongo?
Ann Rutherford (1917-2012)
Clearly, Hollywood’s reverence for its Golden Age is dead, and Ann Rutherford’s snub proves it. Playing Andy Hardy’s comely home town girlfriend Polly Benedict in thirteen movies, Scarlet O’Hara’s quiet sister Careen in “Gone With The Wind,” the Ghost of Christmas Past in the first MGM “A Christmas Carol,” in addition to other roles, Rutherford had a distinguished and memorable screen career, if not the mega-star one that was once predicted for her. ABC’s Red Carpet show pretended to honor Judy’s ruby slippers, but that rings hollow in the wake of the snubbing of Mickey’s, that is, Andy’s, “girl next door.”
Russell Means (1939-2012)
I don’t know who Russell Means alienated to get himself ignored by Oscar, but given the fact that the Academy usually will turn itself inside out to recognize the few minorities in its midst, it must have been someone with pull. Means, the Native American activist, was also an actor of integrity and presence who would only play characters that he felt were a credit to the legacy of his much-mistreated race. If he had done nothing on screen but deliver Chingachgook’s moving speech that ended Michael Mann’s wonderful “The Last of the Mohicans,” Russell Means would have earned the final bow he was robbed of last night. Once again, Hollywood insulted the Indian.
Larry Hagman (1931-2012)
Was he left out because he was best known for his TV stardom? No, that doesn’t work…Jack Klugman (“Quincy,” “The Odd Couple”) made the cut. And his mother was musical star Mary Martin: one would think that alone would be enough to guarantee respect from the Broadway musical besotted telecast producers, but no. There really was no good reason for omitting Larry Hagman, who had roles in Oscar nominated films like “Superman,” “Primary Colors,” “Fail-Safe,” “Harry and Tonto,” and more, just the bad reason that the Academy doesn’t respect its own actors.
I bet J.R. would have known what to do with them…
R.G. Armstrong (1917-2012)
Unforgivable. There are 181 acting credits in Armstrong’s resume, and he epitomizes the hard-working Hollywood character actor—without a pretty face and whose name audiences can’t quite place—that the “In Memoriam” segment was supposed to reward with some final recognition. He was a member of director Sam Peckinpah’s acting company and was a favorite of director Warren Beatty’s as well (R.G. was “Prune Face” in “Dick Tracy”), appearing in films like “The Ballad of Cable Hogue,” “El Dorado,” “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” “Reds,” “Heaven Can Wait” and many more, while also popping up on TV dramas almost every week.
I’ll remember you, R.G., even if Oscar forgot,
William Windom ( 1923-2012)
Windom was on TV so frequently that he didn’t have time for many movie roles, but when he did get on screen, he was a standout, as in his role as the racist prosecutor pitted against Gregory Peck in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” He acted with distinction, entertaining audiences in seven decades, yet Oscar didn’t feel he was worthy of three seconds and a photo.
Andy Griffith (1926-2012)
No, Andy Griffith wasn’t a TV actor, he was an actor, period, a versatile and important one whose omission last night was perhaps the worst of the worst. He was the central character in “A Face in the Crowd,” a bona fide screen classic, and the star of “No Time For Sergeants,” a memorable comedy. Then came Mayberry and Matlock, but Andy still found time to use his equally formidable comic and dramatic talents in such films as “Waitress,” the Leslie Nielsen spoof “Spy Hard,” and “Hearts of the West.” I just don’t understand Oscar’s treatment of Andy Griffith.
In fact, I don’t understand any of these omissions, and I may have missed a few. An industry is supposed to take care of its own, and Oscar night is Hollywood’s opportunity to give the talents who used their careers to make movies fun and exciting the salutes they deserve. This year, devoting time to a Michelle Obama PR ploy was deemed more important than recognizing Andy Griffith, Polly Benedict, and Mongo one last time.
It was unforgivable, that’s all.