The Academy’s “In Memoriam” Snubs: Much Better This Year—Thanks, Oscar

The great Jonathan Winters in the not-so-great "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"

The great Jonathan Winters in the not-so-great “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”

In past years I have taken the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to task for the ethical breach of ingratitude and disrespect, as the honor roll of the year’s deceased film notables have omitted important figures who deserved their final bows. Omissions are inevitable, I suppose, but some of the past examples were unforgivable—last year alone, for example, the Academy snubbed Ann Rutherford, Andy Griffith, R.G. Armstrong, Russell Means, Harry Carey, Jr., and Susan Tyrell. 2012 was worse.

2013, however, shows that the Academy is being more careful, and Oscar deserves credit for cleaning up its act. I have ethical and historical objections to bestowing the prestigious final slot on actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, dead prematurely of self-inflicted drug abuse, when a genuine, bona fide Hollywood legend, Shirley Temple, was on the list. I understand the thinking: Hoffman had friends and colleagues in the room, and Temple is of another generation; his premature death was a tragedy, and she lived a long and productive life. Still, the priorities and relative values such a choice exemplifies is disturbing. Great actor that he was, Hoffman was a criminal, an addict, and left his children fatherless. Shirley was the greatest child star who ever will be, a ray of sunshine in the dark days of the Depression, a one-of-a kind talent and icon, and later a lifetime public servant who raised a family. She represented the best of Hollywood and the profession; Hoffman represents its dark side. Naturally, he’s the one who received the greatest recognition. I will suppress my dark suspicions that Shirley was docked because she was a Republican. A  Facebook friend actually wrote that Shirley deserved to be penalized because some of her movies were racist. My response to this slur was not friendly.

Then again, by being the final name, Hoffman also was the one closest to the indignity of Bette Midler, whom I hope was just ill and being a trooper, singing an off-key and weak rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” the same anthem she famously sang to Johnny Carson in his farewell to “Tonight.” The song felt like stale leftovers, and Shirley was lucky to have some distance from it.

As for snubs, however, there weren’t many of substance. Most could be explained by Oscar’s traditional hostility to TV stars, unless they started with the small and graduated to the silver variety. The only major snub was Jonathan Winters. It was ironic to see Sid Caesar, a TV comedy great, honored by Oscar with “It’s a Mad, Mad ,Mad, Mad World” cited as his significant film credit, when Winters was omitted despite having a large role in the same film and a more substantial and successful film career than Caesar by any measure. Of the rest of the actors who didn’t make the cut, only Dennis Farina  had significant roles in many movies. The others won their fame on TV: Cory Monteith (Glee) , James Avery (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Lee Thompson Young (Rizzoli and Isles), Marcia Wallace (Newhart, The Simpsons), and Lisa Robin Kelly (That 70’s Show.) The primary remaining snub was  author Tom Clancy, and calling him a movie figure is a stretch.

All in all, Oscar did a good job honoring its fallen. Let’s hope this is a trend, and not a fluke.


67 thoughts on “The Academy’s “In Memoriam” Snubs: Much Better This Year—Thanks, Oscar

  1. Because I can’t bring myself to care enough to watch the Oscars- do they go by calendar year, or by Oscars year? To wit- did Harold Ramis show up this time or not til 2014’s dead are tallied?

      • That’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say. Addiction is not a choice, he started out addicted to prescription drugs BEFORE he was a star, and switched to heroin like a lot of prescription drug users do because its cheaper and more readily available. By the time he started heroin his addiction was full blown and it was hardly just a choice.

        • Bill, nobody has to use heroin, and his addiction to that predates prescription drugs by decades. He said so himself. As a kid and young man, be used everything he could get his hands on, because he liked it. Sympathy for the premature death, not the addiction.

          • I have heard just the opposite so you are going to have to quote sources on the history of his drug abuse.

            Plus he was clean for 20 years and this latest bout was brought about because he was prescribed pain killers for an injury which got him back on heroin.

            • That last part is correct.

              From Variety:

              The thespian first went public with his history of drugs in 2006, during a “60 Minutes” interview, where he detailed what he experienced while fresh out of New York University’s drama school, lured by the fast life of the city. “It was all that [drugs and alcohol], yeah, it was anything I could get my hands on… I liked it all,” he said.

              However, Hoffman recognized early that he needed to stop. “I went [to rehab], I got sober when I was 22 years old. You get panicked… and I got panicked for my life. It really was just that.”

              “Anything I could get my hands on” would seem to implicate heroin, certainly illegal drugs, and 22 year-olds seldom are prescribed legal painkillers to an extent that lead to involuntary addiction. He says he “liked it,” not “a prescription drug addiction led me to other drugs I couldn’t control.”

              The prescription drug story sound like a cover to me.

              • I don’t know where you were 20 years ago , or even 30, but prescription drugs were always easy to get just more expensive.

                • Once you’re deliberately seeking prescription opiates it doesn’t count as “not your fault” any more, though.

                    • True- but just because the end of the path robs you of your self control, does not absolve you of the choices you made to get on that path. If I jump out of a helicopter with no parachute I can’t stop halfway down, descending is no longer a choice but a necessity- and yet I can’t just say it’s gravity’s fault, I was the one who unbuckled my harness and jumped.

                    • It’s because WordPress limits your ability to keep moving the thread to the right- you can only reply so many times before it stops letting you, otherwise you’d end up with a post that was a single character wide 🙂 And thanks. Of course it’s not always so simple- as someone points out below, some people are born addicts due to their mother’s use, or become addicted to narcotics from legitimate use during recovery from an injury, but still.

  2. I can grieve for actors and other celebrities who die young and the potential performances we never see, but that should not lessen the respect for those who gave those many performances. I know Mr Winters more from his later career comedy movies, and I loved the understated Police Commissioner he played in the 80’s.

  3. Shirly wasn’t being honored for her work as a diplomat, but her work as an actor. They have a separate category for those activities. In the category of pure “acting,” Hoffman deserved the top honors.

    • Uh-huh. When Ronald Reagan died, he was last in the list. Just acting? Gig Young was buried deep in the list when he died—you think the fact that he murdered his wife had something to so with it? The honor roll is about lives and life achievements—that’s why the Academy gives a humanitarian award.

      And even from an acting stand-point—Shirley’s films made more money, were seen by more people, and had a bigger impact on the industry. She had 61 acting credits to Hoffman’s 63, but then, she quit when she was 21. She is credited with saving a studio, and helped introduce celebrity merchandizing with the Shirley Temple doll. She’ll be remembered, and an icon, 100 years from now; Hoffman, good as he was, will be a footnote, like so many other character actors.

      No contest. She was deserving on the merits. Hoffman should have been behind Peter O’Toole, too.

      • I’m not sure I agree with you. You’re the same age as my mom — Shirley Temple is just a bigger deal to your generation I think. She might have made a lot of movies — but it seemed to me to be a lot of the same movie over and over again. Hoffman was more versatile.

        I’ll give you the nod about Reagan — but I’m not sure they have the same people doing these tributes every year. It’s all pretty subjective.

        Peter O’Toole was a great actor — who never won an Oscar.

        • But was nominated over and over again.

          By the way, Shirley was middle aged before I ever saw her in anything current—I’m not THAT old. Never could stand any of her movies either—especially Heidi!—GAH!—but what an amazing talent!

    • Agreed, Beth.
      Professionally speaking, Hoffman and Temple do not belong in a comparative situation. In response to Jack’s “ethical and historical objections to bestowing the prestigious final slot on actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, dead prematurely of self-inflicted drug abuse, when a genuine, bona fide Hollywood legend, Shirley Temple, was on the list” — I will try to defend, briefly, the Academy decision.

      Hoffman was regularly employed, as few are, in the performance industry (I don’t know how else to describe it) for almost a quarter century in 50+ movies and 20+ stage plays (with TV inbetween). Except for his role in Capote (for which took home the Best Actor Oscar) and three Supporting Actor nominations, and a co-lead in True West which got him a Tony nomination and excellent reviews, he was never a “star” — just (merely) a terrific supporting actor. Oh, And a film producer, and director or artistic director of 11 productions, though the latter were just (merely) off-B’way. I’d say he paid his dues.

      Shirley, on the other hand, was the cutest, most talented little child ever, took direction extremely well, never achieved anything as an actor and was being pushed on the strength of her screen baby reputation through her teens without ever learning to act. I will lay odds that more people of any age in the Academy or Oscar audiences knew her name just as well as Hoffman’s if not better.

      And I will really stick my neck out here: as far as mode of death goes, Hoffman OD’d on a mix that included illegal drugs. Shirley Temple Black died of a legal drug — more slowly, over a lifetime — of smoking cigarettes. In secret, according to her family. Even if no one ever told her that the result of a lifetime intake of nicotine and tars was going to cause Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (could’ve been lung cancer), she was an addict. Her family knew it, her friends knew it, her doctor(s) knew it — did no one say anything? Or is it possible she didn’t listen? Couldn’t cope with quitting? Thought she would live forever? Like Hoffman — and pretty much all they had in common — Shirley Temple Black was an adult, and responsible for her own health.

      As for dying at 85 years of age being “early for her time”, how about 110? See the Short Documentary winner on Alice Herz Sommer, ‘The Lady in Number 6’. I had a chance to attend screenings of almost all this year’s nominations (including technical) in the three months before the awards (volunteering pays off!) and this one was 38 minutes of, hands-down, the best of any length doc of many a year on all counts.

      • I think my post got out of order — I take too long to write — but it was meant to be after Beth’s March 3rd, 3:59pm. Now I understand why people copy quote what they are responding to.

      • 1. Now that’s a creative take. Nobody has reported that Temple died of smoking related causes, and many smokers don’t. Did smoking kill Churchill?

        2. The issue addiction to illegal substances. The government says that its illegal to use heroin. There—obey the law, and you don’t get addicted to heroin. When Temple started smoking, a majority of US adults smoked, and smoking was encouraged by the culture—the message was the opposite.

        3. The supposed dichotomy between “acting” and “what movie stars do ” is just personal preference, and a bias. Projecting one’s personality through a role. which is a kind of acting, is easy if you “got it,” impossible if you don’t. Both are worth recognizing and celebrating. John Wayne was (wrongly) criticized as not being a true “actor,” but it is accurate to say that he always projected one character, did it better than the greatest actor who ever lived could have done, and is an icon as a result (all the icons are of this breed.)Saying Shirley “never achieved anything as an actor” requires a biased definition of actor: she played Shirley Temple superbly well, and that was plenty.

        • 3) very important point to make and a fallacious distinction that some people make. If natural talent for doing something makes you not really the something, then Babe Ruth wasn’t really a good baseball player…

          Carl Lewis wasn’t a real runner… It just came naturally to him, the real runners have to work at it and struggle.

          Clarence Darrow wasn’t a real lawyer… It just came naturally to him, the real lawyers are the ones who struggle and work at it.

          • Those with such talent are also prone to discount it—what comes easily is devalued. I call it the Benchley Syndrome. Robert Benchley could write hilarious essays and play himself in movies superbly and seemingly without effort, yet he longed to be accepted as a serious dramatic actor, and let that unfulfilled ambition make him miserable…essentially because, since his talents made doing what he did better than anyone else easy for him, he didn’t respect it.

        • Re No. 2 — I wish you wouldn’t be so absolutist about it. Lots of babies are born addicted to heroin and their brain chemistry is forever altered. Many people turn to recreational drugs in an attempt to help with improperly diagnosed and treated mental illness — and I don’t hold people with severe mental illness to the same standards as healthy people. Finally, the “obey the law” comment has been bothering me all day long. As a general rule that’s true of course, but don’t forget oral sex was illegal in VA not too long ago. (That’s one example of many of course.)

            • Did I say that? I was commenting on your “obey the law, you won’t get addicted” comment. All the crack babies out there haven’t broken any laws. I don’t know Hoffman’s circumstances so I won’t judge him as harshly as you are. As for anti-drug laws being stupid, I would never say that, but I’m not sure they are much of a deterrence. To a large extent, I think people either have addictive personalities or they don’t. Certainly additional people would use (and possibly get addicted) to drugs if they were legal, but it might cost less and be better for society if we redirected funds to education and treatment rather than enforcement.

              • You’re making a common logical error. You’re reading Jack’s assertion:

                If you don’t break the law, you won’t get addicted. (which at it’s bare bones IS valid)

                then you assume that because it is valid, then the following assertion has been made:

                If you are addicted, you broke the law.

                But that isn’t the assertion being made, that is the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent, it is related to the invalid Converse Conditional. It’s a common error made in rhetoric.

                Jack’s assertion starts from the sub-set of people who are not already addicted, which automatically leaves out the sub-set of people you include in your rebuttal.

                • I think the key is the validity of the assertion. It is a functional and generally correct rule that if you don’t break the law you won’t get addicted, but not universally true. Infants born addicted broke no law. Children and young teens who were addicted via their parents’/guardians’ actions probably would never be prosecuted due to issues of concent and parental coercion. An amputee who becomes addicted to the morphine used to get him through recovery broke no law.

                  The thing is, all cases like that put together are still a pretty darn small percentage of drug addicts. The question is, do you want to treat your assertions as functionally correct with a small number of obvious exceptions that go without saying, or do you want to avoid the inadvertent harm caused by the assumption the assertion is universal? In other words: Do you want to make the point that drug addicts generally have themselves to blame (and when they don’t, we make the exception then) or do you want to make sure that the small number of blameless addicts don’t just get tarred with the same brush by assumption of their guilt?

                  • You’re making the same error as Beth.

                    Asserting: If you break no law, you won’t get addicted IS NOT THE SAME as saying “if you are addicted, you broke the law”. That is the fallacy of assuming a bi-conditional. It’s related to Affirming the Consequent.

                    • It’s not an error, it’s simply a question of whether you fill in all the possible exceptions when you make an assertion.

                      Assertion: If you break no law, you wont’ get addicted.

                      A man is T-boned in his car by a drunk driver. He suffers massive spinal damage and loses his left leg below the knee. He is prescribed heavy painkillers during recovery and becomes addicted to opiates.

                      Now, that may be rare enough that it’s not worth specifying- but it IS a direct contradiction to the assertion. The man broke no law, but became addicted to opiates. Your if-then isn’t absolute.

                    • And it IS the same. If the following is true: “If you break NO law, then you will NOT get addicted,” then it is impossible to become addicted without breaking the law. Anyone who has not breaken the law must, by definition of the assertion, not be an addict. That doesn’t mean everyone who DOES break the law WILL be an addict, but it means that nobody who did not break it can be one.

              • Well, infants aren’t held responsible for obeying any law, so I don’t see their plight as germane at all. The sodomy laws were, in fact, illegal; by no interpretation are anti-drug laws illegal, so again, I think it’s a specious argument. One purpose of the law is to disapprove harmful conduct. Nobody culpable is forced to disobey such laws in the first instance. No, I don’t blame Robert Downey Jr. for his addictions…his awful did drugs with him when he was a young teen. He never had a chance. Outlying exceptions, however, don’t disprove the main proposition.

        • My stock reply to anybody who says that John Wayne couldn’t act: go watch “The Searchers” and get back with me.

          The man also had some talent for doing comedy, given the right script (“McLintock!”, “Donovan’s Reef”, the guest appearances on “I Love Lucy”).

          • The Searchers, Red River, True Grit, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Hondo, The Quiet Man..there are lots. Red River is my personal favorite for acting.

            Wayne’s comedy skills and willingness to spoof himself (he appeared as a giant blue bunny rabbit on “Laugh In”) was his great secret weapon. Rio Bravo is at least half comedy—the Duke and Walter Brennan could have been a comedy team.

            • Or The Big Trail from 1930 when he was 23. While everyone else in the film is overacting and emoting he is just THERE saying his lines and stealing every scene he is in. All the qualities that would later make him a star are already evident.

              • Bravo for that, Bill. That movie was such a fiasco for Wayne, who finally got his star turn and was stuck in a bomb. You are right—he redeems the film. Kudos also for sticking through it—I find it hard to watch.

                • The only way to watch it is to watch the 70 MM widescreen version. It is stunningly beautiful. All the shots in the film are designed for the 70 MM version not the 35 mm which were for the most part shot at the same time with a 35 MM camera right next to the 70 MM camera.

                  Also the only sound film that Tyrone Power Senior made.

  4. I’d argue about who was the greatest child star. I kinda liked Mickey Rooney who besides doing the Andy Hardy and Boy’s Town movies, served in the Armed Forces in WW2. Still Shirley Temple Black was quite talented and her work with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is classic. Jonathan Winters was a treasure: Anybody that has seen “The Loved One” and his character Mr. Joyboy will probably agree. Anyway the Oscars are political, do you think 😉

  5. Reading the comments here and noting the diversity of opinion, vindicates me in my now long held conviction that the Academy Awards and the silly spectacle of the ceremony has no value at all. The opinions of the committee that determines the Academy award winners are not one whit more valuable than the opinions of the people on this page. So, truly, why do you care who won and did not win? Who was or was not singled out for a memoriam. Because your favorite film did not win, would you like it less?
    I would hope ‘no’ is the answer.

    So, again why should anyone care about the Academy awards. It’s a silly relic of another age and it has become irrelevant. I say ditch it.

    • If people still care, it will go on; if they don’t, it will vanish like the Miss America pageant. But if it’s occurring, like anything else, it should be done well, with thought and care. Ellen’s whole schtick was, “Who cares, I’m bored, let’s get pizza.” What an awful construct.

  6. Shirley Temple should not have been at the end. She deserved a whole segment to herself. She was a star on the level of Charlie Chaplin and deserved the same respect.

  7. I have to agree about Shirley Temple. Sorry Hoffman died, but these attempts to pander to younger audiences will bite them back eventually.

    On the other hand, they left out Alicia Rhett, one of the last surviving cast members of “Gone With the Wind”. And, since they apparently wanted to honor the 75th Anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” by having Pink sing “Over the Rainbow” (despite the fact that Liza was there and could have done the song a hundred times better) and having Liza & Lorna Luft stand up, you’d think they would have included Ruth Duccini – the last surviving female Munchkin – in the In Memoriam segment.

    • More proof that the Academy Awards are from a previous generation. The baby boom generation started the take down of formality and dignity in ceremony and it’s been eroding ever since. Unironic honoring of others doesn’t really exist anymore.

  8. The people you listed as being snubbed – they were mostly TV actors, right? Aren’t the Oscars just for movies?

    And don’t you also have to be a member of The Academy to get mentioned? The gal who was Scarlet’s rival in Gone with the Wind died and wasn’t mentioned either, but she also only ever did the one movie and was never a member of the Academy.

    They didn’t snub people, they listed the same sort of people they always list. They never show TV actors unless they also have an Oscar – like Sid.

    • This year, I think that’s fair. Past years—calling Henry Morgan, William Windom and Andy Griffith “TV actors” is unfair—they all had major roles in major films, and more than one. The fact that they are best known for TV shouldn’t be a factor. But Cory Montieth? TV actor.

      The Academy has never snubbed someone just for not being a member…it has listed many, many non members. Who are you talking about re: Gone with the Wind? Not Ann Rutherford, surely—she made many movies, and was a genuine star.

      And Sid never won an Oscar. In fact, he was one of the rare great comics who wasn’t much of a dramatic actor, unlike Jerry Lewis, Chaplin, Milton Berle, Robin Williams, Ed Wynn, Steve Martin…

        • I agree about “Andj,” but I didn’t leave him out: “This year, I think that’s fair. Past years—calling Henry Morgan, William Windom and Andy Griffith “TV actors” is unfair—they all had major roles in major films, and more than one. The fact that they are best known for TV shouldn’t be a factor. But Cory Montieth? TV actor.

        • Andy Griffith not only deserved to be there the year he passed away, he also should have won a Best Actor Oscar for his work in “A Face in the Crowd”. Must see and still timely.

  9. My understanding is that, incredibly, in many cases the family of the deceased has to actually lobby AMPAS for inclusion in the “In Memoriam” segment – I remember reading this somewhere regarding the exclusion of Harry Morgan a few years back (known for TV work but did an incredible amount of high quality film work including “Inherit the Wind” and “The Ox-Bow Incident” that was in many cases superior to the last couple of seasons of “M*A*S*H”, then again, a *lot* of things are superior to the seasons of “M*A*S*H” featuring Mike Farrell with a mustache).

    Caesar belonged there, even though he only made one memorable film; Jonathan Winters deserved to be there also, and his film output was significantly greater than Sid Caesar’s.

    At least this year you didn’t see a standalone tribute to a filmmaker who didn’t deserve one, as they did a few years back for John Hughes. Hughes deserved to be in the “In Memoriam” segment (like Harold Ramis, a better screenwriter and director, was this year), but he was really at best a middling director with one very good film behind the camera (“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”) and being known for a genre other filmmakers have handled much better (Cameron Crowe did movies about teenagers much better and, as a screenwriter a couple of years before Hughes). I may be wrong, but I only remember Stanley Kubrick and Katharine Hepburn getting standalone posthumous tributes.

    • 1. Welcome back!
      2. Hughes was well-liked in the profession, but also made lots of money with his films…from a bottom line standpoint, he was a superstar. He also launched a lot of careers, like Robert Downey, Jr., Molly Ringwald. I agree with you about his funniest movie, but I think “16 Candles” is justly praised, Long Duc Dong notwithstanding.

      • I think the Hughes tribute was mostly a ratings thing – “look, there’s Macaulay Culkin and the rest of the Brat Pack, even Judd Nelson!” I agree re: “16 Candles”, and I’d also add the script for “Vacation”. Can’t quite forgive him for that awful remake of “Miracle on 34th Street”, though .

      • While Hoffman was arguably the best actor of his generation, Shirley Temple’s contribution to the culture at large (not due to her acting abilities so much as her role in the time and place she lived) was greater. Did Hoffman pay his dues? No question. Was his death tragic? Definitely. I agree with Jack that his placement at the end of the segment was due to the fact that he was well liked by the people in the room and his work was widely respected.

        It should also be noted that outside film, Shirley Temple Black was one of the very first women to go public about battling breast cancer, at a time when the disease wasn’t talked about in public.

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