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.