Usually I follow the Oscars telecast with a post on the recently deceased actors and actresses the Academy unfairly snubs in its annual “In Memoriam” session. There is no excuse for robbing anyone of a last bow and farewell, despite the repeated claim that there “just isn’t enough time” to squeeze everyone in. Last night that dishonest excuse for disrespect and incompetence was rendered more absurd than ever: If there’s time for the longest, slowest, most repetitious speech yet by an Academy official, if there’s time for not one but two inappropriate political rants on the podium by award-winners, if there’s time for so many songs that the show seemed more like the Grammys than the Oscars, then there’s time to flash a couple more faces for a second or two.
This year, the omissions were minimal compared to recent years. I noticed the absence of Richard Kiel (1939-2014),
…the giant actor who was best known for playing the James Bond villain “Jaws” in two films, as well as less celebrated monsters, aliens and goons. Marcia Strassman, (1948-2014),
who made few films (she was predominantly a TV actress (“Welcome Back, Kotter”), but who was the co-star (with Rick Moranis) of the Disney hits, “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” and “Honey I Blew Up The Kid,” also deserved inclusion, and Polly Bergen (1930-2014)
…who played the terrorized lawyer’s wife in the original “Cape Fear”(portrayed by Jessica Lange in the Scorsese re-make) and had significant roles in several other films, was a bad omission.
Because Twitter users are about 12 or have the memories of mayflies, there was much indignation last night over the absence of Joan Rivers and former SNL standout Jan Hooks. I’d leave the appreciations of both to the Emmys, especially Rivers. A couple cameos and doing the voice of the C3PO parody in “Spaceballs” doesn’t constitute a film career, and snarky red carpet interviews are not movie-making.
Those snubs pale in significance, however, to the disrespect shown by the academy not only to one of its all-time great stars, but to its own history, in the treatment of actress Maureen O’Hara.
In a career spanning more than 6 decades, the fiery redhead never received an Oscar nomination, but was the female star of some of the greatest films ever made. Her impressive body of work includes her performance as Esmerelda in Charles Laughton’s definitive version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” 1941’s Best Film “How Green Was My Valley,” “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne, who was often paired with her, and the Christmas classic “Miracle on 34th Street,” as the Santa-denying mother of little Natalie Wood. She starred in romances, dramas, westerns, comedies and Disney hits (“The Parent Trap,” with Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills), had a vivid screen presence, and never turned in anything less than exactly the performance that a film needed. By any measure, O’Hara was a grand movie star, deserving of the honorary lifetime achievement award that the Academy decided to give her this year.
For the first time, however, the Academy decided that there wasn’t time to show respect for an elderly great from Hollywood’s past, and to allow an elderly star to bask in the appreciation of the assembled worthies from the profession that she honored and enhanced, experience the thrill of standing ovation, and to have a final moment in the spotlight on the live broadcast. The lifetime achievement award has been a highlight of past ceremonies, when they were accepted by the likes of Paul Newman, Lawrence Olivier, Charles Chaplin, Deborah Kerr, James Cagney and so many others. This was Maureen O’Hara’s turn, and she earned it. The Academy, however, relegated her award presentation to the junior edition of the Oscars, the so-called Governor Awards, which is the un-televised, presumed to be less interesting and appealing honors ceremony held the previous night. Pre-recorded clips from that event are always shown on the telecast, usually featuring the awards to technicians and inventers. They dumped the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award into this low-visibility affair a couple years ago, and now, just for Maureen, the lifetime achievement awards are there too.
How insulting, and how foolish. It was clear this year that the Academy was aiming at a younger demographic, for most of the presenters were lesser-known younger stars on the rise rather than the legends and icons that used to dominate the telecast. It should tell the producers something that one of the biggest hands of the night went to 80-year-old Julie Andrews, who came out to give an award after Lady Gaga had stunned the crowd with her spectacular rendering of a “Sound of Music” medley. There were few film clips and retrospectives, which were eliminated, presumably, to allow for all the performances of mediocre music (Lady Gaga’s being the exception) and protracted kowtowing to the civil rights movement as penance for not giving enough nominations to “Selma.” Hollywood’s past glory is one of its greatest assets, and marginalizing it is a losing strategy. Moreover, every organization, profession and industry—and country— has an obligation to recognize and show gratitude to those who once made them strong. The Academy’s reduction of a lifetime award for one of its past greats to a footnote is gross ingratitude.
It was worse that that. From the Times’ account of the event:
“It took the still-fiery Ms. O’Hara, wearing a blue sparkling gown and using a wheelchair, to fully command the room’s attention. Introduced by Clint Eastwood and Liam Neeson with a montage of her famous roles (“How Green Was My Valley,” “Miracle on 34th Street”), Ms. O’Hara arrived onstage softly singing “Danny Boy.”The Dublin-born Ms. O’Hara, 94, delivered a very Irish lesson for the glory-seekers in the crowd. “There’s only one person who has control over what you get and what it’s made of,” she said. “And that’s the devil himself.”
But when she was cut short, she objected (“Oh no, you have to give me a few more minutes”), spoke some more, then was cut short again, as her microphone was unclipped from her dress and the band started playing. Looking annoyed, she kicked off her left shoe, and Mr. Eastwood wheeled her offstage.”
When a star of this magnitude is taking a last public bow, she should be allowed to speak as long as she wants to. We should all kick off a shoe in protest against the dishonoring of the great, still feisty, Maureen O’Hara. It’s a mistake to cross her. Always was: