Oscar Ethics 2015: The Unforgivable Dishonoring Of Maureen O’Hara

maureen ohara

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)

Polly Bergen

…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:


25 thoughts on “Oscar Ethics 2015: The Unforgivable Dishonoring Of Maureen O’Hara

  1. Maureen O’Hara is one of my heroes; she is a film icon. Is the Academy now too political, too young, or too ignorant to see that? I didn’t think so, after a couple of years ago Shirley Temple Black got a long standing ovation (much to her surprise): I thought then that the current Academy members had some sense of their own history. Was it ignorance this time? Simple politics to “leave room” for various rants? Don’t know. This is especially weird with the long and wonderful kudo to the 50-year anniversary of “The Sound of Music,” which only proves, “they don’t make movies like that anymore.”

    And no one is there to begin to fill the the shoes of Maureen O’Hara, John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn… the list goes on and on. Instead, we have Scientologists, knee-jerk liberals, directors who will distort history (“Selma”) to create a hagiography of Martin Luther King and downplay the enormous contribution of LBJ in passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, e.g, and, oh yes, people who can’t take the time to learn to pronounce the names of the nominees they will be announcing,
    Screw them.

  2. Instead, we have Scientologists, knee-jerk liberals, directors who will distort history (“Selma”) to create a hagiography of Martin Luther King and downplay the enormous contribution of LBJ in passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965…

    With that comment, I’m pretty sure you have not seen Selma. I don’t think anyone who has seen it would term it a hagiography of MLK. The focus wasn’t really on him. Instead it was about the determination and sacrifices of the common, unsung foot soldiers of the Civil Rights movement.

    • Nor is “distorting history” an accurate comment, assuming you’re joining the “she done LBJ wrong” crowd. The movie was not about LBJ, it was about King, and the director was quite conscious of and careful to provide accurate information about LBJ’s role in the particular events portrayed. If the full and well-deserved glory of LBJ wasn’t fully laid out in a movie about someone else, then wait for the movie about LBJ.

      • I think its fair to say, without endorsing E1’s excesses, that the suggestion that LBJ was reluctant to pursue the Voting Rights Act is an intentional distortion of LBJ’s legacy, and unfair, as well as irresponsible. No one who listens to the tapes will be comfortable with the film’s slant. The fact that the director said “I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie” tells me all I need to know–imagine if a white director minimizing King’s critical role had said,” I wasn’t interested in making a black-savior movie;” How can anyone criticize those who find that attitude offensive when the story is one of two dedicated and powerful men of different races working together?

        And I also find this kind of statement offensive: “History is for each of us to interpret for ourselves, so anyone’s opinion is valid, truly it is.” Nope. You are welcome to you opinion, but not to make up facts.

        I’m sure she’s a “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” fan, too.

        I expect all races to abide by the same standards of honesty, accountability, fairness, mutual respect, and self-criticism.

  3. “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.”

    Every year, at Texas A&M as part of our cult, we have “Muster”. On April 21st, each year, on the anniversary of the battle of San Jacinto, Aggies gather together wherever they are to commemorate fellow Aggies who have died through the year.

    To tie it into cults/religion, Muster, in essence is our Pilgrimage. In the main basketball arena which probably sits close to 4 million people, everyone who comes sits through a ceremony, remembering our time at A&M. At the end, there is a list of names read, of ALL Aggies who have passed away since the previous Muster. As their name is read, surviving Aggies who knew them, or were related to them, or, be they the last of their “group”, people would volunteer, would say “Here” as part of the “Roll Call” for who is present.

    Well, in 1954, A&M stopped being a purely military college and admitted it’s first civilian students en masse (there had been civilian students before, but they were exceptions few and far between). Well, circle around to 2004-2014 and that first generation, when A&M’s population began to swell, you can image that the Muster ceremony got MUCH LONGER as a larger student population began passing away. Well to bad. They were all Aggies, they get their name read anyway, no matter how much time it takes.

    So the Oscars can suck it. I guarantee you more Ole Ags die per year than actors. So the Oscars can make it work if they wanted to.

  4. The Oscars were on in the background while I did other things last night. I did noticed Maureen O’Hara relegated to the off-screen awards and thought that was highly disrespectful of such a significant person.

    Reading the description of her time on-stage, however, makes me angry. How dare they!

  5. I’ve been smitten with Maureen O’Hara since I first saw her in The Long Gray Line. I am rather surprised she didn’t get up from her wheelchair and take somebody out. This snub is one reason that, when it comes to the Oscars, in the words of Rhett Butler from another classic, “I don’t give a damn.”

  6. Here goes my take on last night’s ceremony… both from ethical and aesthetic point of view.

    Favorite moment: Lady Gaga and Julie Andrews. This was entertaining, amazingly well prepared, technically flawless, emotional without overdoing it, and ethical. This makes O’Hara’s rebuff even less understandable. Just who the hell is in charge of programming the event?! (Someone who will never earn a nomination, for sure :))

    Least favorite moment: Patricia Arquette’s feminist screed. Really, in a forum where women are recognized and treated largely in a fair manner, the call for wage equality felt completely out of place and put the attending audience in an uncomfortable position to wildly cheer or be later destroyed by the media. Yuck!

    NPH as the host. He was entertaining, low-key (compared to previous hosts Ellen DeGeneres and Seth MacFarlane who hogged much more of the spotlight). He had a couple of brilliant moments; “it takes balls” and “for some treason” come to mind. But mostly he MC’d the thing, rather than monologue or use it as a vehicle for his comedy routines. I hope he comes back for future ceremonies.

    On Birdman: I’m happy that my compatriots won :). Since Amores Perros – one of those amazing movies you have to see once, and then never again because it’s that hard to swallow – I’ve followed González Iñárritu’s career, and I’m happy he’s getting deserved recognition. He was perfectly playing the gracious winner until that very last 30 seconds when he went off the rails politically, but otherwise I liked him. I was very fond of his shoutout to 2 other of my favorite directors Cuarón and Del Toro, guys with whom he has teamed up and who are now having successful careers in Hollywood. Don’t forget about your friends and all that.

    On the “government we need” speech. As much as I agree with the sentiment. Really, the reason him, and me, and countless others are no longer living in our hometowns has a lot to do with a string of terrible governments in Mexico, but this was the wrong place to raise it. I want to give him a pass for saving it for the very end and making it quick, but no matter the circumstances it’s all rationalizing. The speech was wrong.

    On the Green Card joke: I thought it was hilarious, if terribly miscalculated for the audience of the show. I would have come back with a “well, I don’t have GC because the flipping government has not finished processing my papers for 10 years”, but I see where Penn was coming from, and he was genuinely happy for his friend. I don’t like Penn, I think his political positions are stupid and no one should ever give him a microphone in front of a large audience, but in this case I think the critics are playing the “gotcha” card. We should give him the benefit of the doubt and interpret his joke the way it was meant, as good-natured ribbing of a close friend.

    • Agree all the way. Arquette was out of line: of all places, that’s not the one to make an equal pay complaint. Hollywood pays you according to what you bring to the box office and film. And what’s equal work? Two extras in a crowd scene, but other than that, it’s like arguing that all second basemen should he paid the same. Guaranteed she thinks that women are paid 77% of what men are due to bias.

      I haven’t seen Imitation Game, but none of the films I have seen seemed like Best Movies to me. The end of Birdman was unforgivable, but he’s a great director.

      The voting rights speech was obnoxious, arising from the same position that holds that the Supreme Court refusing to let the Feds unilaterally change state laws based on statistics from 1966 is “gutting” the law. And it has no place at the Oscars; it’s just grandstanding.

      NPH seemed out of place, somehow. The opening was boffo (especially Jack Black), but I had the feeling that Doogie was bombing and knew it, though the Birdman bit was great.

      Yes, the Green Card joke was funny, and it shows how much political correctness is strangling speech and humor that it even became an issue.

  7. Appalling – there was enough time for for such dubious highlights as the tedious NPH stripping to his underwear (how I wish I hadn’t seen that) and Arquette’s rambling, inappropriate and self service blather about women’s rights, but not enough to honor a real star – in the truest sense of that word – who has left a legacy of fine films and brilliant performances in a career spanning over 70 years and free of scandals or embarrassing behavior. Talk about questionable priorities..

  8. This is a bunch of boloney. I am related to someone who attended the Governors Awards that evening and there was no “defiant” shoe-kicking or “dishonoring” of Maureen. As a matter of fact, if you read the REAL accounts of what happened that evening, everyone – including Maureen and her family – were honored and pleased at what took place. This Oscar was long overdue. Instead of spreading lies and rubbish (as Maureen would say), people should be focusing on the happy fact that a screen legend was finally honored the way she deserved to be honored. It may not have taken place the way some people think it should have, but I can attest to the fact that it was an absolutely wonderful evening for Maureen.

    • 1. Anonymous isn’t allowed here—give me your name, or your comment, in this case, stupid, ignorant, annoying comment, will be published under one-time dispensation only, in this instance to explain to you why it’s stupid, ignorant and annoying.
      2. The incident recorded by the Times didn’t happen then? She wasn’t cut short, she didn’t object, didn’t say “Oh no, you have to give me a few more minutes”, didn’t try to speak some more, and wasn’t cut short again, didn’t have her microphone unclipped from her dress as the band started playing over her? You know, I don’t trust the Times much, but it has never been caught reporting fake events unless Jason Blair was the writer. Meanwhile, who the hell are you? “A relative of someone who attended”? Your account is pure hearsay and has no reliability whatsoever
      3. Even ignoring what happened at the subsidiary awards, the post was mainly about the fact that O’Hara, unlike every other recipient of this award before her, was not allowed to receive it and her deserved applause, on Oscar night. Or does your omniscient cousin/uncle, third nephew twice removed dispute that, too?

      That snub was outrageous, as I wrote.

      Sorry you can’t read, but tell your ex-husband or whatever the hell he is that his hallucinations are not welcome in my blog, and neither are you.

  9. Maureen’s death yesterday brought me back to this post, and deery’s comment. As an LBJ admirer (in some ways), I was offended by the minimizing of his role in passing the Civil Rights Act.. I think he’s technically corerct about my being wrong that Selma was a hagiography.—King was not portrayed as saint like. What’s the word for a work that steals credit from one historical figure to bestow it on another? Unfair and deceptive doesn’t quite make it.

  10. I was saddened by the news of Maureen O’Hara’s passing. I was thinking about her being probably the very final actress of her era & what a closing of those times it would be, like the last page turned in a grand novel. It leaves one feeling a bit empty, that a little piece of your life spent in watching nostalgic films had wrapped in celluloid cannisters, with all the familiar faces & voices that will never return this way again.
    And to even envision someone
    unclipping her mike while she was still speaking raises anger to a level of retaliating with bleep words that would guarantee this post unpostable. For 75 years an actress, her voice & message deserved MORE! What did they think she was there for, it was an award ceremony, she was invited to be one of the main names that would draw more names to make up a larger or all seat filled audience of guests who might have skipped it but wanted to honor her with respect by showing up. For Maureen O’Hara to suffer such indignity toward the end of her life, that all her film life had come to this disrespectful spectacle, as though it was ALL for nothing. The Governor’s Dishonor malawards or whatever they call themselves should be ashamed to even exist as an establishment. Really, how could they be so cruel?!

  11. I just found this article while researching Maureen O’Hara. I have seen a large percentage of her acting in movies, but actually was introduced to her early in the Parent Trap of all things.

    Her off dialogue expressions is what caught my eye and thought that this was very good acting for what was just at the time a Disney yarn.

    That drew me in, starting with The Quiet Man and on and on.

    As far as snubs go, Maureen *did* deserve prime time recognition for her contributions to film, but a couple of things probably played a larger role.

    She basically had outlived her benefactors to some degree. While still full of spunk, she was a slow communicator due to her age. If she was to get the award, it should have happened when she was 80 years old, when she was still of full capacity.

    By moving her to the Governors Awards actually permitted less regimentation than what she would have faced in the prime time event. (But just enough to feel like she was mistreated)

    By having Liam Neeson open about her being a childhood crush, and the oldest coherent actor they could find (Clint Eastwood) whose career actually intersected with hers (in a minute way) shows that there was just no contemporaries left anymore.

    So really, the “dishonor” to Maureen, was that they waited much too long to honor her, and because of that, it could never match the prestige she richly deserved.

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