Oscar Ethics Part III: The “In Memoriam” Snubs, Cont.

The more I think about this, the more it angers me.

All of the performers who were arbitrarily left off the 2020 “In Memoriam’ montage were devoted dramatic artists who gave their professional lives to entertaining the public and supporting their industry and colleagues. They deserved the respect and gratitude of their community symbolized by a final remembrance for the audience, and last round of applause. An extra minute would have done it. Instead, the Academy decided that it would honor a local  NBA star who had died in a tragic accident, under the pretense that he was an Oscar-winner, a distinction itself that seemed driven by public relations considerations. The move was guaranteed to be popular among Los Angeles residents and sports fans, and perhaps even pick-up some extra ratings points. For that, an actor with  the status and body of work of  Michael J. Pollard had to be ignored, an affront to fairness as well as his families and fans.

Here are other Hollywood departed  who met Pollard’s undeserved fate.

 Cameron Boyce

(May 28, 1999 – July 6, 2019)

Unless you are 15, you probably don’t know Cameron Boyce, whose most prominent claim to stardom his role as Luke Ross in the Disney Channel’s comedy series “Jessie” from 2011 to 2015. But then Boyce was only beginning his career, and died of complications relating to his epilepsy at the age of 20. Still, he had appeared in three feature films, and had a lot going that suggested that good things were on the horizon. He had bee cast in the indie film “Runt,” and last year Boyce had joined the cast of HBO’s “Mrs. Fletcher.” Just before his sudden death, Boyce was about to begin production on a new Adam Sandler film.


Ron Leibman

(October 11, 1937 – December 6, 2019)

Sometimes the Academy’s excuse for omitting an actor is that he or she was just a passer-by on the movie scene, and should be properly categorized as a TV actor, or a stage star. This was the argument when “In Memoriam” snubbed the great Carol Channing last yea, and  it will surely be the argument for ignoring Leibman, who was a major Broadway star, most notably winning awards and raves for his tour de force portrayal of Roy Cohn in both plays in the epic “Angels in America” series, arguably the last culturally significant drama Broadway has produced.

Leibman won a a 1993 Tony Award for playing Cohn. For his varied television work. He won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series, in 1979 for ” Kaz” (1978–79), a series which he created and co-wrote. TV is where the average member  of the public probably met him: on “Friends” he had a recurring role as Rachel Green’s (Jennifer Aniston to the culturally ignorant) overbearing father. He had a another recurring role on “The Sopranos” as Dr. Plepler, and yet another recurring role on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Leibman didn’t make a lot of movies—just 23— but some were important, none more than “Norma Rae,” in which he played the union organizer who mentors and pushed Sally Field into a new life and passion. Leibman’s energy and nuanced performance is a bulwark of that movie, and I would argue that Field owes her career-altering Oscar win in part to him.

If a career like Ron Leibman’s isn’t one the Academy is proud to embrace, then I don’t know what it stands for.

Sue Lyon

(July 10, 1946 – December 26, 2019)

Playing the title role in one of the most controversial films of its era, directed by a legendary director, would seem to ensure a final metaphorical bow at the Oscars, no? Not in Sue Lyon’s case.

At 14, Lyon was cast in the title role of Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita,” the immediately scandalous  film version of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel about a middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a 12-year-old girl. 800 girls were auditioned for the part; Nabokov called Lyon “the perfect nymphet.” After “Lolita,” she appeared in “The Night of the Iguana” (1964), “Tony Rome” (1967), “Evel Knievel” (1971) and a few other movies, as well as guesting on some TV show episodes. Her most recent credit was “Alligator,” a 1980 tongue-in-cheek horror movie.

Jan Michael Vincent

(July 10, 1946 – December 26, 2019)

84 TV and film credits would seem to be more than enough qualification for an “In Memoriam” moment.  In addition, the troubled actor stands for the industry’s plague of emotionally damaged, addicted self-destructive artists who succumb to what can fairly be called an occupational hazard.

Vincent, a beautiful man with piercing blue eyes and a bathing suit models physique, appeared on 60’s television shows including “Bonanza,” “Lassie” and “Gunsmoke.” He then starred in Disney’s “The World’s Greatest Athlete” (1973) and “Buster and Billie” (1974). “White Line Fever” (1975) was one of his best films, an action movie in which he played a truck driver who battles corruption.

He co-starred with  Rock Hudson and John Wayne in the western “The Undefeated” (1969),  joined  Candice Bergen and Gene Hackman in “Bite the Bullet” (1975); and played an up-and-coming stuntman in “Hooper” (1978), with Burt Reynolds and Sally Field. The same year, he used  his surfing skills in “Big Wednesday” (1978), a film which became a  favorite of surfers.

Next Vincent became a bona fide TV star  as  combat helicopter pilot Stringfellow Hawke on “Airwolf,” a CBS show built around a cutting-edge combat helicopter that made its debut in 1984 and lasted three seasons. But it’s star sealed its by his inability to keep his demons under control. He was an alcoholic and a cocaine addict; he got into bar fights; and he was convicted of drunk driving. After he checked into a rehab program, CBS canceled “Airwolf.”  After that, the quality of Vincent’s projects declined, and his self-destructive behavior worsened. He broke his neck in 1996 after rear-ending his girlfriend’s car, and permanently damaged his vocal cords. The actor was  involved in another car crash in 2008, and  an infection led  to amputation of part of his right leg in 2012.

By the time of his death, he was forgotten in Hollywood, and had become an unwelcome reminder of the industry’s dark side.


Denise Nickerson

(April 1, 1957 – July 10, 2019)

I believe that if an actress plays a character in a classic film in which she is at the center of one of the most unforgettable moments in that film, attention must be paid. That, in a nutshell, is why I was sad to see Denice Nickerson snubbed at the Oscars.

Yes, she was the “blueberry girl,” the obnoxious gun-chewing Golden Ticket winner Violet, who turned herself into a human blueberry by refusing to heed Willy Wonka’s warning in the Gene Wilder classic, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory.” (The less said about Tim Burton’s re-make the better). That wasn’t her sole notable credit: she also appeared in the beauty pageant satire “Smile”  as Miss San Diego’s Shirley Tolstoy, with young Melanie Griffith and Annette O’Toole. Denise was a soap opera star as a child actress, with a role on the cult horror soap “Dark Shadows,” and she also appeared in episodes of TV sitcoms, like “The Brady Bunch.” The same year she turned into a blueberry, Nickerson, 13, was cast as Lolita in the musical, “Lolita, My Love,” a bomb that never made it to Broadway during its run in Boston, which closed on the road.

When she hit 21, Denise Nickerson quit the business and opted for a normal life, leaving a lasting legacy as the Blueberry girl, and a tantalizing “What if?” She had auditioned for the role of Regan in “The Exorcist,” but lost the part to Linda Blair.


Rene Auberjonois

(June 1, 1940 – December 8, 2019))

Despite a name that nobody could spell or pronounce, Auberjonois was a major talent and screen presence for decades, as well as one of Holywood’ss most versatile Renaissance men.  In films, Auberjonois was perhaps best known as the original  Father Mulcahy in the  film version of “M*A*S*H.”  He was Reverend Oliver in The Patriot”(2000),  Dr. Burton, a mental asylum doctor,  in “Batman Forever” (1995),a bird expert who gradually transforms into a bird in Robert Altman’s 1970 film “Brewster McCloud;”  Colonel West in the 1991 Star Trek film “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” and appeared in  “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971), “Images” (1972), “Pete ‘n’ Tillie” (1972), “The Hindenburg” (1975), “King Kong” (1976), “The Big Bus” (1976), “Eyes of Laura Mars” (1978), “Where the Buffalo Roam” (1980), “Walker” (1987), “My Best Friend Is a Vampire” (1988), “The Feud” (1989), “Inspector Gadget” (1999), and “Eulogy” (2004).

He was a regular on four long-running TV series, all very different: “Benson,” a situation comedy, playing a pompous bureaucrat; “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ,” playing a alien crew member who periodically turned into liquid goo and had to be stored in a bucket, fiction;  “Boston Legal,” playing a jerkish lawyer, and the still running  CBS drama “Madam Secretary,” playing an aide who often had to relay bad news. Auberjonois guested on many, many more TV shows. He did copious voice-over work. He made video games.

On Broadway, he received Tony nominations for one comedy and two musicals. Yes, he sang too. Some moviegoers came to know him from “The Little Mermaid,” in which he voiced the chef who sings “Les Poissons,” the gruesome song about preparing fish for cooking.

In his spare time—although it is hard to see how he had any—Auberjonois was an amateur artist, drawing, painting, sculpting and taking photographs. He leaves a big hole, but the Academy didn’t think his death was worth mentioning, or  his amazing career worth noting.

Sid Haig

(July 14, 1939 – September 21, 2019)

Sid Haig was the kind of Hollywood performer that never get Oscars. Nonetheless, he had a niche, and within that niche, he had a remarkable career. For more than half a century, Haig played thugs, villains and, most famously, a psychotic clown named Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s cult classic, “House of 1000 Corpses.”

The niche was cheap horror movies. (I love cheap horror movies.) He did other roles as well, almost always small parts and villains in more than 350 television shows and 70 movies, including  Tarentino’s “Jackie Brown” and the Bond film, “Diamonds Are Forever.”  While Oscar would never call, Haig was the recipient of many awards for his work in horror movies. Last  August, he was given the Vincent Price Award for excellence in the genre.

And last but not least…

 Tim Conway

(December 15, 1933 – May 14, 2019)

Yeah, I know: TV actor.

Conway, however, was one of the funniest and most recognizable comic actors of his generation, and despite his legendary tenure on “The carol Burnett Show,” he made funny movies too. Though Conway’s  movie projects were dwarfed by his TV work, which in addition to the Burnett show included the long-running “McHale’s Navy” and two series of his own, his  film credits include two “McHale’s Navy” movies in the mid-1960s and a number of movies for children and families. He and Don Knotts played a pair of inept outlaws in the Disney films “The Apple Dumpling Gang” (1975) and its sequel, “The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again” (1979). The two teamed up again in “The Private Eyes” (1980), a Sherlock Holmes spoof that Mr. Conway also helped write.

Never mind that. Tim Conway was the equal of the greatest comics in movie history; he make films, he was loved, the Oscars owed him the proper send-off, as they did all of the performers they snubbed.


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22 thoughts on “Oscar Ethics Part III: The “In Memoriam” Snubs, Cont.

  1. Thank you for posting them. I grew up watching “Airwolf”, and thought it was the coolest show on TV. Jan Michael Vincent’s story is tragic for sure. I would add that he played Byron Henry in the TV adaptation of Wouk’s “The Winds of War”. Commitments to “Airwolf” and alcohol kept him from being cast in the sequel “War and Remembrance”.

      • Totally agree. Overall casting was much improved. Bochner was good as Byron, and Jane Seymour was a huge upgrade. And Houseman was ill – I’m not sure he lived long after that. Robert Morley might have been my favorite secondary character. Of all the “movies about books”, this was one of the better ones. I think Wouk demanded close adherence to his writing.

        …and I thought the books were fantastic. Anyways…

        • I thought Vincent and McGraw too old for Byron and Natatie. Bochner and Jane Seymour were much better. I also agree that Mitchum was a bit long-in-the-tooth for “Pug” Henry.


  2. I met Rene Auberjonois at a Star Trek convention a few years ago. He ended his Q&A with a perfect rendition, complete with French accent, of the chef’s song in “Mermaid”.

    Unforgettable. Except to the Academy, I suppose.

  3. Thanks for doing this work and keeping our cultural memory fresh. In this case I find it particularly offensive because everyone in this installment are artists I know (and God knows I’m not a movie trivia wiz).

    I any case, to quote from the book I’m currently reading “I will remember those who have been forgotten.”

    • Those who were predominately known as TV actors certainly should be. Unfortunately, the Emmys are about as thorough as the Oscars, leaving out several notable performers each year.

    • Sure, if they are really almost exclusively TV actors. I can see the argument with Perry and Conway. Not Rene, not Jan Michael. Whither James Garner? Jack Benny? Peter Falk? Raymond Burr? Lucille Ball, who made a lot of movies? Tom Selleck? Dennis Weaver? Carroll O’Connor? Phil Silvers?

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