Sunday night we had overnight guests, old friends from out of town, and a date with other, mutual friends for dinner in Metairie. Halfway through, I got to thinking, “Oh no, I’m missing the Oscars!” Not that I would have foregone our reunion to watch them live, but I would have taped the show and turned on the TV set the minute we got home.
Movie buff that I am — every Wednesday evening at the West Bank AMC Palace, and often at Canal Place — I haven’t missed many of these annual gala nights in Hollywood. And come to my armchair prepared to evaluate the entire scene by having bought tickets to all of the candidates for Best Picture, and 90 percent of the ones with casts including a nominee for Best Actor or Actress.
My love of the movies was inspired by my mother, who — after church and a hasty lunch at home — routinely took us every Sunday afternoon to the nearest theater to see whatever was playing. I remember a lot of films starring the likes of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — her favorites — and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Just FYI, admissions to these dreamlands was 9 cents for a kid, 15 cents for an adult in the ‘40s.
Anyhow, I found out when we got home from dinner that the Oscar show is this Sunday, Feb. 24, having finally picked up The Times-Picayune edition that informed me of this. I’m keeping this Sunday evening open.
I was going to tell you that I can’t remember when I wasn’t hooked on the Oscar show. But of course I can. It wasn’t telecast until 1952, and for a few years after that it wouldn’t have been much fun because of the “snow” on our television screens out in the boondocks. For the next few years, like most college students of the day, and then into my early 20s, I couldn’t have been bothered.
For the next seven or eight years, with tiny tots to care for, I didn’t even see many of the movies that were being celebrated, so it probably was in the late ‘60s that a certain Sunday night in February became sacred. Oscar night is wonderful entertainment, from the sublime to the ridiculous and in between.
In 1974 English actor David Niven was either presenting or receiving an award when a “streaker” crossed the stage behind him. Remember them? They were people who got naked and ran through crowds at public events either in support of something or as a protest or maybe just for fun. This one was giving the “peace” sign, and as he ran off, Niven turned back to the cameras and said something like, “maybe the only time he’ll ever get a laugh is by showing his shortcomings.”
Another memorable Oscar moment came when actor Marlon Brando declined to accept an award for “The Godfather,” sending a Native American woman to take the microphone in his place with a message about unfair treatment of her people.
Then there was best actress Sally Fields’ response to her big win: “You like me, you really like me!” she told her peers. And irrepressible Italian actor and director Roberto Benigni’s scramble over the backs of the rows of seats in front of him as he made his way up front to grab a Best Picture prize for “It’s a Beautiful Life.”
More Oscar memories: Wondering what far-out apparel designer Robert Mackie would drape on Cher for her minutes at the mike; watching Tom Cruise cavort ecstatically as newly dumped spouse Nicole Kidman received her Oscar; checking out presenter Jennifer Anniston’s efforts to look beyond Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at the front of the house; applauding Jack Palance‘s one-armed pushups.
Watching the cruel close-ups of the also-rans when the winner is announced; grading the host as to how he or she measures up to the performances of Bob Hope, our town’s Ellen Degeneres, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Alex Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart, Dave Letterman, Chris Rock …. Can Hugh Jackman measure up? We think so!
Oscar. It’s still one of the greatest shows on earth.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at email@example.com.