I’m part of the new “lost generation”. I grew up loving movies when there were more stars in Hollywood than in heaven.
I plead guilty to reading fan mags about stars like Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper (Mom named me after “Coop”, her favorite star), Ingrid Bergman, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and many other Tinsel town legends.
I remember “Photoplay” pic layouts of Alan and Sue Carroll Ladd at home. Ladd, with his million-dollar smile, was mowing the lawn, playing with his dogs and hugging the kids, Alan “Laddie” Junior, Alana and David. It was so cool – “Shane” really had a home and family in swanky Beverly Hills.
There was the “Movietone” photo platter with William Holden — home at his ranch with horses and neighbors – smiling and eating hot dogs at their backyard barbecue. It looked so real. A day in the life of Hollywood superstars. I believed it all.
It was the naiveté of a pre-teen movie fan. Yes, I wanted to be a movie star when I grew up. I used to see – every week –3 double features, cartoons and coming attractions at the local and first-run movie houses near my Jamaica, Queens home in the ’40s and early ’50s.
The Academy Awards were bigger than the World Series even though I was a true Dodger Blue fan of Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer.
I started watching the Oscars in black and white with Bob Hope hosting and still in his prime – complaining about being shut out from acting awards by Ronald Coleman, Cary Grant, and James Cagney. It was standard Hollywood humor we all knew, understood, and loved.
During those early 50’s telecasts of the Oscars, it was terrific when the cameras panned the audience to show Greer Garson, Gloria Swanson, Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracy and all the other luminous stars from the golden age of the silver screen.
Fans used to mull, for weeks, who’d win the major awards. Would Cary Grant finally win after being overlooked for decades? Would newcomers like Paul Newman, Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Steve McQueen get more attention than the “old guard.” Who was more exciting? Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas or Clark Gable (Gable had passed away in ’61 but was still hugely popular).
There were the larger than life heroes like John Wayne who’d never received an Oscar despite half a century of stardom. How about Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Barbara Stanwyck? Were they still TOP stars? There was the fascination with Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, Kim Novak, Mamie Van Doren, and Diana Dors. What would they be wearing on Oscar night? How much would they “reveal?” How much jewelry would Liz Taylor wear? Could Burton stay sober?
One of my favorite Oscar moments came in the ’60s when Sidney Poitier became the first Black actor to win the coveted “Best Actor” award. Poitier opened the door for Denzel, Wil Smith and so many other minority performers previously relegated to grossly stereotypical roles.
The Oscar show was must-see viewing for the stars as much as the films and performers vying for the industry’s top awards. Hollywood pioneers like Cecil B. Demille, Adolph Zukor, Jack Warner, and Darryl Zanuck could still be seen and heard. I especially loved seeing legends from the silent film days like Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton and others who were there when the curtains first raised on “moving pictures”.
There were wonderful impromptu moments like David Niven almost being upstaged by a streaker. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas delighting us with a nifty song and dance number.
Shirley Temple, Margaret O’Brien, Mickey Rooney, and Judy Garland — staples from their youth — were still vital and enjoyable to watch and hear.
Where have all the stars gone today (insert “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” melody here). I don’t know most of the folks who are stars unless I’ve seen them on “Facebook” ‘news’ items.
I don’t much about most of the movies up for awards. I know some are about superheroes, trendsetters in new diversity movies and a rash of “coming of age” flicks that draw blanks at this address.
I know about the industry controversies including Harvey Weinstein and the “Me Too” movement. Diversity for all those excluded since the first Oscars — nine decades ago during the prelude to the great depression. I know this year’s Oscar show will be minus a host.
Maybe that’ll be a plus?
The magic is gone — along with the stars who made the magic. The show is far too long with winners taking too long to thank everyone including their dog walker.
All that said, we’ll still watch. Until we doze off.
Why? It’s the stuff dreams are made of …