It’s getting close to the Academy Awards time. This year it’s near the end of March, but the buzz is on about the contenders. Who’ll win, who should win, who’s been snubbed, who’ll be wearing what, etcetera ad nauseam. This time of year used to be an exciting period for me. As a life long movie lover, the Oscars were a big deal.
Not any more. We haven’t seen any of the nominated films this year. and to be honest, I’m not even sure what movies are up for Academy Awards. Some of the movies probably never even made it to “real” movie houses. Some of them — maybe most of them? — were shown on television. Probably. But to be honest, I’m not sure.
Yet, therein lies the rub.
I grew up watching movies from the golden age. Almost all the legends were alive and working. I read fan magazines about John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and other iconic figures. Stuff about their home life and upcoming projects. Lux Radio Theater carried adaptations of film hits featuring the likes of Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd and Myrna Loy. Billboards featured Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Clark Gable.
New kids on the Hollywood block included Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman. Sid Caesar made fun of Brando’s method school mumbling on his “Show of Shows” skits. Grownups snickered at Brando, saying “his kind” would never replace greats like Ronald Coleman and Leslie Howard.
My parents refused to buy me the motorcycle jacket and cap Brando wore in “The Wild One”. That clothing was so cool. I desperately wanted to look cool. I copied John Wayne’s laconic walk and measured speech pattern. It made me feel 6-inches taller.
Movie stars really were larger than life. You also didn’t get to see stars very often. Guest appearances on radio and television were special events. There were no “lat night comedies” where every star shows up, even presidents and first ladies.
I recall watching an Oscar telecast. Maybe 1953? Hard to remember. The black and white images sparkled with shots of stars in the audience. Everywhere the camera turned, there were famous faces. It was wonderful to see “old” stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Lillian Gish and Mae West. There were the veterans like Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Fredric March, just to name a few.
I used to get excited when they focused on the newer “hip” stars like Newman, Dean, Brando, Poitier, James Garner, Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron. Even more excited when I saw closeups of Mamie Van Doren, Edie Williams, and Rhonda Fleming.
Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas did a song and dance act that stole the show. The applause was long and deafening. The smiles from Kirk and Burt could’ve lit a dozen cities. Bob Hope was funny — as usual — joking about being snubbed by the Oscars. It never occurred to me that someone other than Bob Hope could host the Academy Awards show.
Mom, my frequent movie date, smiled widely as she watched the stars. I think she was recalling her youth. I might’ve noticed a tinge of sadness but it was fleeting.
All those images are filed away in my sense memory as we head toward this year’s Oscars. I am unacquainted with recent stars. George Clooney, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio who I actually do know are veterans.
Dare I mention that so many of the “new” celebrities look alike? My wife says it’s all about plastic surgery, that they use the same surgeons so they have the same noses and cheekbones. Even if they look alike, there are serious stars. Streep, Washington, Berry. The new old timers — Pacino and DeNiro, but they are our age and many are older. They aren’t getting big roles. Time keeps marching on. We oldies get left behind. To be fair, I don’t mind. I’m done with work, but the Hollywood crowd are always looking — hoping — for the next job. I suppose they can’t help it.
Rather than disparage the youngest group of stars, I will admit time has left me in the dust. I haven’t seen their work. For all I know, they are great, but I wouldn’t know because I have nothing on which to base an opinion.
How did this happen?