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Mark Steyn: Oscar Week -
SteynOnline ^ | March 21, 1999 | Mark Steyn

Posted on 02/24/2007 11:18:23 AM PST by UnklGene


The Academy Awards come up this Sunday and we'll be marking them all this week with a look back to Oscar nights and Oscar movies. Scroll down for my take on Hollywood's political "courage", the one name you don't want to find in the winner's envelope, a couple of Best Film nominees from the Nineties, and the great acceptance speeches from years gone by. But first Oscar lui-meme!

The silent star

He's short. He's muscular. He has no private parts. No, not Tom Cruise. We're talking about one of that select handful of silver screen legends recognised instantly by their first name alone: Barbra, Arnie, Sly ...and Oscar. He's Hollywood's most indestructible star, unless your chauffeur accidentally reverses over him in the limo. He has Tinseltown's most consistent year-round tan - a rich golden glow that you can see your face in, and sometimes your name on.

He's been to more Academy Awards parties than most, his place in the motion picture firmament so secure that, like Liz Taylor and Donald Duck, he's one of those rare stars who can dispense with the tedious bother of actually making movies. But, more than that, he's a great humanitarian: over the years no one has given more generously to sick people. Not too sick, mind you: just an award-winning left foot a la Daniel Day-Lewis or a few decorative stick-on lesions like the Aids-stricken Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.

Oscar himself, after 70 years in the business, looks terrific - as young as he did when he made his professional debut on May 16th 1929. Friends insist that he's had no work done, though there isn't a cosmetics guy in town who wouldn't love to get him under his scalpel. "I've said to him, `Oscar, Oscar, you're 13 1/2 inches tall'," sighs one Beverly Hills surgeon-to-the-stars." `You'd be amazed what we can do with foot-lifts these days.' But he doesn't want to know." Friends badger him continually about the secret of those fabulous looks. "Well, he takes care of himself," says Greg Peck. "He only goes out one night a year. And the other 364 days he just sits on the mantelpiece, staying away from rich food and ultraviolet rays."

Incredible as it seems, Oscar started in the age of silent pictures, giving George Marion Jnr an award for Best Title-Card Writing for Oh, Kay! (1928). Within months, pals such as Mary Pickford and Doug Fairbanks were taking voice lessons, but not Oscar: today, he's the only silent star left in Hollywood. His taciturn inclinations have stood him in good stead over the years.

Unlike tonight's most controversial award-winner, McCarthy era director Elia Kazan, Oscar never named names, despite three weeks of intensive questioning by the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee. "So he doesn't have any genitals," said an increasingly frustrated Roy Cohn. "That doesn't mean he's not a faggot." Cited for contempt of Congress, Oscar was handed over to the House police. "Gee, what an honour," said the sergeant. "I'd like to thank my mother, my high-school drama teacher, my..." Half a century on, Oscar's courageous stand is still widely admired in Hollywood.

But not by everybody. "What issue has he ever spoken out on?" says a leading activist. "Kevin Costner speaks up in favour of the environment, Richard Gere in favour of the Dalai Lama, Alec Baldwin in favour of stoning Henry Hyde to death. But Oscar just gives the whole industry a bad name: people look at him and say, wow, that is one dumb movie star. Even in the Eighties, who was the only celebrity in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion without an Aids ribbon? It's not as if he's fooling anyone - I mean, look at that glistening bronze torso: everyone knows he was Mapplethorpe's model. It's pathetic. For one night, he doesn't mind being seen in the arms of really macho, hetero Best Actor winners, but the rest of the year he's in the closet."

After seven decades of keeping his mouth shut, this most enduring of celebrities remains an enigma. Lauren Bacall first met him when she was asked to present the Scientific and Technical awards in 1955. "Oh, I've known him forever," she says in her gravelly drawl. "But I don't feel I've ever got close to him." Other stars testify to Oscar's generosity. "What can I say?" giggles on-again, off-again, on-again companion Sally Field. "He likes me, he really likes me."

Today, as he stands there being air-kissed by celebrity chums such as Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson and Brenda Fricker, it's hard to believe he was born in the humblest of circumstances. His father was an unemployed art school graduate called George Stanley, whom Louis B Mayer paid $500 for his services. His mother was Academy librarian Margaret Herrick, who on first seeing the little fellow exclaimed: "He looks like my Uncle Oscar!"

It was a tough childhood: they couldn't afford any clothes, only a heavy sword he carried with him everywhere. But in 1920s Hollywood it wasn't easy being a naked guy with a sword, unless you were a Cecil B De Mille extra: early on, Oscar developed that hard, cold shell that few have managed to penetrate. "I tried everything," recalled Mae West in conversation with Barry Norman on BBC1's Film '37. "I said, `A hard man is good to find.' I said, `Is that a rapier you're holding or are you just pleased to see me?' I said, `You're stiffer than Nelson Eddy but I like that in my men.' I said, `I've nothing against a man who's 13 1/2 inches.' But he just stood there giving me both cold shoulders."

But today's generation of actresses feels very differently. "He was a pioneer," says Sharon Stone. "He was the first star to be comfortable with his sexuality, and in a time of repression and censorship he paid a heavy price for his refusal to not do nude scenes. In that sense, he was a major influence on me, though, of course, he's never uncrossed his legs." Demi Moore agrees. "Before we shot the nude dancing scenes in Striptease," she says, "I insisted on watching all his old Awards ceremonies - not just for the way he's at ease with his body, but also for all his great moves, that incredible sense of rhythm. I think there's a tremendous bond between us. If you notice, when you tap on it, my chest has the same dull metallic ping as his."

For a while, Oscar persisted with the acting career. He played the title role, with the aid of prosthetics, in The Maltese Falcon and he was briefly James Bond - the bland, wooden one between Sean Connery and Roger Moore whom no one remembers. But he hasn't taken a major screen role since he played himself in The Oscar (1966).

"He was never a good actor. He wasn't even a good straight man," says his long-time co-host Bob Hope. "I'd come out and say, `Welcome to the Academy Awards. Or, as they're known in my house, Passover.' And he'd just stand there staring blankly at the teleprompter and frosting up the joint. Boy, I wanna tell you. . . ." Tensions between the two eventually led to Hope quitting the show in the Seventies. The times they were a-changin' and Oscar found himself drawn to a new generation of film-makers born of the trauma of Vietnam and championing the causes of anti-militarism and sexual liberation. "Yeah, right," scoffs Hope. " `Make love, not war'? From a guy with no penis and a sword?"

Hope's frustration that Oscar wasn't pulling his weight (6lb 10oz) is shared by other co-hosts. But, while it's true that he can't read autocue, neither can most of the other actors; and, while it's also true that he can't do the big dance numbers because his feet are stuck together, that didn't stop Rob Lowe during the famous 1988 Snow White duet. In a sense then, Oscar's very human limitations somehow infuse the spirit of the entire ceremony. So what is it exactly that he's good at? "He brings people together," says the style-watcher Julien Le Rent. "That's a special gift. Everybody thinks they can do it. But they're strictly minor league. Even Oscar's friends - Tony, Grammy, Emmy, and you know. Wossname. That British guy." Bafta? "Puh-leeze!" He shrieks with laughter. "I mean, who does he get? Jane Asher? Giving an award to Ken Loach for a film that cost less than her dress? Tacky, tacky, tacky."

So tonight Oscar heads into his eighth decade as, to quote the Titanic director, James Cameron, "king of the world". And, while we wish him well, the obvious question remains: why, on one of fashion's great nights, does he never wear any clothes? "That's not fair," says Julien. "Each year, he orders a glamorous, exciting new outfit. But at the last minute he realises he's gone too far and he'll end up looking like an idiot. So he gives it to Cher.” from The Sunday Telegraph, March 21st 1999

TOPICS: Culture/Society; US: California
KEYWORDS: marksteyn; oscar

1 posted on 02/24/2007 11:18:24 AM PST by UnklGene
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To: Pokey78

Ping rerun!

2 posted on 02/24/2007 11:19:13 AM PST by UnklGene
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To: UnklGene
Did anybody notice this weekend they are all thrilled about Gore. When he gets this Oscar which the phony left will give him cause he is nuts, we are having a major snow storm move across the country. We are getting 6 inches of snow tomorrow, so maybe I would be thrilled to have global warming, more like an early spring. the Ground hog was wrong in Pa. Just look at the news about our wonderful interstates.
3 posted on 02/24/2007 11:24:31 AM PST by betsyross1776 (BIG HOME DO NOT BUY YOU HAPPINESS)
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Nobody has ever summed up exactly what the Oscar really means better than Sally Field.
4 posted on 02/24/2007 11:25:19 AM PST by Condor 63
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To: betsyross1776

It's shaping up to look like yet another spring of severe flooding.

5 posted on 02/24/2007 11:29:13 AM PST by Nathan Zachary
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To: Condor 63

Oscar embodies Art Deco as strikingly as the Empire State building. There's something to be said for our cracker-box skyscrapers and booger-shaped cars. It's, "Yuck."

6 posted on 02/24/2007 11:35:07 AM PST by gcruse (
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To: gcruse
My father - who was an expert on such things - used to say to always be equally aware of those that like you as much as those that don't.

In his opinion those that liked you might only have a selfish agenda. Those that don't like you might have a good reason.

7 posted on 02/24/2007 11:40:40 AM PST by Condor 63
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To: Condor 63

Never had to worry. Nobody ever liked me that long.

8 posted on 02/24/2007 11:44:04 AM PST by gcruse (
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To: Nathan Zachary
Yes, because of all the snow melt in the northeast. It was alter winter, but when it came , it came and today it is beautiful but ice cold. Tomorrow 6 inches of snow again. face it the global warming croud can only say el nino made winter come late. But they won't.
9 posted on 02/24/2007 11:46:32 AM PST by betsyross1776 (BIG HOME DO NOT BUY YOU HAPPINESS)
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To: gcruse

You are probably doing something right then.

10 posted on 02/24/2007 11:50:12 AM PST by Condor 63
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To: UnklGene

Never watch them.

11 posted on 02/24/2007 11:56:11 AM PST by freekitty
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To: UnklGene
Have you heard the latest meme re: the Oscars? "You hate them. THey're overhyped, meaningless, and superficial glitz. But they're a social staple, a cultural icon that can't be escaped."

I've got news for ya. I'll be doing my best to escape them. I won't watch one second of them, nor will I waste a dime of my money on any movies associated with the Braying Jackass Club in Hollow-wood.

If these poodles want to strut their stuff at the cinematic version of the Winchester Kennel Best of SHow competition, fine. But if they turn it into a political forum, they won't see another red cent of my cash.

12 posted on 02/24/2007 12:07:08 PM PST by IronJack (=)
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To: UnklGene
I'm boycotting the Academy Awards again this year. It's all political gamesmanship. The only thing that would get me to tune in is if there were going to be old, glamorous movie stars in attendance. However, they're so old that they're not likely to show up. Joan Fontaine is 89, Jennifer Jones is 88. Doris Day is 83. Shirley Temple is 79. Saw Shirley Jones on Bill O'Reilly's show last night. She looked great; I just looked it up, and she's 73. P.S., she's a Republican, and is doing work for a 9/11 memorial (I didn't quite get all the info.)

I also discovered that there's yet ANOTHER awards show, the Independent Spirit Awards. How many award shows do these people have for themselves? It's pathetic, isn't it? Not to mention self-serving, self-indulgent, and narcissistic.

13 posted on 02/24/2007 12:12:04 PM PST by my_pointy_head_is_sharp (We're living in the Dark Ages.)
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To: UnklGene
Oh, dear God! Not another mutual fellatio award program. Honestly, does anybody with a brain care anymore.
14 posted on 02/24/2007 1:40:15 PM PST by raybbr (You think it's bad now - wait till the anchor babies start to vote.)
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To: IronJack

Hey! Watch it with the poodle comments. I've got a standard poodle, and he's a wonderful dog. Maybe if you had said "miniature poodle".

However, I can't comment on the Oscars, never having watched them.

15 posted on 02/24/2007 2:35:42 PM PST by SuzyQue (Remember to think.)
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To: UnklGene

It is obvious Steyn was having a lot of fun writing this tome.

16 posted on 03/04/2007 6:30:35 AM PST by Gritty (The question is: what other than Hitler are we prepared to make a moral judgment over?-Mark Steyn)
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