Shortly after Tuesday night’s all-important Board of Governors meeting of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I spoke to newly re-elected president Tom Sherak, who was obviously thrilled about the opportunity to lead the organization for a third straight year. Since he is now beginning his ninth year on the board, he will automatically be termed off next year and ineligible to run for a fourth one-year stint (the maximum allowed). Although Sherak wouldn’t comment, I have learned there was no opposition to his re-election.
But what he was most excited about was the opportunity to call each of tonight’s newly selected Governors Awards honorees and tell them they have just won an Oscar. “It’s the best night of the year for me. How wonderful is it to wake up James Earl Jones with this kind of news? He told me, ‘Oh my God, I won’t be able to go back to sleep now!’ ” Sherak said he reached Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award winner Oprah Winfrey in some far-flung location, and she too was thrilled, although it probably takes an honor like this to really impress the multimedia maven and much-honored Winfrey, who was awarded the Hersholt, according to the Academy release, because she has established “herself as one of the most influential figures in entertainment and philanthropy … especially dedicated to supporting educational initiatives and raising awareness of issues that affect women and children, both in the United States and around the globe.”
Jones and Winfrey also represent real diversity. They are the first African Americans to be honored since the Academy created the Governors Awards in 2009. Oddly, the only credit they have shared together in their storied pasts was as voice talents on a 1999 hourlong video inspired by the life of Martin Luther King titled Our Friend Martin. Jones has an incredible 179 credits on IMDb as an actor, beginning with his first film role in 1964’s Best Picture nominee Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. He was Oscar nominated only once as Best Actor, for 1970’s The Great White Hope, but lost to George C. Scott in Patton. Providing some symmetry to the Governors Award ceremony this year, he also played a significant role in 1989’s Best Picture nominee Field Of Dreams, which was written and directed by Governors Awards producer Phil Robinson.
Winfrey has had only a handful of film roles including 1985’s The Color Purple, Native Son and Beloved. She reportedly is currently attached to a potential project with Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock. As a producer, though, she has several TV film credits along with three theatrical movies. I thought perhaps the Academy might turn to a mega-star known for current humanitarian efforts such as George Clooney, Sean Penn or Angelina Jolie, but it was not to be. Winfrey is the first Hersholt winner since Jerry Lewis in 2008, a fact that makes Sherak proud.
“I am especially happy we were able to award the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award this year,” Sherak told me, since it’s given for work he likes to see the Academy recognize among its members and those in the industry. Winfrey is no stranger to Academy Awards, having been nominated as Best Supporting Actress for Color Purple, serving as a show presenter several times and for the last few years has had unprecedented access to the Kodak Theatre and newly minted Oscar winners when she taped her now-defunct talk show the morning after the big event. There has been speculation printed elsewhere about Oprah actually hosting this year’s Oscar telecast, but Sherak shrugged that off when I previously asked him about the rumors. The fact is the show’s producer is the one who hires a host for the show. The common feeling is the Oscars want to return to a comedian anyway after last year’s less-than-critically acclaimed hosting pair of James Franco and Anne Hathaway.
The 89-year-old Dick Smith, known as the “godfather of makeup artists,” has no listed credits since 1999’s House On Haunted Hill remake but is obviously revered in the industry with a resume that includes The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Little Big Man and a previous Oscar for 1984’s Amadeus — for doing Salieri’s old makeup. Despite the common wisdom, it’s not altogether rare for a previous Oscar winner to also later win an Honorary Award as I pointed out Friday in my preview of the Honorary Oscar voting. (See HAMMOND: Honorary Oscars To Be Voted Next Week; Who Will Get Them?) Sophia Loren, Sidney Poitier, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Elia Kazan and others have received Honorary Oscar statuettes years after first winning a competitive Oscar. Still, the long list of deserving recipients who have never even had a nomination would suggest that these awards be handed out with that fact in mind, too. “The board was well aware Dick Smith had already won an Oscar when they voted tonight, but that isn’t necessarily a factor in the decision. He got the votes. I am very happy that a below-the-line person got one of the honors this year,” says Sherak.
When asked why there was no fourth award or Thalberg given out tonight (four is the maximum number allowed), he said no one was able to get to 75% of the tally, the number required for a fourth to be awarded. The first three only require a simple majority of the voting.
Besides the election of president and the Governors Awards, Sherak said there were only a couple of small “household” items taken up Tuesday. Despite speculation that the Academy Board would deal with the issue of proposed new Oscar-season campaign rules limiting parties and endorsements, that did not happen but will be taken up at a future meeting. Sherak also said it would have been unfair in terms of the Governors Awards honorees and even his own re-election to also name the producer(s) of the 84th Academy Awards, as I speculated he might do. “Even if I had a producer yet, I wouldn’t have announced it tonight,” he said. “But the fact is I don’t have one yet. I’m working on it though.” Stay tuned.
The third annual Governors Awards will be presented Saturday, Nov. 12 during a non-televised ceremony.