Hammond Analysis: Honorary Oscars Ignore Veteran Actors In Favor Of Industry Insiders

Shortly after he was elected as the new President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences this summer I asked Hawk Koch what he thought of the three-year-old Governors Awards – specifically, if the Academy should make it a TV event. He immediately responded that he liked it the way it was. He said that, without the pressure of having to do a “TV show” they could honor the people “we want to honor”. Tonight’s Honorary Oscars certainly fit that definition. They are industry insiders who have been in the business a very long time and obviously distinguished themselves in their fields.

But for those who hoped against hope that this might be the year for one of the egregiously overlooked veteran stars like Gena Rowlands, Doris Day, James Garner, Angela Lansbury, Debbie Reynolds, Max Von Sydow and other deserving Oscar-less giants to finally get their due, think again. Each year letters are written and subtle lobbying takes place but to no avail: they were passed over again for the pat on the back from their peers, just like the late greats Tony Curtis, Glenn Ford, and Richard Widmark. For the first time since the Governors Awards were specifically spun off as their own event, no actor made the cut. (Lauren Bacall, Eli Wallach and James Earl Jones were honored for their acting careers in the three previous years). That seems a shame, not just because thesps are long overdue and it would throw Oscar fans a bone. No, the Academy went its own way with a list of very different but also very deserving winners.

The documentary branch came up with a real winner in D.A. Pennebaker, a legendary documentarian whose versatile work included groundbreaking classics in cinema verite, music docs, and notably in politics. How appropriate that, on a night where former President Bill Clinton spoke at the Democratic National Convention, the filmmaker responsible for one of the most penetrating political docs ever, The War Room (which took an inside look at the 1992 Clinton campaign) should be recognized by the Academy. That film represents Pennebaker’s only Academy Award nomination – and he should have won. So this is sweet.

The tribute that Governors Awards producers Cheryl Boone Issacs and Don Mischer Productions team can put together for veteran stunt man and director Hal Needham should be nothing short of rousing. After all the man reportedly punctured a lung and broke his back a couple of times along with fracturing 56 bones in a career that included an incredible 4,500 TV episodes and 300 movies. As an innovator in the medium he already received a Scientific and Engineering Award in 1986. But this honor is long overdue recognition for the 81-year old master’s extraordinary stunt work. It is also the Academy’s most significant  recognition for stunt performers, a group that has tried for years – and failed – to obtain peer group status and a regular Oscar category for their work.0 (The TV Academy includes them but not the Motion Picture Academy).  Hopefully this Oscar for Needham will push that effort forward.

George Stevens Jr’s Oscar really isn’t much of a surprise in retrospect. He has worked for a lifetime, as the Academy’s press release says, “celebrating and preserving the heritage of motion pictures”. And as the son of one of the all time great directors, the Academy is also honoring its own. In fact Stevens Jr directed an extraordinary 1984 documentary about his father, George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey that is a must-see for film lovers. It should have won the Documentary Oscar but wasn’t even nominated because the Academy traditionally shies away from their own industry. It is fitting this true gentleman and movie maven is getting his due away from the shadow of his famous dad.

It’s also no surprise that Jeffrey Katzenberg would be voted the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He has been Chairman of the Board of the Motion Picture and Television Fund for two decades and is absolutely relentless in his efforts to raise hundreds of millions to keep it going strong, even in the face of adversity over the past few years. This award recognizes that and is especially well-deserved.

So even if this year’s crop of honorees don’t represent Hollywood’s most recognizable names and faces to movie fans, it’s a fine group of behind-the-scenes players who have made a true difference. It certainly will be a great night on December 1st inside the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center. Congratulations all.

  1. There is no point in trying to predict or rationalize the GoB choices. Since the awards are not televised they don’t care what the public think and pick those who have more influential friends and admirers among voting members. They are free to honor whatever and whoever they want, but the fact that there have been only 9 female Honorary Oscar recipients in 85 years and only 1 since the moved the ceremony to a separate event is both disgusting and scandalous. How is the director of Cannonball Run II, Stroker Ace, and Megaforce (who was already honored by the Academy with a special award before) is more deserving that the legendary actresses like Angela Lansbury, Doris Day, Gene Rowlands, Debbie Reynolds or Jeanne Moreau?

  2. Don’t forget the Academy honored Oprah Winfrey with an honorary Oscar. Obviously, it was not for her vast portfolio of acting credits, but rather for her humanitarian work. At least Katzenberg’s honor is for humanitarian efforts directly impacting the film industry as opposed to creating schools for girls in South Africa, which is admirable…but???

    And, of course, the Academy was hard pressed to find others who might be more worthy than Oprah…LOL.

    At the end of the day..does anyone really care especially as this is not a television event? Yes…those who are deserving, but whose names are never called.

  3. Pete, NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Doris Day last March and I was disappointed she didn’t finally ask the illustrious Day whether or not the rumors are true that she has repeatedly turned down the chance to accept an honorary Oscar or Kennedy Center Honor. Supposedly she won’t leave her home in Carmel. No one deserves such an honor more. Maybe you can uncover the truth. I have nothing against Lauren Bacall but for her to have both of those awards on her mantle and Day to have only a Golden Globe? Ludicrous.

  4. Doris Day should have gotten an Oscar nomination for a film called Love Me Or Leave Me. But to expect Hollywood to have some respect for their veteran performers is too much – prejudice against age is the one prejudice that seems to be okay with them especially where women are concerned. Just ask any ‘woman of a certain age’ who is an actor, writer in Hollywood.

    1. It really is an outrage that great stars such as Doris Day, Angela Lansbury, etc. have been overlooked for all of the really incredible work they’ve done, it diminishes the value of the awards themselves. If the Academy truly wants a huge audience to tune in to the next Oscar show, figure it out: hand out a few statuettes to the people who have truly earned the recognition… before it’s too late.

  5. Put me in the group that recognizes Doris Day. She was a huge talent, performer, singer, and ACTRESS.

    It’s really hard to understand the Academy’s lack of attention.

  6. Does the Oscar committee have any idea how much publicity and how many viewers would tune in to the telecast SPECIFICALLY to see Doris Day honored?

    Talk about shortsighted dimwits. This is unbelievable.

  7. Whenever I consider past Oscar recipients I always think of Cato the Elder who said (with apologies to AMPAS): “I would much rather have men ask why I have no statuette, than why I have one.”

  8. The Academy has given around 350 Oscars, competitive and honorary, to actors in its history. The have been awarded far out of proportion to their importance to movies. They get four every year.

    Yet, one year the Board of Governors doesn’t give an actor an honorary award and it’s a big deal.

    The big deal is that the BoG did something totally rational and appropriate.

    Sure, there are many actors who should have actors by now. But there are far more people in other crafts who also should have, and because their categories don’t have four categories each year don’t.

  9. Awards mean nothing. The fact that you can list those you have and we all know who they are indicates their career and work have distinguished them and endeared them in peoples’ memories, and those memories, accomplishments and wonderful moments captured forever on film will long outlive the shallow victory of holding a small statue.

  10. Back in my disc jockey days, I had the pleasure of doing an on-air interview with Doris Day. She came across like a fun loving young girl you wanted to hug. That was also how she came across in her films. The fact that she hasn’t been honored is not only a shame, it also seems like a crime to the millions who enjoyed watching her.

    I’m sooo happy for Hal Needham. He’s the “real deal” and a guy I had the pleasure of seeing (often) in a place called “Residuals” back in the day. Ah, memories! Congratulations my friend!

  11. Not any different than the theaters owners in New Your who name the theaters after executives in their offices or family members and not the ones who actually put the asses in the seats.

  12. Actors have lots of opportunities to be recognized. Executives and other “behind the scenes” folks have far, far fewer. This seems OK to me.

  13. I would much rather see an aging actor/actress get an award of recognition for their talent WHILE THEY ARE STILL ALIVE. Posthumous awards never thrilled me…if you have something good to say about a person’s talent, then how much better to say it to his face. So we’d better honor these veteran actors while we still have them, cause they’re not getting any younger! Part of the appeal of watching the Oscars is to see actors when they receive their awards, right??

  14. That’s why Hollywood lost me. No respect for the likes of Day, Lansbury, Rowlands or the great James Ivory. And rewarding an a.hole like Katzenberg and the director of “Cannonball Run II”!

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