For the first two or three years of the now six-year-old Governors Awards, I regularly wrote a column “suggesting” who I considered to be a deserving choice for Honorary Oscars, people who have been overlooked in their fields over the years.
On every one of those lists, three names would appear: Angela Lansbury, Maureen O’Hara and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. Last year, thankfully, the Academy finally got around to recognizing Lansbury with an Honorary Oscar, and now with today’s earlier announcement the AMPAS Board Of Governors has wisely chosen Carriere and O’Hara along with the great (but already Oscar-winning) Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki and Harry Belafonte, the way-overdue Jean Hersholt Humanitarian honoree this year. This is an excellent list for an award that is given for an entire career. Some might quibble about Miyazaki because he actually won an Academy Award only a little over a decade ago for Spirited Away, but this Oscar is for a lifetime of work of a master who announced recently he would not be directing any more films; in fact, his famed Studio Ghibli is also winding down.
But in the case of the 94-year-old O’Hara, this represents a major milestone in her long career that began in 1938. She’d never even been nominated for an Oscar despite working with so many of the greats, opposite the likes of John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Alec Guiness and on and on — all the way up to John Candy, playing his Irish mother Rose Muldoon in John Hughes’ touching Only The Lonely (1991). She has outlived them all, and at last, despite not having worked in front of the film cameras since the turn of this century, she is going to get an Oscar. Frequent director John Ford clearly knew something the Academy didn’t. She held her ground — and then some — against some of the greatest, a real man’s woman and woman’s woman and an Irish force to be reckoned with. No one ever looked better in Technicolor than O’Hara. I just saw her in April at the TCM Classic Movie Festival in Hollywood, where she still looked as pristine in person as the digital restoration of her classic 1941 Best Picture winner How Green Was My Valley. And she demonstrated in her onstage Q&A with TCM host Robert Osborne that even well into her 90s she’s still got spunk and spirit. Good choice, Academy. It’s about time. Next year, how about Doris Day?
Carriere also is a great choice because there are few of his screenwriter peers who have had his kind of career, notably working with the likes of Luis Bunuel on classics like The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object Of Desire, with Volker Schlondorff (a 2014 Telluride Film Festival honoree — that’s where I had just landed when the Academy’s Governor Awards announcement broke) on the Oscar-winning The Tin Drum, Jean-Luc Godard, Andrzej Wajda and Phil Kaufman, on what I consider to be that great director’s best work, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. Although, like Miyazaki, Carriere has an Oscar statuette — for a live-action short he collaborated on in 1962 — it is high time he should get this kind of acknowledgment for his remarkable screenwriting career.
The Governors Awards was a great invention by the Academy when they began in 2008, a way to hand out more than one Honorary Oscar from a long list of deserving candidates, and a way to really give those presentations the kind of forum and time they deserve. The Governors Awards have a short segment on the Oscar show itself, but the ceremony being held this year on November 8 is always a special night. And it is great that in the short span of five years the Academy was able to honor the likes of makeup artist Dick Smith, stuntman/director Hal Needham, cinematographer Gordon Willis, Thalberg Award winner John Calley, Eli Wallach and Lauren Bacall, all of whom have passed away since receiving this singular honor. It’s nice to know they got it in their lifetime. This will be another kind of special Hollywood night to look forward to as the season kicks into gear.