The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has opened the envelope on the honorees for its 2018 Governors Awards: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Marvin Levy, Lalo Schifrin and Cicely Tyson will receive Honorary Oscars at a ceremony Sunday, November 18.
The honors are conferred by the Academy’s Board of Governors “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”
Kennedy and Marshall, who are married, will be receiving the Irving G. Thalberg Award, a bust of the motion picture executive, which is presented to creative producers “whose body of work reflects a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” Actress Tyson, publicist Levy and composer Schifrin will all receive honorary Oscar statuettes.
The Thalberg is rarely given these days. The last to get it was Francis Ford Coppola in 2010. It has only been presented 38 times previously in Academy history, with the first being Darryl F. Zanuck in 1937 (he got it three times overall becoming, along with two-time winner Hal Wallis, the only multiple recipient of the honor). Zanuck’s son, Richard was part of the only producing team, before Kennedy/Marshall this year, to win the Thalberg when he and David Brown got it in 1990.
Kennedy, currently in charge of the new generation of Star Wars movies at Disney, is the first woman ever to receive it. Her name often has been mentioned over the years, but she has served in various capacities on the Board of Governors and as an Academy officer so often that she was ineligible because those on the Board can’t be voted Honorary awards while they are serving the Academy. That changed recently when she left the Board, and it certainly didn’t take long for the Academy to make this choice, not only for her but also for Marshall who are also the first married couple to receive the award. I was just talking to both over the weekend at the Telluride Film Festival (where they also have a house) and where Marshall’s long-gestating effort was finally realized in getting Orson Welles’ unfinished 1970s film, The Other Side of the Wind completed and screened at last for moviegoers. He worked on it while it was in production four decades ago. He also has produced a 39-minute short on the project called A Final Cut for Orson: 40 Years in the Making that, in addition to the film and other docus about Welles, was also on display over the weekend at Telluride. Both Marshall and Kennedy could not be more deserving and this is long overdue.
The Kennedy/Marshall producing partnership, formed in 1991, has generated Best Picture nominations for The Sixth Sense (1999), Seabiscuit (2003), Munich (2005) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). Kennedy/Marshall Company productions also include Congo, all five Jason Bourne films and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Prior to forming Kennedy/Marshall, the duo co-founded Amblin Productions with Steven Spielberg, sharing a Best Picture nomination for The Color Purple (1985). Additionally, Marshall received a Best Picture nomination for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), while Kennedy was nominated in the same category for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), War Horse (2011) and Lincoln (2012). With the Academy planning to inaugurate a new “popular film” category as early as this year, I can’t think of two producers who exemplify popular movies more than these two.
Of course both have had a long association with a former Thalberg winner, Spielberg who now sits on the Board as one of the Governors for the Directors branch. He should be very happy and proud today, not only for Kennedy and Marshall, but also for Levy who is the first publicist ever to receive an Honorary Oscar. Among his longtime clients and colleagues is Spielberg. Like Kennedy, Levy has served for many years on the BOG representing the Public Relations branch and only this year left the Board, thus making him eligible and richly deserving as one of our most dedicated industry veterans, and a genuinely nice guy in this business.
Levy began his career in publicity working for MGM in New York City before joining Columbia Pictures in Hollywood, where he guided the advertising for films including The Deep and Kramer vs. Kramer. His work for the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind marked the beginning of a four-decade partnership with Spielberg. Levy has held positions at Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks Studios and Amblin Partners, and has worked on publicity campaigns for such films as E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, American Beauty, Gladiator and Lincoln.
Schifrin’s name has often been put forward for this honor and it finally happened for him. He has been nominated six times for his musical contribution to films including for my favorite of his many scores, Cool Hand Luke in 1967. Just this summer his legendary theme for the Mission: Impossible TV series again was a welcome part of Tom Cruise’s M:I movie franchise of six films. Born and raised in Argentina, Schifrin studied classical music and jazz in France before beginning to compose for film in Buenos Aires in the mid-1950s. He has written scores for more than 100 films, including The Cincinnati Kid (another favorite of mine), Bullitt, Dirty Harry, Enter the Dragon and Rush Hour. In addition to Cool Hand Luke, his other Oscar nominations have been for The Fox (1968), Voyage of the Damned (1976) and The Amityville Horror (1979), the original song “People Alone” from The Competition (1980) and the adaptation score for The Sting II (1983).
Raised in Harlem, Tyson began her career as a model and a theater actress, appearing both on Broadway and Off-Broadway. After playing small roles in feature films and television, she was cast as Portia in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in 1968. Four years later, she received an Academy Award nomination for her leading performance in Sounder. Her other notable film credits include The River Niger, Fried Green Tomatoes, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, The Help, Alex Cross and Last Flag Flying.
All in all this is one of the best sets of honorees the Academy has yet come up with since establishing the Governors Awards a decade ago. Still I wish some year they’d engrave the name of Doris Day on one of these things. Her name is always at the top of every fan’s wish list when the conversation turns to Honorary Oscars, but I guess she has time. She’s only 96.