Throughout the 1960s, Oscar night (a Monday at the time. It didn’t even move to Sunday during television time, that only came later with cable time – Sunday had become a hole to fill, and Monday was a weeknight, and too valuable to lose. Traffic also became an issue. More on that in a page or two) continued to be important to me, if no one around me. I went to the movies every Saturday I could, so I started seeing a lot of the nominees, and of course the performance aspect of it consumed me, and Oscar night was my night to shine – alone.
The earliest Oscar “controversy” I was alert to was the Audrey Hepburn/Julie Andrews entanglement. Julie Andrews originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY on Broadway, and even won the Tony for her performance, but when it came to casting the movie, the producers went with box-office draw instead of talent raw – and had to insert ghost vocalist Marni Nixon in for Audrey’s inadequate singing voice. The Academy discounted all this and awarded Julie Andrews the Best Actress award for MARY POPPINS after all, but passed her up the next year for THE SOUND OF MUSIC in favor of Julie Christie (remarkable as she is, in DARLING! For all of that, it was a very benign introduction to Academy politics, which would ramp up to full speed by 1970, when the studio system was actually if not officially dead, with the advent of post-code, independent productions that drew top talent and made money instead of investing it. The culture itself seemed to be growing up, even as I myself went through puberty and the High School Wars.
Looking over the list of films with nominations, I certainly remember seeing more of them than not. In one category alone I’d seen over two-thirds of the nominated films over the decade – that is, in the theater or at the latest, the first television broadcast. I was at the movies every night of the week they would broadcast them. If it was Monday Night at the Movies, I was there (they never counterprogrammed a move for Oscar night), Tuesday Night at the Movies, and I’d be there. Any night but Thursdays; Thursday was the ABC Thursday’s Girls – Gidget (then The Flying Nun), Bewitched, That Girl and, for one glorious season across the dial at NBC, Mona McClusky, with the incomperable and delightful Juliet Prowse. I was in heaven, nobody else even blinked. It was the inclusion of Mona McClusky in the TV history book that really impressed me with its exhaustive coverage of prime-time television in its earliest years (and no, I don’t have a title, unfortunately; and we’ve lost touch, the hostess and I).
And I would get emotionally involved more often than not. The best year was 1969; I was already a junior in High School. Mary Freiermuth and I had gone on our one and only date to see CHARLY, starring Cliff Robertson. I believe I might have read the story in class before seeing the movie (or vice versa), but I remember being very stimulated by the story to imitate it in one of my own and very overcome by the movie. I cried. She cried. We both cried. So, when he won the Oscar for Best Performance by and Actor in a Feature Film, I stood up and cheered, which at the time came out more like a scream than a cheer. I was in the bedroom upstairs watching the “second” TV (by this time we had the color TV downstairs and a black and white portable, which I had upstairs with me that night), and my parents who were downstairs watching the color TV with some counter-programming, ran to the bottom of the stairs, calling out in alarm, asking if I was okay. It is one of the highlights of my Oscar memories.
In the mid-90s, my friend Joan Rivers (we met when we took a seminar together) had a daytime talk show. I had a Southern gentleman guest from Montgomery come up to visit me; so this must have been 1992. We attended her “Oscar show” taping, and one of her guests was none other than my Oscar hero, Cliff Robertson. Did I stand up at a break and ask Cliff to hear my Oscar story? No. Did I talk to the MC in the audience and tell HIM that Cliff Robertson’s win in 1969 made me scream, so he could relay my story? No. Was I within enough degrees of separation to tell Joan I’d be there? No. None of this happened then, or ever. But I was there at Cliff Robertson’s Oscar taping for Joan Rivers. The little things mean a lot.