Trivial Matters #25 – Retired Awards

Before I get to the trivia today, I want to take a moment to say “Happy birthday!”, or rather “z okazji urodzin!”, to a good friend of mine, who’s been with me for three years now through thick and thin. He’s well-traveled, always down for a pint, and, as you’ll see, very photogenic. He’s an owl, and his name is Mortimer:


He also speaks Swahili, so furaha ya kuzaliwa, bundi rafiki yangu!

Mortimer’s retired (although he keeps up with mousing, he’s maintained his amateur status), so today I’d like to tell you about the various awards that have been retired by the Academy over the years.

The 1st Academy Awards, perhaps unsurprisingly, featured no less than four awards that were immediately discarded:

  • Unique and Artistic Quality of Production

Won by Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, this category was conceived on an equal footing with Outstanding Production. I think this category had legs, and the Academy should have tried it out a while longer. Perhaps they worried that the prestige of winning Best Picture would be weakened through the split. Still, I’d like to have seen what films would have been nominated here…most of the films up for Best Picture I’ve seen thus far would not have fit the criteria of being “unique” and/or “artistic” (with a few exceptions, such as Grand Illusion or even Lost Horizon).

Of course, had the Academy kept this category, my slate of films for this project would double and I’d never get through it (24 films each in 1934 and ’35…), so perhaps it’s just as well for my sake that they eliminated it early.

  • Title Writing

Won by Joseph Farnham for The Red Mill, the decline and fall of silents is the obvious reason this award was dropped. This was an award for writing such gems as “A trip over the door still would have been a vacation for Tina” (from the winner), or, for pathos, the flowery prose of a D.W. Griffith drama, where characters’ “youthful dreams come to wreck against the sordid realities of life” (Broken Blossoms, 1919).

  • Engineering Effects (eventually found an equivalent in Visual Effects)

Won by Roy Pomeroy for Wings (hardly surprising). Pomeroy would go on to be an important figure in bringing sound to film, although his strange ideas of how audiences would react to spoken dialogue made for some odd scenes in early talkies. He thought that without a noticeable gap between lines, audiences would get confused and fall into drink and vice (probably). In Old Arizona (1929) is the finest example of this dubious, and thankfully short-lived, technique.

  • Best Director, Comedy

Won by Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights. With the relative dearth of comedy films represented by Best Picture and Best Director, this is a category that, had it survived, may have given some legitimacy to the genre within the Academy, but without splitting Best Picture into similar drama and comedy categories (which I am against), it probably wouldn’t have worked out in the long run.

Following that first cull, there have been four further categories that have come and gone over the years:

  • Best Assistant Director (1933-1937) and Best Dance Direction (1935-1937)

These two came and went pretty quickly due to pressure from the Director’s Guild of America, who felt that recognition for “direction” shouldn’t be split up or shared. The latter category, you may recall, represented the only Oscar win by a Marx Brothers film (A Day at the Races, 1937).

  • Best Original Story (1927/28-1956)

This category actually existed at the same time as Original and Adapted Screenplay for 16 years after the introduction of the former in 1940, until it was finally dropped as redundant. It was a confusing time and one of the reasons why my list of memorized Oscar categories does not include those for writing (yet).

  • Best Live-Action Short Film, or at least a few subcategories thereof: Comedy (1932-1935); Novelty (1932-1935); Color (1936-37); and One- and Two-Reel (1936-1956)

It says a lot about short films back then that the only two categories the Academy could think of were Comedy and Novelty. Surely twenty minutes isn’t enough time to tell a serious story.

Novelty is one I’d like to see brought back, to be honest, and I’d expand it to include features as well. With so many cookie-cutter films being released nowadays, an Oscar recognizing silliness would inject some much-needed life into both the awards and Hollywood at large.

  • There’s also the category of Best Original Musical, which hasn’t been awarded since 1984 but is still technically active. The Beatles won it in 1970 for Let It Be!

There you have it, the retired Academy Awards. For the most part they are things that were phased out as technology changed or the awards coalesced, but a few definitely got a raw deal.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mortimer! And, lest you think that he spends all his time since retirement just hanging out in luxury hotels, here he is taking in the National Air and Space Museum:

He’s a cultured owl.


Trivial Matters #24 – Peter O’Toole

As it’s Friday the 13th, I want to share with you the unlucky saga of Peter O’Toole and his eight unsuccessful nominations for Best Actor from 1962-2006.

By 1968 he had already perfected his “crestfallen yet classy” face.

It’s the record for futility in the acting categories (Richard Burton is second with seven), and looking at the performances alone it seems astounding that he didn’t win at least two:

  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962); lost to Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Becket (1964); lost to Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady
  • The Lion in Winter (1968); lost to Cliff Robertson, Charly
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969); lost to John Wayne, True Grit
  • The Ruling Class (1972); lost to Marlon Brando, The Godfather
  • The Stunt Man (1980); lost to Robert de Niro, Raging Bull
  • My Favorite Year (1982); lost to Ben Kingsley, Gandhi
  • Venus (2006); lost to Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

All very solid performances from one of the best actors of all time, and he struck out eight times. If that isn’t enough for you to conclude that existence is unfair and absurd–or at the very least, that the Academy Awards are–keep in mind that we live in a world where Peter O’Toole never won an Oscar but Nicolas Cage did.


However, when one takes a closer look at the actors on that list who won, it becomes clear that O’Toole was just cursed to almost always come up against a nominee who was just not going to lose. The precedent was set with his first nomination, for his career-making–and career-defining–portrayal of T.E. Lawrence. Almost any other year that’s a gimme, but in 1962 it was up against Gregory Peck’s equally defining role as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and let’s face it, Peck was just about guaranteed the win for that one (deservedly).

The pattern continued for most of O’Toole’s career: John Wayne in 1969 (one of the Academy’s famous “oops, we forgot to give this performer an award” awards), Marlon Brando in 1972 (even though he refused to accept it), Robert de Niro in 1980, Ben Kingsley in 1982, and Forest Whitaker in 2006. Each of them locked down their Oscar roughly six seconds after their films were released.

There were only two years in which O’Toole wasn’t just one of four actors tossed in to create the illusion of competition: 1964 and 1968. In 1964, he was nominated alongside his Becket co-star and fellow Oscar snubbee Richard Burton, a situation that rarely bodes well for either party. Rex Harrison had won the Golden Globe, but his win this year was not a foregone conclusion as were the ones I mentioned above…still, O’Toole and Burton canceled each other out (Peter Sellers should have won, anyway).

1968 was an odd year…it was not a particularly strong slate for Best Actor, and Cliff Robertson’s win for Charly was unexpected and, for many, ridiculous. I’ve not seen The Lion in Winter (yet! Stay tuned for the 41st Academy Awards), but I’ve seen Charly and I can say that neither the film itself nor Robertson’s performance is anything special. This is the only one of O’Toole’s losses for which I cannot find a compelling reason.

Alas, O’Toole was only ever recognized by the Academy with a paltry Lifetime Achievement Award, and is now remembered for this dubious record–well, also for being an amazing actor, equally adept at drama and comedy, and a wonderfully eccentric character in real life.

But one can dream, and here are some trivia entries from alternate universes in which O’Toole won. (Not all the same universe, though, or the entries after his second win would become awfully repetitive.)

  • Peter O’Toole is the only actor to win Best Actor for his debut starring role, as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
  • With his win for The Lion in Winter (1968), Peter O’Toole became the first performer to win for playing a character for which he had been previously nominated (King Henry II, whom he played in Becket [1964]).
  • Robert Donat and Peter O’Toole were the first performers to win Oscars for playing the same character in different films, for their roles as Arthur Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1939 and 1969, respectively.
  • Peter O’Toole’s win for Venus (2006) set a new record for longest gap between a performer’s first nomination and first win: 44 years (since his nomination for Lawrence of Arabia [1962]). The previous record had been 41 years, set by Henry Fonda between The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and his win for On Golden Pond (1981).

Trivial Matters #23

Time for some writing trivia!

  • Francis Ford Coppola and Alan Jay Lerner hold the record for writing (or co-writing) the most Best Picture winners, with three apiece:
    • Coppola wrote Patton (1970), The Godfather (1972), and The Godfather Part II (1974). All three won Best Screenplay.
    • Lerner wrote An American in Paris (1951), Gigi (1958), and My Fair Lady (1964). The former two won Best Screenplay.
  • Billy Wilder wrote the most Best Picture nominees: Ninotchka (1939), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945)*, Sunset Boulevard (1950), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), and The Apartment (1960)*.
  • Only seven films have won Best Picture without a writing nomination: Wings (1927/28), The Broadway Melody (1928/29), Grand Hotel (1931/32), Cavalcade (1932/33), Hamlet (1948), The Sound of Music (1965), and Titanic (1997).
  • To date, eight individuals have won Oscars for directing, writing, and producing in the same year:
    • Leo McCarey, Going my Way (1944)
    • Billy Wilder, The Apartment (1960)
    • Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II (1974)
    • James L. Brooks, Terms of Endearment (1983)
    • Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
    • Joel & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men (2007)
    • Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Trivial Matters #22

As I continue to look for four hours of free time to watch Gone with the Wind to complete the 12th Academy Awards, here is some more trivia:

  • Three people have refused their Academy Awards. (Some, like Woody Allen, have simply never collected them, but did not outright renounce them.)
    • Dudley Nichols refused his Best Adapted Screenplay award for The Informer at the 8th Academy Awards due to a union boycott of the ceremony. Despite this labor action, Nichols was the only person to go all the way and officially turn down his award.
    • George C. Scott turned down his Best Actor award for Patton at the 43rd Awards because he thought of the Oscars as a “two-hour meat parade…a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons.” Ah, the halcyon days when the ceremony was only two hours long…
    • Two years later Marlon Brando refused his Best Actor award for The Godfather in protest of Hollywood’s (and the country’s) treatment of American Indians. He sent a representative to the ceremony with a 15-page speech, but she ended up ad-libbing for about a minute before the Academy implemented a “no proxy” rule.
  • The record for longest time between a film’s release and winning an Academy Award is twenty years, for Charles Chaplin’s Limelight. It was originally released in 1952, but due to Chaplin’s low standing in America at the time was not shown in Los Angeles until 1972, at which time it became eligible for Oscar consideration and won Best Original Score (Chaplin’s only competitive win, after being given an Honorary award the year before).
  • Speaking of which, the Academy has on a few other occasions given an elderly, well-respected but overlooked person an Honorary award, then turned around and given them a competitive award the next year. I’m thinking off the top of my head of Henry Fonda (Honorary, 1980; Best Actor, 1981 for On Golden Pond) and Paul Newman (Honorary, 1985; Best Actor, 1986 for The Color of Money).
    • Then again, sometimes they think, incorrectly, that the Honorary one is enough, as was the case with Peter O’Toole, who was given one in 2002 after seven unsuccessful nominations (of an eventual eight, the record for futile acting nominations).

Trivial Matters #21

This is a favorite Oscar-related acting achievement of mine, which I am remiss for not including in Trivial Matters already: performers who have been nominated twice in the same year!

So far, no performer has been nominated twice in the same category in the same year (three directors have done it, though). Also, no one has ever won both Lead and Supporting in the same year.

There have been eleven so far:

  • Faye Bainter (1938)
    • Best Actress, White Banners (lost to Bette Davis, Jezebel)
    • Best Supporting Actress, Jezebel (won)
  • Teresa Wright (1942)
    • Best Actress, The Pride of the Yankees (lost to Greer Garson, Mrs. Miniver)
    • Best Supporting Actress, Mrs. Miniver (won)
  • Barry Fitzgerald (1944)
    • Best Actor, Going my Way (lost to Bing Crosby, Going my Way)
    • Best Supporting Actor, Going my Way (won)
      • Yes, he was nominated twice for the same role in the same film. An immediate change to the rules prevented this from happening again.
  • Jessica Lange (1982)
    • Best Actress, Frances (lost to Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice)
    • Best Supporting Actress, Tootsie (won)
  • Signourney Weaver (1988)
    • Best Actress, Gorillas in the Mist (lost to Jodie Foster, The Accused)
    • Best Supporting Actress, Working Girl (lost to Geena Davis, The Accidental Tourist)
  • Al Pacino (1992)
    • Best Actor, Scent of a Woman (won)
    • Best Supporting Actor, Glengarry Glen Ross (lost to Gene Hackman, Unforgiven)
  • Holly Hunter (1993)
    • Best Actress, The Piano (won)
    • Best Supporting Actress, The Firm (lost to Anna Paquin, The Piano)
  • Emma Thompson (1993)
    • Best Actress, The Remains of the Day (lost to Holly Hunter, The Piano)
    • Best Supporting Actress, In the Name of the Father (lost to Anna Paquin, The Piano)
  • Julianne Moore (2002)
    • Best Actress, Far From Heaven (lost to Nicole Kidman, The Hours)
    • Best Supporting Actress, The Hours (lost to Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago)
  • Jamie Foxx (2004)
    • Best Actor, Ray (won)
    • Best Supporting Actor, Collateral (lost to Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby)
  • Cate Blanchett (2007)
    • Best Actress, Elizabeth: The Golden Age (lost to Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose)
    • Best Supporting Actress, I’m Not There (lost to Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton)

Trivial Matters #20

Further directing-related trivia:

  • Only three directors have won Best Director more than twice:
    • John Ford (4) – The Informer (1935); The Grapes of Wrath (1940); How Green was my Valley* (1941); The Quiet Man (1952)
    • Frank Capra (3) – It Happened One Night* (1934); Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936); You Can’t Take it With You* (1938)
    • William Wyler (3) – Mrs. Miniver* (1942); The Best Years of Our Lives* (1946); Ben-Hur* (1959)
  • Clarence Brown holds the record for most Best Director nominations without a win–0 for 6–for Romance (1929/30), Anna Christie (1929/30), A Free Soul (1930/31), The Human Comedy (1943), National Velvet (1944), and The Yearling (1946).
    • King Vidor, Robert Altman, and Alfred Hitchcock all share second at 0 for 5.
    • Followed by Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Lumet, Frederico Fellini, and Peter Weir at 0 for 4.
  • In the five-nominee era, the nominees for Best Picture and Best Director exactly matched on five occasions:
    • 30th Academy Awards (1957)
      • The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean*); 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet); Peyton Place (Mark Robson); Sayonara (Joshua Logan); Witness for the Prosecution (Billy Wilder)
    • 37th Academy Awards (1964)
      • My Fair Lady (George Cukor*); Becket (Peter Glenville); Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick); Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson); Zorba the Greek (Michael Cacoyannis)
    • 54th Academy Awards (1981)
      • Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson); Atlantic City (Louis Malle); On Golden Pond (Mark Rydell); Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg); Reds (Warren Beatty*)
    • 78th Academy Awards (2005)
      • Crash (Paul Haggis); Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee*); Capote (Bennett Miller); Good Night, and Good Luck. (George Clooney); Munich (Steven Spielberg)
    • 81st Academy Awards (2008)
      • Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle*); The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher); Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard); Milk (Gus van Sant); The Reader (Steven Daldry)

Trivial Matters #19 – Directing milestones

I haven’t concentrated too much on directors in these entries, so here are a few bits of my favorite directing-related trivia:

  • In the first eleven Academy Awards ceremonies, 7 of the Best Director winners were named Frank:
    • Frank Borzage (1stSeventh Heaven; 5thBad Girl)
    • Frank Lloyd (2ndThe Divine Lady; 6thCavalcade*)
    • Frank Capra (7thIt Happened One Night*; 9thMr. Deeds Goes to Town; 11thYou Can’t Take it With You).
    • No one named Frank has won Best Director since (unless you count Franklin J. Schaffner).
  • William Wyler has the most nominations (12), and has directed the most Best Picture winners (3), the most Academy Award-nominated performances (36), and the most winning performances (14). All are unlikely to be broken:
    • The closest active directors in terms of nominations are Steven Spielberg (7) and Martin Scorsese (8).
    • The only active director who has directed two Best Picture winners is Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven [1992] and Million Dollar Baby [2004]).
    • To date, Martin Scorsese has directed 22 nominated performances; Woody Allen, 18.
    • Woody Allen has directed 7 Academy Award-winning performances; Scorsese and Clint Eastwood have 5 apiece.
  • Three directors have been nominated for Best Director twice in the same year:
    • Clarence Brown (1929/30): Anna Christie and Romance (lost to Lewis Milestone for All Quiet on the Western Front)
    • Michael Curtiz (1938): Four Daughters and Angels with Dirty Faces (lost to Frank Capra for You Can’t Take it With You)
    • Steven Soderbergh (2001): Erin Brockovich and Traffic (won for Traffic)
  • Two directors have twice been nominated for Best Actor and Best Director for the same film:
    • Warren Beatty (Heaven Can Wait [1978], lost both; Reds [1981], won Best Director)
    • Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven [1992], won Best Director; Million Dollar Baby [2004], won Best Director)