Home-wreckers, Commies, and Panicky Producers: The 31st Academy Awards

Print from collection of library prints for book High Exposure: Hollywood Lives - Found Photos from the Archives of the Los Angeles Times." but was not used in book.Movie lovers anxiously await the 87th Academy Awards next Sunday, February 22, though many of us have grown profoundly disappointed in the changes in the show over the last few years. In 2009, the Academy decided to drop the on-air tributes to those who were awarded honorary Oscars; around the same time, the show’s producers and/or directors chose to eliminate the compilations of clips of classic films that used to mark each ceremony. Both decisions were short-sighted, robbing the Academy of an opportunity to teach young generations about the great films of the past. If the Academy is so interested in preservation and education, then they should model that behavior during this high-profile event.

 

JERRY LEWIS WAS ONE OF 6 HOSTS FOR THE 31ST AWARDS CEREMONY.

JERRY LEWIS WAS ONE OF 6 HOSTS FOR THE 31ST AWARDS CEREMONY.

JOAN COLLINS, ANGELA LANSBURY, & DANA WYNTER SING "IT'S BULLY NOT TO BE NOMINATED," A NOVELTY TUNE THAT POKED FUN AT BEST ACTRESS NOMINEES.

JOAN COLLINS, ANGELA LANSBURY, & DANA WYNTER SING “IT’S BULLY NOT TO BE NOMINATED,” A NOVELTY TUNE THAT POKED FUN AT BEST ACTRESS NOMINEES.

The rationale or excuses given for such decisions usually revolve around “streamlining” the show so it doesn’t exceed its running time, though cutting out the mediocre production numbers performed by the latest pop sensations might accomplish that more effectively. Concerns about the program running over its allotted time slot have always plagued the awards show—except for one year. I was thinking about that offbeat year as I looked over TCM’s schedule this week. This evening, as part of the “31 Days of Oscar,” TCM is airing Oscar-nominated films from 1958. The awards for the 1958 films were presented on April 9, 1959, at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, and the television broadcast was produced by Jerry Wald. Six stars hosted that evening, including Bob Hope, David Niven, Tony Randall, Mort Sahl, Laurence Olivier, and Jerry Lewis. By the time it was Randall’s turn to host his section of the program, Wald asked him to skip his jokes and move the show along as quickly as he could. Later, Maurice Chevalier was cut off after Rosalind Russell handed him his honorary Oscar so that a chorus of young girls could race through, “We’re Glad You’re Not Young Anymore.” Anthony Franciosa, Robert Wagner, and Rock Hudson were supposed to sing a response to the girls, but Wald decided to cut the number. After all of the awards had been given out, Mitzi Gaynor closed the show with “There’s No Business Like Show Business”—except it wasn’t the end of the show. Wald had rushed the proceedings so much that there were 20 minutes of air time left.

Wald signaled the news to Jerry Lewis, the evening’s last host, who yelled, “Another 20 minutes.” Onstage behind Gaynor were all of the evening’s winners and presenters. The group stood there in shock while Lionel Newman and his orchestra continued to play. A few stars began to dance: Cary Grant took Ingrid Bergman by the hand; Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner joined in; Bob Hope twirled Zsa Zsa Gabor across the stage. Dean Martin grabbed Sophia Loren and waltzed by the podium where he snatched an Oscar. Lewis ad-libbed: “And they said Dean and I wouldn’t be on the same stage again,” with Martin responding, “He needs me.”

THE INFAMOUS CONCLUSION WITH JERRY LEWIS GAMELY TRYING TO FILL 20 MINS.

THE INFAMOUS CONCLUSION WITH JERRY LEWIS GAMELY TRYING TO FILL 20 MINS.

Lewis continued to toss out quips and jokes before asking Lionel Newman for his baton. He faked his way through leading the orchestra in a kind of dry run for the conducting scene in The Bellboy. By the time the dancing stars grew weary of the commotion and disappeared, the comedian was in full Lewis frenzy. He picked up a trumpet and began blaring sour notes. At that point, NBC discontinued the broadcast and ran a short film about pistols. Later, Bob Hope quipped, “They timed this thing with a sundial.”

LIZ AND EDDIE: WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?

LIZ AND EDDIE: WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?

Television broadcast aside, the 1958 Academy Awards were memorable for other reasons. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was one of that year’s most talked about films, primarily because of the personal life of Elizabeth Taylor. Just after production began, Taylor’s husband Mike Todd was killed in a plane crash; by the time the film was released in September, she was dating Debbie Reynolds’s husband, Eddie Fisher. Within the span of one film’s production, she went from grieving widow to home-wrecker. The entertainment press, who had gotten a lot of mileage out of Taylor the widow, were beside themselves with Taylor the husband-stealer. Hedda Hopper claimed the attraction was based only on sex and would never last, while entertainment columnist  Mike Connolly claimed Taylor threw a party for Fisher and called it a “You Can All Go to Hell Party.” After she was nominated as Best Actress, he declared that giving Liz the Oscar was simply out of the question. Hedda and Mike must have had the inside track, because Eddie and Liz were over as soon as she saw Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra. And, she lost the Best Actress race to Susan Hayward who won for I Want to Live. Set your DV-R for 3:00am tonight to catch Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and judge for yourself whether she was snubbed.

58winners

BEST ACTRESS SUSAN HAYWARD, BEST ACTOR DAVID NIVEN, PRESENTER INGRID BERGMAN, AND HONORARY RECEPIENT MAURICE CHEVALIER.

The winner for Best Picture was not one of the heavy dramas that dominated theaters that year. Instead Arthur Freed’s lumbering musical Gigi beat out Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Separate Tables, and The Defiant Ones. Campaigning and strategizing have always been a part of the Oscar race, and MGM’s calculated handling of Gigi’s release may have had something to do with its high profile. The studio opened the film at the Royale—a legitimate Broadway theater. It ran for six months before moving on to regular movie theaters. However, its efforts to secure costar Maurice Chevalier an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actor backfired. Chevalier was assured by MGM that a nomination was inevitable after he won a Golden Globe, but Academy voters didn’t agree. Don’t be too sad for his loss, however, because he was given an Honorary Oscar. You can revisit Chevalier’s performance tonight when Gigi airs on TCM at 8:00pm. Lee J. Cobb did receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for The Brothers Karamazov, which airs at 5:00am, though he lost to Burl Ives, who won for his performance as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for those keeping score.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR AND FOLK SINGER BURL IVES

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR AND FOLK SINGER BURL IVES

SHIRLEY MACLAINE AND JANET LEIGH DURING REHEARSAL

SHIRLEY MACLAINE AND JANET LEIGH DURING REHEARSAL

Ives was a well-known folksinger who had been briefly blacklisted before agreeing to testify for HUAC. Though his decision estranged him from the folk-singing circle, he was able to pursue an acting career. Ives was not the only folk singer in contention as Best Supporting Actor. Theodore Bikel, who played a sheriff in The Defiant Ones, was also nominated. Whether the entertainment press thought folk singing a low pursuit, or whether its association with liberal politics (communism) tainted the press’s opinion, columnists repeatedly cracked jokes or made snide comments. Mike Connelly felt there should be “less folksongs and more gams” in the 1958 Oscar race, while Sidney Skolsky noted, “Bikel would win in a cinch if beatniks voted.”

The blacklist was still an issue in Hollywood in 1958, and it came out of the shadows when The Defiant Ones was nominated for original screenplay. One of the cowriters was Nathan E. Douglas, a pseudonym for blacklisted writer Ned Young. Academy rules stated that no admitted communists could be listed on an Oscar ballot, and that included anyone who refused to appear before HUAC. However, industry pressure persuaded the Academy to revoke the law. Young won but not under his real name; at least his pseudonym was declared a winner. The win prompted Hedda Hopper to rant, “Since our Academy now makes it legal for Commie writers to receive Oscars, some past winners, who are as bitter about this as I, tell me they’ll return theirs.” Of course, no one did.

The 1958 Academy Awards season and broadcast was marked by salacious scandals, commie-fearing columnists, panicky producers, and a jacked-up Jerry Lewis . . . and, yet, how truly entertaining it must have been compared to recent Oscar seasons and broadcasts.

“It’s the Oscars.” Parade Magazine. February 26, 2012.

Matthews, Charles. Oscar A to Z: A Complete Guide to More than 2,400 Movies Nominated for Academy Awards. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Wiley, Mason and Damien Bona. Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards, 10th ed. New York, Ballantine Books, 1996.

 

15 Responses Home-wreckers, Commies, and Panicky Producers: The 31st Academy Awards
Posted By Kathy Shaidle : February 16, 2015 3:05 pm

You guys know there really were highly placed Communist Party members and fellow travelers pedaling the Soviet line in Hollywood, taking over unions and that, right?

Here’s an insider-once-removed’s book (his father wrote Marx Brothers screenplays):

http://www.regnery.com/books/hollywood-traitors/

When cartoonists are being murdered around the world, having to write screenplays under a fake name while still being paid handsomely (and getting to keep breathing) doesn’t seem like such a biggie.

Posted By LD : February 16, 2015 3:14 pm

Susan, I agree with everything you said in your opening paragraph. Thank you for expressing those feelings that I share.

Now, I think Burl Ives won his Oscar for THE BIG COUNTRY which he made the same year as CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. He was very good in both the roles of Rufus Hannassey and Big Daddy but I have to admit the latter is my favorite.

Posted By Raven : February 16, 2015 4:32 pm

Stopped watching it long ago, so tired of the academy’s continued bowing down to the democratic party and making this into a “which republican’s can we bash tonight”

Posted By Lamar : February 16, 2015 8:58 pm

I stopped watching the Oscars because they are pretty much devoid of any entertainment value. The year they gave so much time to that tacky Vegas circus act did it for me (Note to Producer Brian Glazer-the Oscars are supposed to promote moviegoing) No time to pay tribute to lifetime award winners but plenty for dead-in-the-water “banter.” The fact that Oscar nominated performers are bumped from the on air tribute to the recently departed but all manner of publicity flacks and the like are included rankles as well. I used to record it and speed through it but I don’t even do that anymore.

Posted By AL : February 16, 2015 10:22 pm

Kathy Shaidle–what a quandary. You can always watch the PoliticalWhorehouse that is FoxNews, so cheer up…–

Posted By chris : February 16, 2015 11:32 pm

Kathy, I’m sure there were communists in Hollywood. However, that’s not the point. The point is that no one should be punished for their political beliefs. Some people who showed up for just one meeting in the 1930′s found that they has no careers in the 1950′s. The order of the day was to try to get them to rat out others who also may have attended just one meeting as well. Also, people who helped the Russians during the Second World War by holding fundraisers or just showing up at one to benefit our at the time ally found themselves in trouble as well.
Many innocent(and those guilty of being communists as well) writers at least had pen names and fronts to fall back on. Directors could go overseas. However actors and actresses often found their careers ruined or had to wait decades to get it back.
By saying that cartoonists all over the world are being killed, so screenwriters writing under assumed names makes it okay doesn’t make it okay. It just means that you really don’t have a leg to stand on in the argument.

Posted By GGinPG : February 17, 2015 6:28 pm

“Kathy, I’m sure there were communists in Hollywood. However, that’s not the point. The point is that no one should be punished for their political beliefs.”

Communism, as a “political belief”, boasts nearly 100 million people murdered in its name. Probably more. Some actors and actresses (guilty or not) getting blacklisted out of ACTING CAREERS seems like a minor point when you compare it to the overwhelming numbers of (mostly innocent) people being wiped off the face of the earth.

I love (old) Hollywood, warts and all, but let’s have some perspective here, chris and AL. No leg to stand on, indeed.

Posted By Susan Doll : February 17, 2015 7:56 pm

It’s interesting what aspects of film history get under contemporary viewers’ skin. I thought more would respond to Lewis’s unscripted antics or Liz’s home-wrecking, husband-hunting ways.

Posted By chris : February 17, 2015 11:31 pm

Kathy, once again, you’re missing the point. Wrong is Wrong. Yes, in the grand scheme of things Actors and Actresses losing their livilihood doesn’t compared to millions of deaths. But, that doesn’t make it right. Might I also point out that millions of deaths have been caused by Christianity, yet no one was blacklisted by their religious beliefs.
If you don’t believe me, look at what enabled the Holocaust, the Inquisition, wholesale genocide of Native Americans and slavery.
Just because Murder exists doesn’t mean that Robbery isn’t important enough to combat against.

Posted By GGinPG : February 17, 2015 11:52 pm

chris, it’s not Kathy you’ve responded to. But I will defend again her point that the wholesale slaughter of millions of innocents trumps whatever acting jobs were “lost” as a result of Hollywood’s “Red” scare. An unemployed actor can always find work elsewhere (waitstaff anyone?), but dead is dead. Wrong is not wrong. If I sneak a few candies from the bulk bin (without paying) that is wrong but not worthy of extreme punishment (life in prison). If I kill a person (with intent) that is wrong and deserves the harshest sentence possible. Wrong is not wrong, sometimes wrong is evil and must be called as such. Which is why many good people cannot possible find moral equivalency between mass murder and a handful of lost jobs, even if some of those jobs were lost by dupes or altogether “innocent” actors. [Off Soapbox.]

Susan, we are a polarized society. Politics trumps virtually everything else on offer, be it wisecrackery or homewreckery. I did enjoy all of your piece, though.

Posted By chris : February 18, 2015 3:16 am

The thing is that a lot of those “innocent” actors were innocent(in some cases, extremely innocent-those with similar names comes to mind). While a lot of lives being ruined doesn’t compare to millions being killed by any form of dictatorship(I understand what moral equivalency is), an entire society that lets itself fall prey to any demagogue spouting hatred(like a McCarthy) might also find itself falling prey to becoming the kind of society that might cause the deaths of millions of people.
’nuff said.
And, I will agree with both Kathy and GGinPN in saying I enjoyed the piece as well, Susan. Done politicin’

Posted By Kathy Shaidle : February 18, 2015 1:30 pm

The problem with the counterarguements to my point is they are still reading the same talking points put out by — you’ll never guess — Hollywood (and academia, and the media) before Venona, etc.

Hollywood Traitors, Red Star Over Hollywood and other more recent books take apart the “they were just good hearted idealists during the Depression”/“McCarthy was worse than Communism”/“The Hollywood 10 were heroes” factoids.

Have you ever read Witness by Whittaker Chambers? What the Communist Party USA did to him after he left was as bad if not worse than what McCarthy did to his targets. Party opperatives throughout America ALSO made it impossible for some people to find work. They also drove people to suicide and killed others. Did McCarthy kill anyone?

(Also, you know a Senator can’t run a House Select Committee, right? Just want to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing.)

We’re talking about people, in Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry, who refused to denounce the Party even after Stalin’s crimes were undeniable. Pete Seeger died STILL unwilling to acknowledge them.

A recent post on this blog mentions a screenwriter running his work past Adorno (!) But remember: there is NO communist influence in show biz!

PS: Hitler was an atheist, not a Christian. The Hitler Youth handbook mocks and denounces Christianity as a religion of slaves.

The Inquisition: Modern scholarship (that nasty party pooper again) places the death toll of the 350 year Inquistion at roughly the same number of people who were killed on 9/11 (and after, through particulate borne illness) by Muslims.

The Crusades: That was a defensive war against Muslim invasion and aggression into long-held Christian lands.

Next you’ll be telling me you belive in small-pox blankets.

Posted By Mitch Farish : February 18, 2015 4:58 pm

We can end polarization if we can agree that Communist murder, Nazi murder, Terrorist murder (right and left wing), and suppression of speech and thought are wrong no matter if it’s by McCarthy or Mao. There should be no such thing as a hierarchy of evil. It’s all wrong … period. I get sick of these kinds of stupid arguments!

Posted By tdraicer : February 19, 2015 4:51 am

Actually we can’t end the polarization but we could try and keep it out of here, that is if people like Ms. Shaidle didn’t feel the need to inflict their personal political worldview on the rest of us on the slightest pretext.

Posted By swac44 : February 20, 2015 2:45 pm

I’m a Marxist, Groucho faction. Whatever it is, I’m against it!

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.