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Even for the Dead, There’s a Race to Make the A-List at Oscars

LOS ANGELES — On Oscar night everyone is dying — sometimes literally — to win something.

(see inside)

by Miareply 1902/09/2013

Since March 21, 1994, when the first regular obituary segment was dropped into an Academy Awards show, a spot on the yearly scroll of recently deceased movie luminaries has become one of the evening’s most hotly contested honors. And as in most Oscar races it is the focus of sometimes ferocious campaigning.

This time around it is a safe bet that Ernest Borgnine, Charles Durning, Nora Ephron, Tony Scott, Richard Zanuck and Marvin Hamlisch will get their few seconds in a roughly three-minute remembrance.

Beloved figures all. But who fills the next 30 or so spots in the memorial for this year’s show, which takes place on Feb. 24 at the Dolby Theater, is open to debate. And that debate is under way at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where a committee of members whose names are discreetly concealed from other members and the public are measuring celebrity, weighing achievement and trying to ward off entreaties from those who believe a loved one, friend or former client should have a last moment in the limelight.

“Unfortunately, my calls to the Academy were not returned,” Sheldon Roskin, a longtime publicist, said in an e-mail this week, of his efforts to lobby for the inclusion of Tommy Culla, a public relations colleague unknown to moviegoers.

“Of all the committees, it’s the hardest one to do,” said Tom Sherak, whose three years as president of the Academy ended last year.

“The committee’s names are never mentioned, ever,” Mr. Sherak added.

by Miareply 102/08/2013

He and others spoke of a process that has shifted responsibility for the obituary roll call from a narrow group that once mainly included the Oscar show producer and both the president and the executive director of the Academy to a slightly broader group of insiders who now must choose a few dozen peers from this year’s especially large group of about 500 candidates.

It is not a pretty business.

Mr. Roskin has so far hit a wall in his efforts on behalf of Mr. Culla, who had turned his gift for Damon Runyon-esque banter into a calling card with friends and sometime employers like Tony Curtis, Roman Polanski, John Boorman and another former Academy president, Sidney Ganis.

But things might go better for Lois Smith, a publicist who died last year. With clients as prominent as Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, and some well-placed support within the Academy, Ms. Smith is perhaps poised to join Warren Cowan (who was remembered in 2009) and Ronni Chasen (who made the list in 2011, shortly after she was shot dead) as one of a small number of publicity executives ever to make the cut.

While the committee’s anonymity is supposed to curtail aggressive campaigning, “there’s no shortage of input from out there in the community,” said Ric Robertson, the Academy’s chief operating officer. The Academy, he pointed out, has tried to expand the memorial by posting a much longer — if currently somewhat hard to find — obituary list, on its Web site

by Miareply 202/08/2013

Those remembered on the show itself do not have to be Academy members, Mr. Robertson said. But institutional service can help. Frank Pierson, a screenwriter and former Academy president who died in July, for instance, appears to have a strong case for inclusion this year.

Mostly, though, the winnowing process combines measured judgments about accomplishment — who has broken ground? won awards? impressed the public? — with a determination to spread the honors across various moviemaking crafts, and some gut calls about who ought to be remembered.

Which has led to some maddeningly unpredictable honors and snubs.

In 2009, for instance, Maila Nurmi, a film-business also-ran, credited as Vampira in Ed Wood’s megaflop “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” was included. But Eartha Kitt, with a long history of soundtrack and acting performances, was not. (“The producers are either 12 or have been living under a rock for the last 60 years,” Kitt’s former publicist, Andrew Freeman, subsequently told The New York Post.)

Last year Harry Morgan, whose roughly 100 feature film credits included “High Noon” and “The Ox-Bow Incident,” found no place in the Oscar-night memorial; yet Joseph Farrell, an inside player who was known mostly for conducting audience tests of films, was in.

“I cannot image why it left my dad out of its tribute segment,” Morgan’s son Charley said of the Academy in an e-mail this week. “It would never have occurred to me to check with or otherwise lobby the Academy to be sure that he was mentioned.”

Mr. Robertson said Harry Morgan was skipped because he had become more known for television shows like “Dragnet” and “M*A*S*H” than for movies. “It’s a subjective process,” he added.

According to Libby Wertin, a researcher with the Academy, an early prototype for the obituary sequence was part of the 50th ceremony in 1978. That year, Sammy Davis Jr. sang a Hamlisch song, “Come Light the Candles,” over a memorial montage.

But Gilbert Cates, who produced 14 Oscar telecasts before his death in 2011 (and inclusion in the 2012 memorial) first introduced the remembrance as a regular feature on the 66th Oscar show, in 1994. Chuck Workman, who edited or supervised a number of the memorial sequences over the years, said in an interview that he believed Mr. Cates was trying to get more film clips into a ceremony that often played like a variety show.

Of the 30 film workers included that first year, 23 — fully 77 percent — were actors. And it was an all-star cast, featuring Lillian Gish, Myrna Loy, Joseph Cotten, Helen Hayes, Ruby Keeler, Don Ameche, Vincent Price and Audrey Hepburn.

by Miareply 302/08/2013

The shortest roster appeared in 1998, when Mr. Cates, again the producer, included just 23 on a list that remembered Robert Mitchum, James Stewart, Red Skelton and Chris Farley. The longest sequence, in 2008, had 43 honorees.

Typically the memorial montage has been screened over a sentimental song, like “Smile,” performed by Celine Dion in 2011. Virtually always the sequence ends with a big name: Billy Wilder, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor. One ironclad rule, according to Bruce Cohen, who produced the 2011 show, is that it must come just before a commercial break.

“You never want to have anything come after it,” Mr. Cohen said of a sequence that momentarily breaks the building tension on awards night.

In the last decade, Mr. Robertson and others noted, the shift toward a more inclusive approach, recognizing contributions from makeup people and others not in the spotlight, led to longer lists.

But the commemoration of lesser-known figures has led to some omissions over the years — Corey Haim, Farrah Fawcett, Bea Arthur, Peter Graves — that feel less like benign neglect than an unforgettable slight.

“It is hard to imagine,” said Mr. Morgan in writing of his father, Harry, “that his absence from the tribute was due to simple oversight.”

by Miareply 402/08/2013

Hollywood is good at sucking blood and debauchery, but not much else.

Now I understand why The Godfather put the horse's head in that guys bed.

by Miareply 502/08/2013

The worst was the year Oscar nominee Dorothy McGuire was passed over in favorite of that big movie star Aaliyah.

by Miareply 602/08/2013

Bring on the dead!

by Miareply 702/08/2013

They should just do away with it and go back to pre-1994. It is always insulting to someone's family, no matter what. Someone is always left out.

by Miareply 902/08/2013

You'd think she was an F-lister, FFTTT*.

*Fat Face Tiffani Thiessen Troll, a.k.a. Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

by Miareply 1002/08/2013

The odd thing is, TCM always does a very classy, all-inclusive tribute at the end of the year. Whoever does those is brilliant, and they seem to find room for everyone.

by Miareply 1102/08/2013

TCM doesn't have the same time constraints the Oscar telecast has. They can take all the time they need to include everyone.

by Miareply 1202/08/2013

I like the happy dead people.

by Miareply 1302/08/2013

Ruby Keeler died?

by Miareply 1402/08/2013

Wow, I didn't realize the In Memoriam segment was fairly recent. 1994 was the first year I started watching, so most of my life.

by Miareply 1502/08/2013

If I overdose tonight, could I still make this year's tribute?

by Miareply 1602/08/2013

I wonder, when Mel Gibson dies, will they put him on that list? I don't think the Jews of Hollywood would like that.

by Miareply 1702/08/2013

Tell me about it!

by Miareply 1802/08/2013

Leni Riefenstahl made the cut, r17.

by Miareply 1902/09/2013
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