It’s impossible for me to think about the Academy Awards without remembering the night that I was lucky enough to attend.
1976. That year was full of celebration for our country’s founding, fireworks, and tall ships, but no fete was more exciting to me than accompanying my father to the 48th annual Academy Awards to see my gramps, Mervyn LeRoy, receive the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award.
This was back in the day before the music swelled to usher blabbermouths off the stage. Part of the joy of watching the awards was to see who would go on too long and embarrass themselves.
It was back in the day when they said, “And the winner is . . .” instead of the totally pussified “And the Oscar goes to . . .” (What, are we all in kindergarten here? This is Hollywood, where there are winners and there are losers. Get used to it, Mr. Big Shot, and maybe you’ll get your crack at Oscar again next year.)
It was back when the Oscars were the most important awards show, and — that year — the first to be internationally televised. Obsessed with the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” I pictured real Oompa Loompas (not the ones from the movie version) sitting in their trees, munching on cacao beans, and adjusting the rabbit ears on their black-and-white TV while settling in to enjoy tonight’s musical numbers.
I was 12 years old, sitting in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion surrounded by movie stars. Some of them I knew. I got hugs and kisses from Hollywood greats, but remember very little about the night once it began. Keith Carradine sang. Jack Nicholson wore sunglasses and pumped his Oscar in the air. One of Gramps’s best friends, George Burns, won for best supporting actor, a happy moment for our whole family.
Then it was time for the Irving Thalberg award, which had been handed out periodically to producers with a memorable body of work. My great-uncle, Jack Warner, had been a winner before I was born. As of today, there have been 39 of these awards given out in 83 years of Oscars.
“I want to thank the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for giving me this beautiful award, voting for me, believing in me, because they’ve done so much for the world,” Gramps said. “And tonight I think they’ve done more for the world than ever by showing what Hollywood does and running all of these beautiful acts and beautiful scenes on Telstar — of which I am a stockholder.” That got big laughs.
Another meaningful night came four years later, when my stepdad, Tony Walton, took home the golden statuette.
Since I was home alone (the “rental units” having skipped off to Hollywood for the night), I had a high school Oscar party at our apartment on the Upper West Side. One of the happiest moments of my life was when they announced Tony’s win. I, and all my friends, who were frequent visitors to the world’s most friendly kitchen and knew my mom and Tony intimately, shrieked as Tony took the stage, jumping up and down on my bed, the floor, the couch.
Several years later, while in the graduate acting program at the Tisch School of the Arts, I loved bringing my fellow budding thespians back to the apartment, where we would take turns hefting Tony’s Oscar around and practicing our acceptance speeches.
That was a long time ago. We don’t even have a television now; it’s been years since I’ve watched an Oscar broadcast. I find it too painful to view the remnants of a Hollywood long past shuffling up on the stage for their requisite lifetime achievement awards, only to be gently removed by tall beautiful women as the music swells, and then swells even more.
Fitting aged greatness between commercial breaks to come in at under four hours just doesn’t seem right. I’d like to see those tall beautiful women show up on a baseball field when an inning has gone on too long, escorting the players around the bases to speed things up, but that will never happen.
Nowadays, covering a school board budget workshop is a big night out for me. I’m the reporter in the front row, scribbling away in my steno notebook, a far cry from the glamour girl I have been. But this realization doesn’t make me sad, it makes me take a look around and wonder what moments of greatness others may have experienced.
No one is really as he or she appears, you know. We’ve all had our Oscar moments. Here’s to yours, and enjoy the show.
Bridget LeRoy is a reporter for The Star.