Saturday, March 02, 2019

Weekend Post

As mentioned in my review, the Motion Picture Academy really blew it by not including Stanley Donen in its IN MEMORIAM section.  The man was a titan in the industry.  He never won an Oscar for directing because he directed commercial hits and not sweeping epics.   But many of his pictures were classics, including SINGING IN THE RAIN.

I got a chance to meet him once.  He had a movie idea, which he took to writer Larry Gelbart.  Larry was too busy working on other projects but suggested me and my partner, David Isaacs.  We then went to lunch with Mr. Donen (both completely star-struck).   He could not have been nicer and more charming.  Ultimately the project never got off the ground but that lunch was a career highlight.

In 1997 the Oscars gave him a lifetime achievement Academy Award.  Here's the intro, by Martin Scorsese and his delightful acceptance speech. 

A couple of things:  You'll notice he mentions Larry Gelbart by name.  Also, when they cut away to the crowd notice all the STARS.  Real stars.  Sean Connery, Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams, Robert Duvall, Warren Beatty.   Today we get Alex Rodriguez.

Anyway, here's Stanley Donen.

26 comments :

Jeff Alexander said...

Mr. Levine:
I know that this may be heresy, but I'm not that upset by the omission of Stanley Donen from this year's Oscar's In Memoriam reel.
Since the gentleman passed away the day before the Oscars, I frankly would have been VERY surprised if they had included him.
My understanding is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not produce the segment itself, that it is "farmed out" as such and has to be returned by a certain date. So, it's probably locked in at that point. I'm not necessarily defending the academy, but just saying that's probably why he was omitted. However, he definitely SHOULD be on the list for next year. THAT would be upsetting if he was not included.
This year, notable omissions, as you probably know, include Carol Channing, Sondra Locke, Verne Troyer, Julie Adams, Harlan Ellison, Kaye Ballard and Dick Miller, among others. All made significant contributions to movies (yes, even Kaye Ballard -- her first movie, The Girl Most Likely To, was, I believe, one of RKO's last movies).
Also, I don't know if you heard Stu's Show (www.stusshow.com) from Wednesday night, where he, voice artist Bob Bergen (who also is on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences) and writer Mark Evanier had quite a lively discussion regarding the policy of inclusions/omissions from both the Oscars' and Emmys' In Memoriam reels. If you haven't, I highly recommend you listen/watch it. It was a fun time!
BTW, personally, I hope you do review the Oscars next year. Your "snarky" comments (which aren't all that snarky, but truthful) are very enjoyable.

William said...

Never seen this before and it is probably the greatest acceptance-speech I've ever seen at an Awards-ceremony. He did have the advantage of being well-prepared, but still...

E. Yarber said...

Donen's audio commentary for CHARADE with Peter Stone is one of the most entertaining conversations you'll ever hear... two naturally witty men enjoying each other's company.

I was lucky enough to get to talk to Stone once when he stopped by an office I was at to use the xerox machine, and he was a remarkably warm friendly guy. We didn't say a word about his career... he wanted my opinion of the Mary Miles Minter case.

E. Yarber said...

Well, the William Desmond Taylor murder, but Minter was involved, or not involved. It's that sort of thing.

Michael said...

I have trouble with Stanley Donen.

First, he spent his last two decades as the companion of Elaine May. Did he really deserve that much fun?

Second, he has spent a career propounding a lie. He directed "Royal Wedding." He and others have explained that they devised a way to rotate a room, nailed or taped down everything, and then kept the camera there to make it appear that Fred Astaire was dancing on the walls and ceiling.

This is a lie. Everyone knows Astaire defied gravity and could dance on walls and ceilings.

MikeKPa. said...

CHARADE is one of my all-time favorite movies and many people think it's a Hitchcock film, not one by Stanley Donen. What a very humble acceptance speech.

sanford said...

This is not the first time some one has died just prior to the Oscar's and was not included. I assume this part of the show is to recognize those who passed away the previous year. As to Jeff Alexander's post, good catch on those that were missing. I dont know Dick Miller but leaving off the other names was not good.

Anonymous said...

Earl B writes:

Since the In Memorium reel was locked, someone should have immediately followed it by introducing the clip embedded above. Would've been the classy (and right) thing to do.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Great clip. But, for a guy that claims to be done with the Oscars© you've used up a lot of blog space grinding on them. Maybe you're just getting it out of your system. Or it could be that you're gearing up for next year.
M.B.

Sam Kwasman said...

Thank you for this wonderful article. I am eternally grateful to Stanley Donen and his classic movies. If it weren’t for him and the talented group he worked with, I would never have been so inspired to learn to sing, dance and act. He inspired an entire generation of dancers, actors and the like with his amazingly successful films. May his memory be a blessing.

Craig Gustafson said...

Yes, I'm nearly ten years late on this one. I stumbled across your blog about historical sitcoms. You mentioned both "Blackadder the Third," which you had seen and "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," which you had not seen. I did see it. It wasn't bad, but here's why it flopped. It was a blatant attempt to copy "Blackadder the Third" (the kitchen set was identical, though dressed for 1861 rather than 1703.) Desmond was Blackadder. Dann Florek from various "Law and Order" series was Abraham Lincoln, who was Prince George.

1. Brits have a sense of humor about their historical leaders. Americans had NO sense of humor about Abraham Lincoln being played like a dumber version of the Governor on "Benson." So much for the white viewers.
2. Nobody cared that Desmond (like Blackadder) was the smartest guy in the room, though that isn't saying much. He was a black man in 1861 and African Americans read that as Slave; and protested the show accordingly.
3. The writers didn't help much. Desmond had to be an underdog, so you couldn't say, "Hey - being a White House butler was a REALLY GOOD job for an African American in 1861." And they couldn't make him a slave, figuring they'd be protested, so they were on the fence and made him an Indentured Servant. Being on the fence & not making a clear decision is never good, and they were protested anyway.

I wasn't offended by the show itself, just that they gave no credit to being an adaptation of "Blackadder."

Peter said...

Who knows, maybe 40 years from now, people will watch a clip of this year's Oscars and say "Wow, it's that legend, Awkwafina!"

Phil said...

You have posted a shorter clip.

Here is the full one
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozag5oXPYms

Kirk said...

Big fan of his work and the MGM musicals in general.

Janet Ybarra said...

This is where maybe you should continue reviewing the Oscars, or at least continuing to publish old video clips and just keep repeating, "Why can't we all be more like that again?"

The idiots who pose as Oscar stars today might finally become embarrassed enough to get the message.

Ernie said...

You said you wouldn't reboot a show done in the 80's, but how about Cheers? One of the things I loved about that show, besides the writing and the show's opening theme song (the best one ever, in my opinion)was while the theme music was playing it showed characters, from the 1800's, I assume, similar to the characters played by each of the actors when their names came up in the opening credits. When Kelsey Grammer's name appeared, it showed a learned, professional character much like Frasier Crane. When Woody Harrelson's name showed up, behind it appeared a bartender not much different from the character he played on the show, just from an earlier time. The message I took from that was that the stories and characters portrayed on Cheers in the 80's and early 90's have always occurred, that the show was just showing a thin slice of its ongoing continuity. Do you think Norm, Cliff, and Sam are still at cheers, or do you think they're dead or in a nursing home by now? I'm pretty sure Woody's still there (he was the youngest character on the show when it ended). Would the Cliff character now be a befuddled UPS or Fed Ex driver? Would the 2019 version of Norm be a sardonic, anti-social human resources director? I'm assuming Frasier's later doppelganger is either an under-performing neurologist or an unknown but well-off social media founder.His Lilith is even smarter and weirder than he is, and just as disappointed in him. Is the Diane Chambers character a former Bollywood actress who has dreams of American stardom, but for some reason, has found herself stuck in Boston? I think an early 21st century version of Cheers with the best comedy writers and actors working today could work. The opening credits scene should show characters from the 1920's.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Perhaps Stanley Donen failed to win an Oscar because he often shared credit with Gene Kelly (who also never won except for an honorary award in 1952). Writers are expected to work in pairs but the Academy gets confused when directors do it.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

William... DITTO!!!!!!
Michaael.... that was hilarious. The Royal Wedding scene is certainly one of the greatest in movie history. Fred Astaire, float on air.

Ken, you are right about the star power in that room of 1997. But whoever had to sit behind Cher's hat, I felt sorry for them.

Mark Moretti said...

Remarkably classy speech and fellow. Really nothing like the celebrities we get today. Thank you Ken for introducing him to me.

BobinVT said...

I think I spotted George Kennedy in the clip. I read that he was in the army and was assigned as a technical adviser on the Phil Silvers show. That gig led to his long career as an actor. Yet another reason to be eternally grateful for Bilko.

Brian said...

With a very few notable exceptions like Tom Hanks, Sidney Poitier, Meryl Streep and possibly a few others, there are no real movie stars anymore. Hell, Lassie was a bigger movie star than anyone who was at this last Oscars. Now there are only celebrities whose careers have been made thanks to the internet and are merely taking up space until their 15 minutes is over or they are arrested for any variety of crimes... which will give them an extra minute of fame. If you don't believe me, find any Oscars ceremony from the 1970's and look at the stars in the audience and on the stage. Then take a look at any Oscars in the 2000's. Pretty pathetic. Thank God people are still writing books, which is currently the best form of entertainment and enlightenment. And I think it's a poor excuse they have used not to honor talented artists who died within a day of the Oscars show. They could have put a very nice additional film together of those recent deaths that showed the respect the entertainment community used to have for excellence. For crying out loud, this is show business! The best of the best in film and they try telling us that there were no talented film editors who couldn't have done that? That's crap. ABC just didn't want to spend the money and take any time away from Lady Gaga.

kpj said...

Ok, first, there's no question that Donen is deserving of recognition. I also get that it would have been possible to add him at the last minute to the in memoriam segment (although there does have to be a cut off time at some point). However, if that's done, then there's still going to be criticism. If they show his name and maybe a short clip, then people will complain that he only got 10 seconds of time after a long career. I would argue this omission could actually be beneficial in some ways. He and his films get the coverage from the omission this year. Then, hopefully, he'll get people talking about him again next year when he is included.

If there's no mention next year, then every criticism is more than deserved.

VincentS said...

Yes, Ken, it is an outrage that they excluded Stanley Donen in the In Memorium. I'm not surprised that he was charming. When he was asked who do you direct a movie with Audrey Hepburn and not fall in love with her, he replied, "You don't."

Chris said...

Donen may have figured out how to shoot the dancing on the ceiling scene in "Royal Wedding," but some credit should probably be given to Alan Lerner who, in his autobiography ("The Street Where I Live") puts down his contributions to the film, but claims to have had a dream in which Astaire danced on the ceiling, shared it with the production team, and they made it happen. Could be true. Then again, the book, as delightful as it is to read, is riddled with inaccuracies. As long as it's approached skeptically, it's thoroughly enjoyable.

Roger Owen Green said...

Ken - Did you see ROMA? If so, a review, please, noting whether you saw it on Netflix/online or in the cinema.

Scottmc said...

I recall a Stanley Donen/Larry Gelbart story that you once shared; Donen sent Gelbart a script he was considering directing. He wanted Larry's opinion. Larry essentially rewrote it on the fly. The film was made and Gelbart was listed as co-writer. I feel Donen never received his due. When people think Singin in the Rain most think Gene Kelly. But if you look at their careers post Always Fair Weather-their final colaboration-Donen's is far more accomplished; 7 Brides,Damn Yankees,Indiscret and the three he makes with Audrey Hepburn; Funny Face,Charade and Two for the Road(Albert Finney,another great without winning an Oscar).Kelly directed the Broadway version of Flower Drum Song and the film version of Hello,Dolly. I met Donen once,after a tribute at the Museum of Modern Art. I was not much a fan of musicals before meeting him, I liked Singin,Cabaret and All that Jazz. But immersing myself in Damn Yankees,Pajama Game,Give a girl a break,Royal Wedding gave me a foundation of appreciation and a desire to see more.