Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Oscar, or All That Glitters is Really Gold (Plated)

Yes, at this point in the A to Z Challenge I could certainly speak about character actor Warren Oates (see New World’s Cockfighter). But it’s much more fun to go to the Oscars.

Roger Corman and the Academy Awards are not usually mentioned in the same breath. But on April 8, 1975, many of the big winners had a Corman connection. Best Film and
Best Director Oscars went to former Corman assistant Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather Part II. Best Supporting Actor was Robert De Niro (a cast member in Roger’s Bloody Mama) for his intense performance in the same gangster epic. Ellen Burstyn was named Best Actress for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, directed by Corman alumnus Martin Scorsese. Other nominees that year: Talia Shire and Diane Ladd, two onetime Corman performers up for Best Supporting Actress; cinematographer John Alonzo, whose very first film was Bloody Mama; and Jack Nicholson, favored to win Best Actor for his starring role in Chinatown. (The award went instead to Art Carney, for his curmudgeonly role in Harry and Tonto, leading Corman to joke that Nicholson’s loss had spoiled his personal sweep.) Veteran Corman screenwriter Robert Towne, who won the year’s Best Original Screenplay honors for his Chinatown script, surveyed the glittering multitudes and quipped, “This joint looks like a meeting of the Roger Corman Alumni Association.”

During that same ceremony, Fellini’s Amarcord was voted Best Foreign Language Film. This
was yet another coup for Roger, whose New World Pictures had served as the film’s domestic
distributor. In a heady ten-year period beginning in 1973, Roger Corman vastly increased his prestige (while slightly fattening his wallet) by distributing throughout North America the world’s best art films. The first was Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, and I well remember the excitement around the office when we could turn our attention from Caged Heat and Night Call Nurses to this magnificent but somber Swedish drama. Roger’s sales rep, Frank Moreno, actually booked Cries and Whispers into drive-ins as well as art houses, delighting Bergman, who had always wanted his movies to reach a wider audience. (Roger still prizes a personal note from Bergman, which hangs in a place of honor on his office wall.) When Cries and Whispers was nominated for five Oscars in 1974, Roger put on a tux and went to the ceremony as Bergman’s stand-in. Unfortunately for his staff, which was dying to see him on camera, the film won only for cinematography, and the great Sven Nykvist was present to accept his statuette himself.

Over the years many grateful Roger alumni have discussed their former boss’s Oscar-worthiness. It was clear he wouldn’t be receiving any awards for the quality of his productions (much as they’re beloved by genre movie fans). But an honorary Oscar was worthy hoping for. When I broached this in 1998 to Robert Rehme, then president of the Motion Picture Academy, he was dubious, pointing out that no one had ever been honored by the Academy chiefly for giving others their start in the movie biz. (Yes, Rehme too was a Cormanite, a former New World sales exec.) But the thing about Corman people is that they’re used to doing the impossible. Roger received his honorary Oscar, with all appropriate fanfare, in 2009.  But that’s a subject unto itself. You can find it (blatant commercial here) in my new edition  of  Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires,Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, currently a Kindle ebook and soon to be a paperback at web bookstores near you!


  1. I don't know much about movies, and less about the movie business, but I really enjoyed your post, thanks!
    Happy A to Z-ing
    Jemima at Jemima's blog

  2. Thanks for visiting, Jemima. I checked out your blog and fascinated to read about Norwich being named a City of Literature. Not sure Hollywood would qualify for that honor!

  3. Hi Beverly!

    I found you thanks to the Challenge. Nice to "meet" you!

    What a fun theme! This is the first film theme I've come across so far. What a string of connections! I love that you pointed all that out to us. Isn't it amazing just how small the world can become when you trace connections like this?

    Enjoy the rest of the alphabet!

  4. Thank you, Jen. The Roger Corman theme gives me a chance to relive my moviemaking years, which were very special to me. What do you write about? I hope you return to Movieland soon!

  5. That really is wild - all those Corman alumni sharing honors at the Academy Awards. I wish one of those other nominations would have won: it would have been amazing - seeing Mr. Corman accepting. I'm also pleased he got his lifetime achievement award in 2009. It should have been a part of the telecast show, though.

  6. My updated Corman bio has all the details. Honestly, although I think Roger initially felt he'd been cheated not to receive his award during the Oscar broadcast, the Governors Award event was a far longer and more emotion-filled tribute, with alumni like Ron Howard and Jonathan Demme singing his praises for at least 45 minutes.