The Trade: Grand Illusion

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"Regrettably, each year a few nave resorted to outright excessive and vulgar solicitation of votes," said the booklet sent out to the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "This becomes a serious embarrassment to the Academy and our industry."

It also can become the shortest line to an Oscar—as Cliff Robertson proved at this year's Academy Awards show. Competitors like Alan Arkin and Alan Bates may have been content to rest on their performances; Robertson knew better. Starting in October 1968, ads on his behalf were placed in the trade papers. "Best actor of the year—the National Board of Review" they reminded readers. "Cliff Robertson is CHARLY," they trumpeted in full-page splashes. The campaign culminated in a giant double foldout inserted in Daily Variety. Its contents: 83 favorable reviews of Robertson from a spectrum of journals.

Publicly, the Academy frowned. Privately, many members agreed that Robertson's award was based more on promotion than on performance. Nor is there any reason to expect otherwise. Ads sell movies, runs the Hollywood rationale, why shouldn't they sell movie actors? Politicians run for office and executives finesse for the corner offices; performers ought to be allowed a little jockeying for position.

Wrong Reasons. The trouble is that a large portion of those 30 million viewers who watched the Academy Award ceremonies last week still cling to the Modern Screen belief that the Oscars are given for merit. Sadly, they are sometimes not even given in gratitude. For all his contributions to the industry, Gary Grant has never won an Oscar. Nor has Charlie Chaplin, nor Orson Welles, nor Paul Newman. Even when the Oscar is given to a deserving recipient, it is frequently for the wrong reasons.

Jimmy Stewart's Oscar for The Philadelphia Story was workman's compensation for losing the year before in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Rod Steiger's was actually for The Pawnbroker instead of In the Heat of the Night, as announced. Walter Matthau's Oscar came, he admits, "because I had a heart attack. They hate to give you anything when you're dead."

If you don't play the game, they hate to give you anything when you're alive. This year Ruth Gordon deserved her Oscar for best supporting actress in Rosemary's Baby, but Mia Farrow, the lady she supported, was not even nominated. The reason: the Academicians dislike her barefoot hippie attitudes. Barbra Streisand's performance in Funny Girl was far less skillful than Vanessa Redgrave's in Isadora, but the Academy has never been able to separate performer from politics. A picket sign once symbolized the town's hostility to her leftist leanings: "A vote for Vanessa Redgrave is a vote for the Viet Cong."

Baroque Speeches. The ceremonies onstage were scarcely more delicate. Gower Champion's miscued staging was reminiscent of The Ed Sullivan Show on an off night. The dancing was strictly St. Vitus, the hollow banter almost made one hunger for the elaborate thanks of yesteryear.

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