It's been 90 years of Oscar. 90 years of America's most famous seal on Cinema. 90 years of (as a college roommate of mine once put it) watching beautiful millionaires hand other beautiful millionaires golden statues (yes he's overlooking more than one category). If cinema is the modern art, the form of the 20th century then the Academy Awards are its greatest publicist. The very first Academy Awards went down at the in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Though I'm not entirely sure how that makes this the 90th anniversary, that year honored the films from 1927 and 1928, and tickets cost, wait for it...five dollars. Which equals about seventy-one dollars today. So it should definitely make it onto your list of 'if I had a time machine" pitstops.
Love them, loath them, or not know when they're on, if you've heard of any award show you've heard of the Oscars. It's probably a strange idea to anyone bothering to read this that their are people who often and inexplicably conflate the Grammys with the Emmys, but they're out there. They're out there. But the Academy Awards are a near inextricable part of the fabric of the movies. And soon enough, I'm very sorry to say, there will be no one left who can remember the movies without them.
And there are only a handful of Oscar winners who can remember a time before the little gold man. Sidney Poitier, the oldest living Best Actor winner's only 91. There are no best director winner's over 90, sure Olivia De Havilland's (oldest living Best Actress winner) 101, but at least one of those aging bits of celluloid must be on some Dorian Grey portrait swag. There is no supporting actor older than Oscar, and two of the supporting actress who were born to a world before the glitz and glamour of Sunday's Kodak theatre, Eve Saint Marie and Lee Grant, are only a few months apart.
And whether it's because pop culture collectively tends to get up and go to the bar whenever anything other than the actor and Best Picture awards are up, or because it's much, MUCH rarer to achieve Oscar level success at a young age for anyone other than a performer, there isn't a ton of information on the tech genius's still with us who's childhood fever dreams may have been inspired by early Fritz Lang or Ernst Lubitsch. And so, as any fan of the cinema is wont to do with living memory, we here at the Yippie Ki-Ay! Do Cinema tried to preserve a little bit of those pre-oscar pre-code days by sitting down (briefly) with the best supporting actress of 1976 the perpetually bad ass. Lee Grant.
P: Did your mother and your Aunt watch the Oscars, did the listen to them on the radio? Did you know what they were, the first year they started?
G: I don’t remember ever thinking about, or knowing about the Oscars, until I was nominated for them. I don’t remember hearing about Oscars ever, or my mother or aunt ever. And I don’t remember my mother or my aunt ever talking about them
P: Do you think once the Oscar's became popular it changed how filmmakers make their films?
G: Weeelll, they became popular starting in the late 20’s and early 30s’s, so as soon as silent films was finished with. I don’t think, I don't think it changed the fact that the film business is essentially a commercial business. Um and that, you know, we’re lucky when we get really really quality films that also are commercial. But I don’t think it changed that.
P: Do you remember when they used to have the oscars at the Roosevelt Hotel.
G: What Roosevelt Hotel?
P: In La, at the Roosevelt Hotel, they used to hold them there.
G: I may have, I don’t remember, I just got in the car and arrived. So I don’t remember where they held the oscars*.
P: Do you have a favorite oscar moment? And it could be yours, or do you remember someone else who had a great moment when they got their oscar.
G: NO, I don’t care about other people (laughing). My favorite my oscar moment is defiantly the time I got mine for acting and when I got mine for the documentary [Down and Out in America]. Although I was furious about that. Because Joey [my husband] had told me that only producers can have their names on the oscars and I said “no no no I’m not a producer I don’t wanna be a ‘producer’ of this documentary.” And so fine, my name is not on the Oscar. And I was furious through the whole ceremony.
P: (Laughing) Oh boy! Did you vote this year?
P: Who'd you vote for?
G: I voted for Sally Hawkins in, what’s the name of the movie, the thing-the shadow of the water- The Shape of Water. Which I thought was a pretty extraordinary film. But there were others, I thought Mudbound was really great.
P: And a female cinematographer.
G: Yes! And also there was another, and I can’t think if the name of it. But it was a black guy being lured into the house of a white family.
G:Get Out! It was AMAZING. Get Out scared me to death.
P: So real.
[*Lee's first nomination was during the 24th Academy Awards, held at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood*]
How do you think the Academy Awards have changed filmmaking? Are you pumped for the Oscar museum? Where are you watching?
And if you're down to hear more about Lee Grant's Twentieth Century you have to check out her memoir I Said Yes to Everything, it's hands down one of Yippie Ki-Ay's favorite film biographies. Hands. Down.
Roberta Morris Purdee is a documentarian and film producer. She and Grant have collaborated on countless projects over the last 35 years including Lee's Memoir "I Said Yes to Everything".
Taylor A. Purdee is a filmmaker, actor, writer, folk singer, and editor of the Yippie Ki-Ay! Do Cinema. He's also overseen the Karmic (re) Release of much of Grant's documentary work.
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