The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been awarding Oscars since 1929, long before Baby Boomers were on the scene. Yet as the first television generation, we grew up along with the Oscars as the film industry embraced television for their own purposes. The first televised Academy Awards was in 1953, placing it smack-dab into the Baby Boomer era. The first telecast in color happened in 1966, and the first international broadcast occurred in 1969.
As Mister Boomer pondered his own involvement with watching the Academy Awards telecasts, he wondered what was happening 50 years ago, which was about the time he was even remotely interested in the annual broadcast and would have seen some of the nominated pictures.
It was April 5, 1965 when the 37th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Bob Hope (which he did 14 times on TV, and another five before it was televised) was broadcast live from Santa Monica Auditorium in Santa Monica, California. In historical context, Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States, and he had delivered his “Great Society” speech in January of 1965. One week before the Oscar telecast he ordered the first combat troops into Vietnam. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. each held nuclear tests within weeks of the telecast. Martin Luther King Jr. led the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the previous month, which is portrayed in a movie nominated for this year’s awards. In New York, Malcolm X was assassinated that February.
On the music scene the British Invasion was well underway with The Beatles topping the charts, The Who making their first TV appearances, and The Rolling Stones establishing themselves as international stars. It was The Beatles, however, who caused the first ripples in the film industry. A Hard Day’s Night was released in 1964, which made the Richard Lester film eligible for the awards, to say nothing of bringing Baby Boomers into theaters. Nonetheless, in the true fashion of a still-conservative Academy, the innovative movie was snubbed except for a Best Story and Screenplay nomination (Alun Owen) and a Best Score nomination (George Martin). None of the film’s songs by The Beatles were nominated. Today the flick is considered one of the top 100 films of all time. Besides an affront to the growing groundswell of rock ‘n roll, to this day the Academy rarely acknowledges comedies in top categories.
Against this backdrop of tension, war, the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of a Younger Generation (and their music and films), the Academy celebrated the best in their field for 1964. Best picture nominees were My Fair Lady; Becket; Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; Mary Poppins; and Zorba the Greek. The Oscar went to My Fair Lady.
From the first time Mister Boomer saw Dr. Strangelove, it became one of his all-time favorite movies.
In an ironic twist, My Fair Lady gave its star, Rex Harrison, the Oscar for Best Actor, and George Cukor won for Best Director, but its female star, Audrey Hepburn, was not nominated. Some said it was because she did not perform her own singing in the film — that was the voice of Marni Nixon. Others were still bristling from the news that Julie Andrews did not get the role. Andrews had originated the role on Broadway and performed it alongside Rex Harrison for two years before the film was made … and she did her own singing. To add irony on top of irony, Julie Andrews made her American motion picture debut that year in Mary Poppins. She not only sang as part of her role, but won the Best Actress award.
It was an amazing year for what we now consider classic American cinema, starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood at that time. Many were nominated in other categories, including Sophia Loren (Marriage Italian Style); Anne Bancroft (The Pumpkin Eater); Debbie Reynolds (The Unsinkable Molly Brown); Agnes Moorehead (Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte); and Grayson Hall (Night of the Iguana). Notable males included Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud and Richard Burton (Becket); Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove); Peter Ustinov (Topkapi); Anthony Quinn (Zorba the Greek); and Edmond O’Brien (Seven Days in May).
The 37th Annual Academy Awards was also noted for presenting all the top acting awards to foreign-born actors: Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady), Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins), Peter Ustinov (Topkapi) and Lila Kedrova (Zorba the Greek). This has only happened one other time in Academy Awards history, in 2007.
The slow pace of the ceremonies and ever-present face of Bob Hope were reasons Mister B wasn’t keen on sitting in the living room with his family to watch the annual broadcasts in their entirety. He regularly backed off to his room to deal with homework. Nonetheless, the family’s TV was always tuned in every year.
What was your families’ interest in the Academy Awards TV broadcast, boomers?