Boomers Signed on The Dot and the Line

The 88th annual Academy Awards will be broadcast this weekend, so it got Mister Boomer wondering what was going on with the Oscars 50 years ago. As it turns out, 1966 was a momentous movie year for boomers. It was the first year the Academy Awards was broadcast in color; at the time many boomer households were acquiring color TVs.

The Sound of Music picked up five Oscars, including Best Picture. Many boomers have memories of seeing the picture with their families, at a drive-in or local theater. To win the Best Picture award, the film bested the now-classic films Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns and Darling.

The Best Actor category was a race among screen greats: Richard Burton (The Spy Who Came In From the Cold), Laurence Olivier (Othello), Rod Steiger and Oskar Werner (Ship of Fools), but it was Lee Marvin who took home the statue for his work in Cat Ballou.

Of particular note to Mister B was the award for Best Short Subject. A cartoon by Chuck Jones and Les Goldman, The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, won the Oscar for Best Short Subject. Every boomer knows the work of Chuck Jones. His Warner Bros. and MGM cartoons were favorites when we were young, and classics now. Boomers loved his work on Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and for Mister B, especially, Road Runner cartoons, to name a few.

The Dot and the Line was inspired by Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, an 1884 novella by Edwin Abbott. It was an exploration into different dimensions as well as a comment on Victorian society and culture. Jones’ The Dot and the Line is a whimsical love story about a line pining for the love of his life, a dot. The dot isn’t interested in the line, though, because “she” perceives “him” to be too rigid and stiff. Instead, she hangs out with the more impulsive squiggle. The line learns to bend itself, first into basic shapes, then mastering parabolic curves and complex mathematical forms to ultimately win over the dot when she realizes the squiggle is too impulsive and chaotic compared to the expert control of the line.

Mister B is a creative type, so he was always fascinated by the sheer beauty of every frame — each a modern painting in its own right. The cartoon pares down characters and scenery to a seemingly impossible bare minimum. Simple shapes and limited colors tell a very believable story as lines and dots acquire human characteristics.

Through the years there has been some talk that The Dot and the Line, like its Flatlands inspiration, was making a comment on culture and society. The argument goes, the rigidity of post-War America is represented by the line, the optimism for the future by the dot, and the restless aura of change by the squiggle. There is a brief musical introduction when the squiggle first appears, and it is definitely rock ‘n roll in its genre. Some say the chaotic squiggle represents the upheaval the rigid society perceived at the dawning of rock ‘n roll. In such an argument, reason, logic and trust in innovation win out over chaos.

For Mister B, an art history aficionado, the cartoon reflects what was happening in the art of the day. Abstract Expressionism had its start in pre-War Europe, but it was post-War American painters who brought it front and center to the world. Accenting gesture, emotion, freedom, individuality and expression, it embodied the elation of a new era. By the 1960s, change was in the air as a growing population, and especially boomers, began to be disillusioned with the idealized world that immediately followed the world’s second War to End All Wars. Civil Rights, women’s rights, poverty and individual freedom became rallying cries, and music reflected this movement. Art, on the other hand, went toward Minimalism, which concentrated on geometry, the depersonalization of industrial fabrication and purposeful lack of imbued emotion. The Dot and the Line bears aspects of both of those art movements in its execution, as both art movements residing side by side in the mid-60s.

Putting all the pseudo-intellectual explorations aside, The Dot and the Line should be enjoyed for what it is: a love story set in a particular space and time. For the imaginative manner in which this story was told, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded it the Oscar. Another great boomer moment.

Do you recall seeing The Dot and the Line in theaters, boomers?

Boomers Watch as the Oscar Goes to…

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?