I’m a sucker for the Oscars but it has nothing to do with present-day films. I love the Oscars because it brings me back to Old Hollywood. The Oscars capture the glamour of Hollywood’s heyday, or at least they used to. When I was growing up, I would watch the Joan Rivers red carpet show on E! but I didn’t care to see the latest A-list celebrity. I was waiting for Joan to interview the old school actors who were usually the recipients of the Thalberg Award or the Hersholt Award. The Lifetime Achievement Award was always the highlight of the Oscars for me.
I lived for the moment when a Hollywood legend or a contemporary actor would come out onstage and deliver a love letter to the recipient followed by a gorgeous, flashy montage showing clips from their best films. The pomp and circumstance was always a spectacle but it felt genuine and the respect in that room transmitted to my mother’s living room. The Lifetime Achievement Award presentation reminded us why we love this artist, this industry, and on Oscar night you created a new memory watching this special award.
To this day, I vividly remember Stanley Donen dancing with his Oscar performing “Cheek-to-Cheek” or the divided response of simultaneous cheers and boos when Elia Kazan accepted his honorary award. Most of the time I knew who the recipient was and if I didn’t, I would go to Blockbuster soon after to discover.
Another segment of the ceremony that happened from time to time was a reunion of past Oscar winners. Here you’d see legends who rarely made public appearances like Celeste Holm, Jennifer Jones, and Theresa Wright mingling with contemporary actors like Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, and Sally Field. It’s a segment that actually goes back to the golden era itself in the 1950’s.
As recently as five years ago, the Oscars cut the Lifetime Achievement Award to a separate event. This ceremony isn’t shown on television. Instead a snippet of it is presented in the Oscar broadcast. As a person who works in television, I understand the reasoning for this and it’s to save time during an already bloated telecast. However, it’s not a good excuse to miss out on a luminous moment. It’s now reduced to a fill up the popcorn bowl moment much like the “In Memoriam” segment. It’s also become another excuse for people to complain and disrespect the men and women who have contributed so much to the industry on social media. To me, that’s the saddest part.
There’s no respect given to Old Hollywood any more. In our current climate, Classic Hollywood is often chastised for being problematic in its views on race and women yet if we didn’t have these men and women working so tirelessly in Hollywood’s Golden Era this medium would be nothing. This has given way to some very awkward and upsetting appearances by classic stars most notably during the 2014 Oscar ceremony.
In that broadcast, Liza Minnelli became the butt of an Ellen Degeneres joke when the host said, “Hello to the best Liza Minnelli impersonator I’ve ever seen. Good job, sir.” Sure, it was a joke but even more disrespect to the Oscar winner came later on social media when she became a punching bag on Twitter. Minnelli tried to take part in the now famous “Oscar selfie” but didn’t make the cut. A sad photo made the rounds on the internet accompanied by some very unfortunate jokes.
But Minnelli’s selfie fail was nothing in comparison to the hurtful and humiliating comments Kim Novak’s appearance as a presenter received. The 81-year-old actress joined Matthew McConaughey to present Best Animated Short Film and Best Animated Feature. From the moment she stepped onstage, the mood completely changed. Here this legend was paired with Golden Boy McConaughey (who would later go on to win Best Actor) who was an absolute gentleman as Novak paused to tell the audience how thrilled she was to be back. When the camera turned to the crowd, there were nervous smiles. The audience wasn’t starstruck to see Novak, who was once one of the most popular actresses of the late 50’s/early 60’s, it appeared they had no idea who she was because time has made her appearance almost unrecognizable. Novak, like many women her age, has had plastic surgery done and on Twitter that became the trending topic. These weren’t cheers for this Hollywood legend, these were cruelly vicious comments about her appearance.
It’s easy to chock this up as another example of the sexism and ageism females face in their later years but the Oscars have a role in this. No, the show isn’t responsible for trollish behavior of internet bullies but the Academy didn’t do her any favors by having her just show up without a proper introduction to a legend. A short tribute would have honored her contribution to the industry and showed the audience why this woman should be celebrated instead of humiliated. Novak was visibly nervous, having a difficult time expressing her words so much so that McConaughey rubbed her back to calm her down. It was an unsettling moment to see her go through this but she pulled through it.
The social media backlash and hundreds of thinkpieces in the ensuing days reminded us about the double standards women face when aging but also how we don’t respect our elders as we should. This sentiment is present in today’s Oscar ceremonies. The Oscars no longer seem to acknowledge the elders of their industry. Instead they are cast aside to a JV ceremony instead of the main event. That’s what breaks my heart. These men and women endured so much for their places in Hollywood history. At the 2014 ceremony, we were treated to the appearances of two women who brought iconic, strong female roles to life but also had a difficult time conforming to the pressures of the industry. Their hard work and sacrifices should be honored not ignored.