Before the Academy Awards became ‘Oscar Inc.’ — an immense media undertaking telecast globally, drawing a huge international audience and supporting myriad trade publications, newspapers and magazines (more on that below) — the ceremonies were somehow less imposing, prompting informal guesswork by movie fans. In short, they used to be a lot more fun.
So in that spirit, we provide these tidbits:
The longest film ever to win as Best Picture of the Year was Gone With The Wind, coming in at 222 minutes. Of course, GWTW was usually run with an intermission break that came to be known by Francophile Hollywood as an Entre’acte.
As late as early Sixties, the often lumbering, big-budget studio titles playing “roadshow” exhibition in big theaters in big cities provided audience breaks with the words Entre’acte filling up the widescreen and a recorded orchestral score (usually the movie’s ‘theme’) playing underneath.
But even without a break, as it is sometimes now shown on TV, GWTW doesn’t seem long. That’s because it moves right along. The pace never slackens.
The shortest film ever to be declared Best Picture of the Year is 1955’s Marty. The small budget black and white feature, which was originally a Paddy Chayefsky TV drama (starring Rod Steiger), was brought in for under $350,000, and runs only 91 minutes.
The late Ernest Borgnine played the title role in the movie version, that of a lonely, 34-year-old Bronx butcher. (That’s Ernie with Joe Mantell below as Marty and his pal, Ange, trying to figure out what they wanna do tonight.) And do you know who is credited with the idea of “running” like an office-seeking politician for a nomination?
None other than Joan Crawford.
In 1945 she hired legendary publicist Henry Rogers, later of the Rogers and Cowan agency, to plant blurbs that she had given such a sterling performance in Mildred Pierce that even before the picture’s release to the public the industry buzz was that it would get her an Oscar nomination. So the show business newspapers and other media which today makes millions on advertising campaigns for Oscar nominations owes a great deal to Crawford for getting the ball rolling.
The final irony was that in her moment of victory, she was not in the building.
Crawford skipped the 1945 Academy Award ceremonies, pleading illness. When her best-actress award was announced, Crawford (ear cocked to the radio) was sitting all dolled up in bed. Later, with photographers conveniently on hand, the Oscar statuette was duly presented to Crawford in her boudoir, a media moment no doubt orchestrated by Rogers.
Yes, the Oscars were more fun back then.