Posts Tagged ‘conrad nagel’

Who Named Oscar?

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

The Birth of Oscar

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

  

Oscar – the name on everyone’s lips in Hollywood at this time of year. Once again on February 22, nominees will stroll down the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre to attend the 81st Annual Academy Awards. There, the phrase, “And the Oscar goes to…” will be repeated numerous times, but who originally coined the term, Oscar? Depending on who you talk to, it could be any one of several suspects, but first, some history.

 

Oscar’s parents, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was chartered on May 4, 1927, when 36 film industry leaders met and organized the non-profit corporation dedicated to improving the artistic quality of the film medium.

 

Academy banquet at the Biltmore Hotel (LAPL)

 

A week later on May 11, a banquet was held in the Crystal Ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel where more than 300 gathered, and Douglas Fairbanks, the Academy’s first president, presided. Film industry leaders such as Louis B. Mayer, Joseph M. Schenck, Will Hays, Mary Pickford, Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Lloyd and Conrad Nagel gave their support.

 

It was Louis B. Mayer who suggested handing out awards as a way of focusing attention on films. Conrad Nagel agreed, saying, “Whatever we give, it should be a symbol of continuing progress – militant, dynamic.”

 

Inspired by the evenings proceedings, MGM art director, Cedric Gibbons began sketching a form on the tablecloth (some versions say a napkin). The figure was a brawny man standing on a reel of film gripping a crusader’s sword. Gibbons transferred the sketch to paper and it was given to sculptor George Stanley, who molded the trophy in clay. Since then very few changes have been made.

 

“They are a little distorted now because the original mold has been used so often,” Stanley said in 1957. The sculptor later designed and worked on the three well-known statues at the entrance of the Hollywood Bowl.

 

As with many actors, Oscar’s birth name would have been hard to fit on a marquee – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Award of Merit – more than a mouthful. So perhaps this fated him to a moniker, but just how Oscar received its unusual name is debatable. Several Hollywood notables have claimed the distinction of originating the name.

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 Margaret Herrick and Col. W. N. Selig (LAPL)

 

On their website, the Academy does not attribute the nickname to a specific person, however, one version of the story gives credit to the Academy’s executive secretary, Margaret Herrick. The story goes that in 1931, she reportedly saw the statuette, studied it carefully and exclaimed, “Why he looks like my Uncle Oscar.”

 

Sitting in an adjoining office was a newspaper correspondent who, the following day, printed the line: “Academy employees have affectionately dubbed their famous gold statuette Oscar.” (unfortunately there is no known published validation for this story)

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 Irving Thalberg, Bette Davis and Frank Capra (LAPL)

 

Two-time Oscar winner, Bette Davis believed that she created the term Oscar to describe the golden trophy.

“I am convinced that I was the first to give the statuette its name when I received one for my performance in Dangerous, made in 1935,” Davis said in 1955.

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 Bette Davis and her then-husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson, Jr.
Was the coveted award named for him?

 

“I was married at that time to Harmon O. Nelson, Jr. For a long time I did not know what his middle name was. I found out one day that it was Oscar, and it seemed a very suitable nickname for the Academy statuette.”

 

Davis, knowing there were other petitioners to the name, hinted that she would be willing to resort to fisticuffs to support her contention.

 

“Of course, that’s all so very long ago – who knows? But I’d suggest that if the other claimants become very insistent we settle the whole thing with a duel.”

 

Still other stories say that John Barrymore first coined the name – in the early days Oscar was reportedly a facetious term. Animation pioneer, Walt Disney has also been quoted as thanking the Academy for his Oscar as early as 1932. However, the person who may have the best claim for originating the name is columnist Sidney Skolsky.

 

Many references credit Skolsky for using the term “Oscar” in a 1934 column in reference to Katharine Hepburn’s Best Actress award for Morning Glory (1933). Still another names Skolsky as the anonymous reporter who supposedly overheard Margaret Herrick christen the statue in 1931; but since Skolsky had not arrived in Hollywood until 1932, that part is unlikely.

 

Skolsky claimed the term referenced an old vaudeville joke that began, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?”

 

Though Oscars true beginning is unknown, what can be proven is the use of “Oscar” in Time magazine on March 26, 1934. If it’s not the original, it certainly is one of the first times the term was used:

 

“In the cinema industry the small gold-washed statuettes which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science annually awards for meritorious productions and performances are called ‘Oscars,’” the article stated.

 

This also negates Bette Davis’ claim of naming the award when she received hers in 1936 – by then the term Oscar had already been in use for two years.

 

Whatever its origin, it definitely will not to be an issue when this years nominees walk the red carpet in hopes of getting their own Oscar.

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Joel McCrea’s beginnings

Friday, February 8th, 2013

HOLLYWOOD BEGINNINGS

How Joel McCrea got his start

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Nearly ruined career when, teamed with Dorothy Jordan, he took her to dinner with the Boss’, who married her

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

When Joel McCrea was 12 or 13 years old, attending the Gardner Street grade school in Hollywood, Ruth Roland was making serials in the hills above Sunset Boulevard. McCrea, who was big for his age, had an ambition to be a cowboy, and used to hang around and watch the Roland troupe in his spare time and sometimes even was allowed to hold the horses.

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A New York stage actor came out to play Ruth’s leading man. His job was to be rescued from some dire predicament by the heroine every reel or so.

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“That guy could act all over the place,” McCrea recalled, “but when they brought on the horses he was scared stiff. That was how I got to ride his horse in a couple shots. They dressed me all up in buckskins, and for two days’ work I was paid $5. Boy that appealed to my Scotch blood! Five dollars for having a swell time. Right then I forgot about being a cowboy and decided I was going to be an actor.”

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But it took McCrea eight years to get his second film job. Belonging to one of the town’s “oldest families,” he mixed with the film crowd and was on speaking terms with most of the celebrities of the early days.

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“But as far as getting a job was concerned,” he say, “it didn’t do me a bit of good. I was invited to dinner at the homes of the big shots and they were always awfully nice to me, but nobody seemed to think I was an actor.”

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At the Santa Monica Beach Club one day, Conrad Nagel and Mitchell Lewis took McCrea aside and tried to persuade him to give up the idea of  acting.

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“Listen, Joel,” Nagel said. “We like you, and we don’t want to hurt your feelings, and we wouldn’t tell you this if we didn’t like you, but you just haven’t got a chance. You haven’t got the stuff. Give it up and go into business.”

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Jack Mulhall happened to overhear them. “Listen, kid,’ he told McCrea, “don’t listen to those birds. I haven’t got anything either, but I’ve been getting away with it for seven years now, and they pay me $3,750 a week at First National.”

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McCrea got his first break, just out of Pomona College, when he bought a trench coat and was so proud of that he wore it all the time, rain or shine, around the RKO lot. He picked up some extra work there. He wore the coat so much that Bill Sistrom, who later became an associate producer, finally noticed it.

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“What do you wear that for?’ Sistrom wanted to know—probably thinking that he had a role that called for it.

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 “Oh, because I like it,” McCrea answered.

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“What do you do around here?’ he asked.

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“I’m an actor,” he told him.

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“How do you know you are?” demanded Sistrom.

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“Well, I would be if they’d give me a chance!” McCrea replied.

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“How’d you like to play a lead? Sistrom asked.

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“I thought the guy was crazy,” McCrea said, “especially when he shoved a script at me and told me to report to George Archainbaud, the director, and tell him I was to play the lead in The Silver Horde (1930).”

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 Archainbaud said no; they already had somebody, and, anyway, McCrea was too big. Sistrom insisted McCrea was the guy for the part and everybody else said he wasn’t and there was a terrific argument but Sistrom out yelled everybody. The next thing McCrea knew he was leaving for Alaska and he had his first major role. He asked Sistrom afterwards how he managed it.

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Louis Wolheim with Joel McCrea in The Silver Horde (1930)

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 “Well,’ Sistrom said, “I’d always wondered how much influence I had around here, so this looked like a good time to find out.”

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It was Louis Wolheim who saved McCrea on that picture. After he’d been yelled at all day for lousy work, Wolheim would jump in and give everybody a hard time for making things tough for McCrea. Then when the day’s shooting was over, Wolheim would really bawl him out.

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“Why, you dumb, lazy so-and-so,” Wolheim told him. Then he would go over the script with McCrea, word by word. A former university math professor, Wolheim was just a natural born teacher.

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Two roles with Will Rogers in Lightnin’ (1930) and Business and Pleasure (1932) boosted McCrea’s popularity after that. Rogers liked him because he could talk horses and cattle to McCrea and the latter could make intelligent answers.

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Winfield Sheehan,” McCrea recalled, “who didn’t know me from Adam, used to see me on the Rogers set, and knowing that I was a friend of Will’s, had his secretary call up RKO every year for three years, one month before my option was up, and offer to put me to work, I think that was the only reason RKO ever kept me.

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After McCrea made Bird of Paradise (1932) with Dolores del Rio, and the gorgeous tan which he had spent years in acquiring got a chance to be immortalized in celluloid, the studio intended to team him with Dorothy Jordan in a series of stories. That was when McCrea came nearest to inadvertently wrecking his screen career. Merian C. Cooper, then production head of RKO, came on the set one day and asked McCrea what he thought of Dorothy. “She’s a swell girl,” said Joel.

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Dorothy Jordan and Joel McCrea in The Lost Squadron (1932)

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“Yes, but can she act?” Cooper asked.

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“I think she can,” McCrea replied. “She’s not as good as Loretta Young,”

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McCrea had visions of the team breaking up. He’d been spending considerable time promoting himself with the various studio bosses who were flashing through there at the time, and was having a hard time keeping up with the changes in executive personnel. He finally persuaded Cooper that he at least ought to get acquainted with Dorothy Jordan, and when Cooper invited him over to dinner one night, Joel took Dorothy with him, after spending an hour or more telling Dorothy that their jobs depended on her making a good impression on the boss.

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When they arrived for the dinner, it was one of those “love at first sight” things. McCrea scarcely saw Dorothy for the rest of the evening; within a week she and Cooper were engaged, and very shortly afterward, married. And there went the McCrea-Jordan team. For eleven months McCrea did absolutely nothing but pick up his pay check each Wednesday. Stories had been bought for him and Dorothy. Every two or three months Cooper would hand him a script, say that Dorothy was coming back to work, ask him to study his part and see what he thought of it. One or two of the stories were finally used for Ginger Rogers. Dorothy Jordan decided to raise a family, instead.

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Merle Oberon, Joel McCrea and Miriam Hopkins in These Three (1936)

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Eventual free-lancing and then a Goldwyn contract followed for McCrea. After attending a preview of These Three (1936), in which he co-starred with Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon, he came out and asked one of the boys in publicity department: “Who is this guy McCrea I’ve been seeing? he said. “It can’t be me.”

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McCrea had come a long way since the days when Louis Wolheim taught him dialogue. Known as one of the most unspoiled of the younger celebrities, who didn’t kid himself about the part “breaks” had played in his career. His life as a youngster in Hollywood, growing up with the films, had helped him keep his balance while marriage to Frances Dee and a couple of young sons gave him a sense of responsibility.

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