The 81st Annual Academy Award Obit List

I watched the Academy Awards last night and waited for the segment that I enjoy watching every year. This is when the Oscars salute the people who have taken the Final Taxi in the last year. They usually have film clips that we can see on our TV screens and play music in the background but this year they did something different by have Queen Latifah sing the song “I’ll Be Seeing You.” She did a wonderful job but the attention was more on her than on those who died during the year. We did not see many of the names due to this.
Final Taxi Logo
In case you missed seeing who was in the tribute last night here is the list:

Cyd Charisse
Bernie Mac
Bud Stone (executive)
Ollie Johnston (animator)
Van Johnson
J. Paul Huntsman (sound)
Michael Crichton
Nina Foch
Pat Hingle
Harold Pinter
Charles H. Joffe (producer)
Kon Ichikawa (director)
Charles H. Schneer (producer)
Abby Mann (screenwriter)
Roy Scheider
David Watkin (director of photography)
Robert Mulligan (director)
Evelyn Keyes
Richard Widmark
Claude Berri (director)
Maila Nurmi (Known onscreen as Vampira)
Isaac Hayes
Leonard Rosenman (composer)
Ricardo Montalban
Manny Farber (film critic)
Robert DoQui
Jules Dassin (director)
Paul Scofield
John Michael Hayes (screenwriter)
Warren Cowan (publicist)
Joseph M. Caracciolo (producer)
Stan Winston (special effects)
Ned Tanen (producer, executive)
James Whitmore
Charlton Heston
Anthony Minghella (director, producer)
Sydney Pollack
Paul Newman

At first I was a little taken back not seeing Heath Ledger’s name on that list. He had just won Best –Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight an hour earlier. Then I remembered that he was on the 2007 list from last year.

There were several others that should have been on that list last night.

First for me was the ‘voice’ of Hollywood- Don LaFontaine. Time was that you could not go to a movie and not hear a preview without hearing his voice. He provided the narration to thousands of movie trailers over the past three decades.

Mel Ferrer, an actor, director, producer in over 100 productions, was also left off the list. Missing as well was John Phillip Law who will be most known as the blind angel in “Barbarella” but I enjoyed his roles in “Jason and the Argonauts” & “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.”

I can never think about Hammer horror films without thinking of Hazel Court so she was missed and also the sexy Eartha Kitt was not listed.

I think the Academy has something about comedians as they forget about them every year. We did not get to see the films that George Carlin was in or those of Harvey Korman, I can see Korman in his scene from Blazing Saddles where he is talking to the band of villains he has hired to destroy Rock Ridge. “Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade to stamp out runaway decency in the west. Now you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor….”
It’s a shame Harvey was not remembered on this night.

Also missing was Patrick McGoohan who most people know from TV’s The Prisoner. He stared in over 30 feature films including as King Edward in Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart”, the warden in Clint Eastwood’s “Escape From Alcatraz” and the villain Roger Devereau in “Silver Streak.”

The slap in the face to me was forgetting Anita Page, the last surviving silent film star. This would have be a time to reflect on the early days of the Academy. She starred with Hollywood legends such as Lon Chaney Sr., Robert Montgomery, Ramon Novarro, Joan Crawford, Buster Keaton and Clark Gable. She was also the last living attendee of the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.

I wish one year someone at the Academy Awards would pay tribute to these people who helped pave the way for the actors who received the Oscar last night.

Oscar and Emmy-winning director – Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack, the actor, in 1982's Tootsie with Dustin Hoffman in drag and in 2007's Michael Clayton with George Clooney

In Christmas of 1982 I was working for Cobb Theaters in Tuscaloosa, Alabama when I was lucky to play what would become one of my favorite movies. The film was called Tootsie, and it starred Dustin Hoffman as a respected but perfectionist actor on the verge of turning forty. Nobody in New York wants to hire him anymore because he is so difficult to work with. Not having worked in four months, he eventually hears of an opening on the soap opera “Southwest General Hospital” (a parody of General Hospital) from his friend Sandy Lester (Teri Garr), who initially tries out for the role but doesn’t get it. In desperation, he cross-dresses and eventually wins the part. Besides Hoffman and Garr, Toosie also starred Jessica Lange, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, George Gaynes, Lynne Thigpen and Geena Davis (in her film debut). It also starred Sydney Pollack who was also the film’s director.I was shock to learn that Oscar and Emmy-winning director and producer Sydney Pollack had taken his Final Taxi at 73. My wife and I had just rented Michael Clayton a film from 2007 where he appeared opposite George Clooney. This was a film which he also co-produced.

Sydney Irwin Pollack was born in 1934 in Lafayette, Indiana, to a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Mr. Pollack developed a love of drama at South Bend High School and went to New York and enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater. He studied there for two years teaching acting but also appearing onstage and in television.

Pollack had a notable role in a 1959 “Playhouse 90” telecast of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and also appeared on Broadway with Zero Mostel in “A Stone for Danny Fisher” and with Katharine Cornell and Tyrone Power in “The Dark Is Light Enough.”

Turning to directing he landed an assignment on the television series “Shotgun Slade” and on a few episodes of “Ben Casey, “Naked City,” “The Fugitive” and other well-known shows. In 1966 he won an Emmy for directing an episode of “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.”

Sydney Pollack directed five films during the 1960s. His feature debut was “The Slender Thread” which starred Sidney Portier and Ann Bancroft. The movie received two Oscar nominations. His second film was the first of seven collaborations with actor Robert Redford. “This Property is Condemned” starred Redford, Natalie Wood and Charles Bronson. Miss Wood received a Golden Globe nomination for the film. Pollack and friend Burt Lancaster teamed up for Pollack’s next two films as director. “The Scalphunters” is an underrated comedic Western. “Castle Keep” is an interesting misfire that wants to be a surreal anti-war film. Lancaster called on Pollack to finish directing his adaptation of John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” following creative differences with director Frank Perry. Sydney Pollack’s final film of the 1960s was one of his best. “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” received nine Oscar nominations including Pollack’s first as Best Director. Gig Young won a well-deserved Best Supporting Oscar for his performance as the organizer of the Depression-era dance marathon.

Pollack directed six films during the 1970s. His first film of the decade was 1972’s “Jeremiah Johnson.” It was his second collaboration with Robert Redford. Pollack was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes for the film. The following year Mr. Pollack directed Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand in “The Way We Were.” The film earned six Oscar nominations including a Best Actress for Streisand. Sydney Pollack’s “The Yakuza” is one of the best crime films of all time. Robert Mitchum is tough as nails as a WWII vet who returns to Japan to help out an old war buddy. The excellent supporting cast includes Brian Keith, Herb Edelman and Richard Jordon. In 1975 Pollack once again teamed up with Robert Redford for the thriller “Three Days of the Condor.” Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson and Faye Dunaway co-starred in the Oscar-nominated film. His last tow films of the 70’s were “Bobby Deerfield” and “The Electric Horseman.”

During the 1980s he only directed three films. “Absence of Malice” The film chalked up three Oscar nominations. Next came the gender-bending comedy “Tootsie.” Pollack not only produced and directed but also acted in the film as Dustin Hoffman’s agent. The movie earned ten Oscar nominations. Mr. Pollack received his second Best Director nod and his first nomination for Best Picture. Jessica Lange won for Best Supporting actress. His final film as director in the 1980s was “Out of Africa.” Once again, he teamed up with Robert Redford. The film received ten Oscar nominations and won six. Mr. Pollack won Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for “Out of Africa.”

Other films included, 1990’s “Havana” (His final film with Robert Redford.) 1993’s “The Firm” the remake of “Sabrina” and “The Interpreter.”

Sidney Pollack also produced a number of films for other filmmakers. His many producer credits include “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Presumed Innocent,” “White Palace,” “Dead Again,” “Flesh and Bone,” “Searching for Bobby Fisher,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Dead Again,” “Heaven,” “40 Shades of Blue” and “Cold Mountain.”