Just a few hours until the Academy Awards telecast. Charlie and I made our annual pilgrimage to the site this morning and found Hollywood Boulevard to be swarming with more surly security forces than Moammar Ghadafi’s official residence in Tripoli. Years ago, when Leah and I used to check out the preparations on Oscar morning we used to get right up to the door of the Kodak Theatre. Those days are gone. There were concrete barricades set up all along Hollywood Boulevard, far from the soon-to-be star-studded intersection at Hollywood and Highland, and it was virtually impossible to get anywhere near the actual theatre. While taking the above photograph we were accosted by a drag queen wearing a long blue wig and three-inch false eyelashes wielding a video camera who was interviewing people about the Oscars and screaming, "I really only care about the Golden Age of Hollywood. If Olivia de Havilland's not nominated, I'm not interested!" I can see his point.
Charlie was strapped to my chest during our attempt to cross the barricade so it was hard to get a decent photo of him. Here’s one I took, only later realizing that little Margaret O’Brien’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was right behind him. O’Brien got an honorary mini-Oscar at the height of her fame in the 1940s at a ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, right next to the current site of the awards. The Academy used to hand out these special statuettes for “juveniles.” Only a dozen young actors received this smaller Oscar, starting in 1934 with Shirley Temple and later including people like Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, and Peggy Ann Garner.
Margaret O’Brien’s Academy Award became part of Oscar lore when it was stolen by a maid from O’Brien’s home in 1958. The maid disappeared and Margaret spent over thirty years trying to track down the missing Oscar. Then, one day in 1995, it suddenly appeared in a catalogue for an upcoming auction of movie memorabilia. The lawyers for the Motion Picture Academy acted quickly and the Oscar was soon back where it belonged. “For all those people who have lost or misplaced something that was dear to them, as I have,” O’Brien said at a small ceremony in February 1995, “never give up the dream of searching – never let go of the hope that you’ll find it because after all these many years, at last, my Oscar has been returned to me.”
Charlie and I also stopped to pay our respects at the star of one of Margaret O’Brien’s most talented co-stars, our recently departed friend Betty Garrett. It’s appalling to me that Betty’s husband, Larry Parks, a Best Actor nominee for “The Jolson Story,” never received a star on Hollywood Boulevard despite the efforts by his family and many others. His blacklisting by the studios because of his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Commission is a shameful episode in the history of this town. I also can’t believe Betty doesn’t have a star for her iconic film work. But at least she received a star for her glorious work on the stage. Here she is at the ceremony in 2003 with her pals and godsons, Jeff and Beau Bridges.
Here are Betty and Larry, looking as glamorous as any Hollywood couple could be, at the 1947 Academy Awards ceremony when Larry was nominated. Betty was never nominated for an Oscar but “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the song she introduced in “Neptune’s Daughter,” won the Academy Award in 1949. (Betty also had a huge hit with the previous year’s winner for Best Song, “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface,” one of the few times she made the Billboard charts.)
The final Juvenile Oscar was given out exactly 50 years ago at the 33rd Annual Academy Award Presentation. Appropriately, Shirley Temple was on hand that night in 1961 to present the Oscar to Disney sensation Hayley Mills. The Academy decided to bring in several married couples to present the awards that year. Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows handed out the Oscar for Best Song, Bobby Darrin and Sandra Dee gave the music awards, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh announced the Best Documentary, Cyd Charisse and Tony Martin presented the cinematography award, Kitty Carlisle and Moss Hart presided over the writing awards. Our friend Barbara Rush (still a glamour queen 50 years later) presented the award that night for best costume designer (to her friend Edith Head). Oh, for those long-ago days of true Hollywood glamour and worthy presenters. Let’s pray that the Academy doesn’t go too far in trying to appeal to a younger audience. If I see Kesha or Lil Wayne on that stage tonight I’m going to storm the Kodak.
See you after the show, kids!