”I don’t want crowds of people watchin’ me turn old.” — Henry Fonda as Norman Thayer Jr. in On Golden Pond (1981)
Ah, but crowds of people did go to the movies to watch Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in the screen adaptation of Ernest Thompson’s play about growing old. Produced by Jane Fonda as a going-away present for her father, On Golden Pond did very well at the box office, won a Golden Globe for best picture, and signaled Hollywood’s newfound respect for its elders.
This was the year that the Academy voters put age before beauty. Among the acting nominees were Fonda (76 years old), Hepburn (74), Sir John Gielgud (77), Burt Lancaster (68), Paul Newman (57), Maureen Stapleton (56), and Ian Holm (50). Reverence for the past extended to subject matter as well: Of the five Best Picture nominees, one was an old-fashioned action-adventure (Raiders of the Lost Ark), two were historical epics (Reds, Chariots of Fire), and the other two were about senior citizens (Atlantic City, On Golden Pond).
S.O.B. — director Blake Edwards’ scathing semiautobiography, in which his wife, Julie Andrews, appeared topless — was one of many memorable movies virtually ignored by the Academy that year. Some of the others included Mommie Dearest, Body Heat, True Confessions, Prince of the City, Pennies From Heaven, Gallipoli, and, yes, Stripes. Most of the glory and pre-Oscar buzz revolved around On Golden Pond, the Steven Spielberg-directed Raiders, and the Warren Beatty-produced-directed-written-starring Reds. There was also that British movie about Olympic runners, but, like them, Chariots was a long shot.
After praising the array of films in the past year, producer and Academy president Fay Kanin introduced Johnny Carson as the host (for the fourth consecutive ceremony). He immediately launched into his trademark monologue, making note of the nominations for Henry Fonda, Gielgud, and Hepburn before delivering the punchline: ”Who would have thought that in 1982, Burt Lancaster would be voted Best Newcomer?”
Of the year past, Carson said, ”Superman lost his virginity, Zorro went gay, and Mary Poppins went topless…but in one memorable scene in S.O.B. Julie Andrews showed us that the hills are still alive.”
Timothy Hutton came on to present the first award of the evening, for Best Supporting Actress. The nominees were Melinda Dillon (Absence of Malice), Jane Fonda (On Golden Pond), Joan Hackett (Only When I Laugh), Elizabeth McGovern (Ragtime), and Maureen Stapleton (Reds). The winner, by virtue of age if not performance, was Stapleton, who had played socialist firebrand Emma Goldman. She blew a kiss to Warren Beatty and announced, ”I’m thrilled, happy, delighted…sober.”
For Your Ears Only
The telecast settled into its usual tedium. Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog sang the first nominated song, ”The First Time It Happens,” from The Great Muppet Caper. Vincent Price and Kim Hunter gave the very first makeup award to Rick Baker for An American Werewolf in London (see page 72). Then came one of the most ridiculous production numbers in Oscar history. As Sheena Easton sang the second nominated song, ”For Your Eyes Only,” a James Bond tribute materialized on stage, complete with lasers, pyrotechnics, Oddjob, Jaws, and Blofeld and his (stuffed) cat. In the end, a fake Bond rescued Sheena and carried her off in a rocket ship.
When the smoke settled, a real Bond, Roger Moore, came out to present the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award to Albert R. ”Cubby” Broccoli, who had produced all 12 of the 007 films (he went on to produce another four Bonds before his 1996 death).
Comic relief arrived in the person of Liberace, the flamboyant pianist who had the lead in only one movie, Sincerely Yours (1955). ”I’ve done my part for motion pictures,” he said. ”I’ve stopped making them.” He then played snippets from the five nominated musical themes and announced, ”The envelope will be opened by the stars of Body Heat. Who better to present the scoring award than Kathleen Turner and William Hurt?” The Oscar went to Vangelis for Chariots of Fire.
Blues Brother R.I.P.
Before the telecast, producer Howard W. Koch made Visual Effects presenter Dan Aykroyd promise he would not use the occasion to pay tribute to his friend John Belushi, who had died of a drug overdose a few weeks before. But Aykroyd did slip in a mention, saying, ”My partner, he would have loved presenting this award with me — he was somewhat of a visual effect himself.” That Oscar went to Raiders.
After Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin gave out the Documentary Oscars, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie performed ”Endless Love.” No surprise there. Debra Winger and Paul Williams did whimsical justice to the short-film categories, after which John Schneider from The Dukes of Hazzard performed Randy Newman’s ”One More Hour” from Ragtime. Big surprise there — he was pretty good.
Monday Night Fever
John Travolta entered to give a lovely tribute and Honorary Oscar to Barbara Stanwyck, who received the only standing ovation of the night. Nominated four times in her career, Stanwyck thanked the backstage crews and stuntmen and -women with whom she worked, then teared up as she remembered her late friend William Holden. ”He always wished that I would get an Oscar. And so tonight, my golden boy, you’ve got your wish.”
Immediately after the porcine Christopher Cross (badly) sang the last nominated song, ”Arthur’s Theme,” Bette Midler materialized to give out the Best Original Song Oscar — and save the show. Dressed in a green gown with a spectacular décolletage, Midler began, ”I guess you didn’t think it was possible for anyone to overdress for this affair?” And she kept the laughs coming. ”This is the Oscars. We have to be dignified…. That is why I have decided to rise to the occasion.” Whereupon she lifted her bosom with her hands.
She was hardly done. She ticked off the nominees: ”’Arthur’s Theme,’ also known as ‘The Best That You Can Do,’ also known as that song about the moon and New York City, also known as ‘Four on a Song’…a nice piece of music. ‘Endless Love’ from the endless movie, Endless Love, music and lyrics…by the extremely rich Lionel Richie…. ‘For Your Eyes Only,’ from the film For Your Eyes Only, and they weren’t kidding….” The winner was ”Arthur’s Theme,” and the four on a song came up: Christopher Cross, Carole Bayer Sager, Burt Bacharach, and Peter Allen. Bayer Sager told Midler, ”I love getting this from you,” and Midler replied, ”I know you do.”
Carol Burnett and Joel Grey read off the nominees for Best Supporting Actor: James Coco (Only When I Laugh), John Gielgud (Arthur), Ian Holm (Chariots), Jack Nicholson (Reds), and Howard E. Rollins Jr. (Ragtime). The Oscar went to Gielgud for his portrayal of Dudley Moore’s butler, but he wasn’t there to accept the first Oscar of his long career. Not a bad prize, though, for a part Gielgud basically took for the money.
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau did a funny bit about the different characteristics of directors before listing the Best Director nominees: Beatty for Reds, Spielberg for Raiders, Hugh Hudson for Chariots, Mark Rydell for Pond, and Louis Malle for Atlantic City. The winner was Beatty, who thanked his costars ”Miss Keaton” and ”Mr. Nicholson,” as well as both Paramount and Gulf & Western for putting up the green to make Reds.
Kate the Great
Jon Voight presented the Best Actress nominees: Hepburn, Diane Keaton, Marsha Mason (Only When I Laugh), Susan Sarandon (Atlantic City), and Meryl Streep (The French Lieutenant’s Woman). This was Hepburn’s 12th nomination…and fourth win (her last on both counts and both Oscar records at the time). She wasn’t there because she was appearing in a play in Washington, D.C., leaving Voight to say, ”We all send our love to Katharine.”
Sissy Spacek did the Best Actor roll call: Beatty, Lancaster (Atlantic City), Fonda, Moore, and Newman (Absence of Malice). She didn’t need to open the envelope; by then everyone knew it would be Fonda, who was nominated for acting only once before — for 1940’s Grapes of Wrath! He could not attend because of his heart condition, but Jane accepted the award and adopted his perspective, saying, ”Hey, ain’t I lucky?” Henry/Jane also thanked the cast: ”Dougie McKeon, Dabney Coleman, Bill Lanteau, me — he’s a proud father.” Those familiar with the Fonda relationship saw both the struggle for acceptance and the love she felt for him. ”Dad, me and all the grandchildren are comin’ over with it right away,” she promised. Fonda would die five months later.
As if the Oscars needed one more golden oldie, Loretta Young was brought out to present the Best Picture award. After chastising modern moviemakers for their ”shocking themes” and ”gutter language,” she got around to the business at hand. After Chariots of Fire was announced, director Hudson mimicked the slow-motion running of the movie on his way to the podium. In the end, the last people producer David Puttnam thanked — in fact the last people mentioned in the three-hour, 31-minute telecast — were the movie’s financial patrons, ”Mohamed and Dodi Fayed.” Yes, that Dodi Fayed.