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‘Oscar Wars’ spotlights bias, blind spots and backstage battles in the Academy : NPR


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That is FRESH AIR. I am Terry Gross. With the Oscars developing subsequent month, we’ll hear tales about earlier behind-the-scenes battles we do not see on the night time Hollywood celebrates itself. In my visitor Michael Schulman’s guide “Oscar Wars: A Historical past Of Hollywood In Gold, Sweat, And Tears,” he says, quote, “the Oscars have turn into a battle zone for problems with race, gender and illustration, high-profile signifiers of whose tales get informed and whose do not. In earlier a long time, Oscar wars have been waged over totally different points, however they have been no much less fraught,” unquote.

The very existence of the Oscars and the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences, which administers them, have been created in an try and resolve a battle in younger Hollywood again within the late Nineteen Twenties. The conflicts Schulman writes about contain labor battles, World Conflict II, anti-communist hysteria and blacklists, outdated Hollywood versus new Hollywood, the #MeToo motion, #OscarsSoWhite, the zillions of {dollars} spent on campaigning for Oscars and, in fact, greed and ego. Schulman has written for The New Yorker since 2006. Among the many folks he is written about are Pedro Almodovar, Emma Thompson, Elisabeth Moss, Adam Driver and Jeremy Sturdy. He is additionally the creator of a guide about Meryl Streep. His guide “Oscar Wars” comes out in paperback this week. We recorded our interview shortly earlier than final yr’s Oscars when the guide was first printed.


GROSS: Michael Schulman, welcome to FRESH AIR.

MICHAEL SCHULMAN: Thanks for having me.

GROSS: Sure. I realized loads of attention-grabbing stuff out of your guide. So there’s totally different chapters of historical past that I need to cowl with you, however let’s begin with the #OscarsSoWhite motion. So let’s speak concerning the Academy’s response to #OscarsSoWhite. It type of modified the voting guidelines a bit. What have been the adjustments?

SCHULMAN: The actual factor that modified was the make-up of the membership. So in 2016, for the second yr in a row, the entire 20 appearing nominees have been white. And an activist named April Reign had began a hashtag the yr earlier than, which was #OscarsSoWhite they requested to the touch my hair. And, you already know, that obtained some pickup in 2015. In 2016, it went completely viral, and there was loads of consideration paid to the unimaginable whiteness and maleness of the people who find themselves within the Academy and who do the voting.

So the Academy board of administrators had an emergency assembly, and the president of the Academy on the time was Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who was the primary Black president. And mainly, what they did was fast-tracked a plan they’d been discussing to actively attempt to diversify the membership. In order that they invited an unprecedented variety of new folks in, and it was extra folks of shade, extra girls, youthful folks and likewise extra worldwide folks.

On the identical time, they’d this coverage the place in case you hadn’t been energetic within the business for a few years, you’ll be demoted to emeritus standing, this superb type of euphemism which meant that mainly you could possibly not vote anymore. And this simply set off a whole panic in Hollywood. In fact, there are lots of people who praised what the Academy was doing, however then there was a really loud subsection of people that have been simply completely freaked out and felt that they have been being blamed, that they have been being scapegoated as racist. And, you already know, it grew to become an actual battle.

GROSS: Nicely, let’s return to 1970, when there was a distinct battle over inclusion. And this was a battle that you just body because the battle between outdated Hollywood and new Hollywood. So what have been the movies that have been in battle in 1970, the yr that you just write about, when there was an actual conflict between the old-fashioned and the brand new Hollywood?

SCHULMAN: That is proper. I imply, so there was this unimaginable yr. Within the yr earlier than, 1969, the perfect image winner was “Oliver!,” which was the one G-rated film to win the highest prize. The entire ranking system was new at the moment, so it was the primary and solely G-rated winner. After which, one yr later, “Midnight Cowboy” grew to become the primary and solely X-rated winner to win finest image. And on the identical time, a few of the nominees have been, like, “Simple Rider,” which actually grew to become an emblem of, you already know, the kind of rising counterculture of the ’60s and ’70s.

And so that you had this ceremony the place folks like Bob Hope and John Wayne have been up there speaking about how, you already know, everybody within the motion pictures is bare or on medication now, and so they have been type of scandalized. After which folks like Dennis Hopper, who rolled into the Academy Awards carrying a Stetson, and – you already know, it was an actual assembly of worlds.

Now, on the time, Gregory Peck was the president of the academy. And just like the academy management in 2016, he realized that there was an actual hole, that motion pictures weren’t talking to, you already know, the youthquake (ph) of the ’60s, to the counterculture, and the Academy was notably behind the instances. So what he did was put on this initiative, very like, you already know, the newer one, to replace the membership. And he did loads of outreach to, you already know, folks like Dustin Hoffman and, you already know, Dennis Hopper or Peter Fonda, individuals who have been, like, the up-and-coming countercultural figures of the time after which, as now, created a coverage the place, in case you hadn’t been energetic for seven years, you’ll be demoted to a nonvoting membership. And precisely the identical approach, he obtained indignant letters. You already know, I went by means of his recordsdata on the Academy Museum, and he preserved each outraged letter from, you already know, old-timers who thought that they have been being pushed apart, you already know, individuals who had labored on Abbott and Costello motion pictures within the ’30s.

GROSS: You already know, one of many issues I discovered actually attention-grabbing on this chapter was that the actress Candice Bergen wrote a letter to Gregory Peck in 1970 suggesting difficult the principles for membership within the Academy as a result of, she wrote, many or most members are anachronisms clogging the works of an extremely facile mechanism known as movement footage. So she known as a few of the older members anachronisms.



SCHULMAN: Is not it nice, that letter?

GROSS: Yeah. You already know what’s attention-grabbing? Like, I am all for brand spanking new Hollywood, and there have been so many motion pictures that have been simply so out of contact. Like, the yr we’re speaking about, 1970, one of many motion pictures that was nominated was “Hiya, Dolly!” So you could have, like, “Hiya, Dolly!” in the identical yr as “Simple Rider.” It truly is a conflict. However, you already know, you possibly can’t simply reject everyone who’s outdated as being anachronism. I imply, traditional Hollywood is simply fabulous. Like, who desires to dump on that? Like, I am rooting for each on the identical time, outdated Hollywood and New Hollywood, however not a few of the new movies of 1970.

SCHULMAN: Proper, proper. I imply, that is kind of what the Oscars at all times brings up – is generational battle. You already know, I believe the Oscars are a beautiful snapshot of Hollywood’s previous, current and future all colliding on one night time. And, you already know, what I am enthusiastic about is the battle that bubbles up by means of that. And, you already know, Candice Bergen on the time was this very stylish younger starlet and style mannequin who was simply entering into, you already know, activism and causes. You already know, she was very a lot of the second.

And he or she was completely positioned because the kind of bridge between outdated Hollywood and new as a result of her father was Edgar Bergen, the well-known ventriloquist. And but her buddies, her milieu, have been, you already know, the Dennis Hoppers and, you already know, Jack Nicholsons. So she type of understood each side of the coin. And he or she knew Gregory Peck kind of from, you already know, rising up in Hollywood – not very effectively, however she knew him. And he or she was positioned to put in writing him this type of letter and inform him, you already know, the Academy is falling behind the instances. You’ll want to carry new folks in.

GROSS: One other attention-grabbing factor – like, you write on this chapter about Bob Hope’s feedback through the ceremony ‘trigger he was internet hosting. He hosted for years. And originally or towards the start of the ceremony, he mentioned, this can go down in historical past because the cinema season which proved that crime does not pay, however there is a fortune in adultery, incest and homosexuality. This isn’t Academy Awards, it is a freak out. And he ended the ceremony after “Midnight Cowboy” received as Greatest Movie by saying, by no means once more will Hollywood be accused of exhibiting a lollipop world. Maybe by exhibiting the nitty-gritty, by giving the world a glimpse of the weather of violence and its damaging impact, it’s going to assist cool it. Increasingly more, movies have explored the broad spectrum of human expertise. They’ve fearlessly and, for essentially the most half, with wonderful style examined habits lengthy thought-about taboo.

How did he go from completely mocking movies that handled open marriages, incest, homosexuality, to, like, praising these movies for his or her fearlessness?

SCHULMAN: Yeah, is not it fascinating? I believe you possibly can see him type of reckoning with this sea change in Hollywood and in standard tradition. You already know, and on the finish, he type of justifies it by saying, effectively, possibly if we see these characters, you already know, do these wicked issues on the display screen, it’s going to encourage us, you already know, to not do them in actual life. You already know, he was kind of trying to find type of the ethical, you already know, justification for a film like “Midnight Cowboy” present. However, I imply, I discover that so fascinating. And in a approach, what I attempted to do within the guide is take sure years of the Oscars and, like, put them on the sofa and, you already know, psychoanalyze them.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah (laughter).

SCHULMAN: And these moments of transition and these moments of instability are at all times so fascinating. I imply, simply that yr, you already know, seeing a Bob Hope reckon with the truth that this X-rated film a couple of hustler win, you already know, we felt that when “Moonlight” received just a few years in the past over “La La Land” in that loopy envelope mix-up. And, you already know, you could possibly sense that, OK, this implies one thing, you already know? It is only one film, it is only one win, but it surely means the tradition – you already know, you possibly can sense the tradition type of altering on this tectonic approach.

GROSS: So “Midnight Cowboy” was going to obtain an R or an X ranking. The top of the studio that made the movie wished the X ranking. Why would he need an X ranking? As a result of that might imply it could not be marketed in newspapers. Lots of people could be afraid to go. They’d be afraid they’d be uncovered to smut. So why did he need an X?

SCHULMAN: (Laughter) Nicely, all of – the entire ranking system was extraordinarily new. It was one yr outdated at that time. It had changed the outdated manufacturing code, which had existed because the ’30s. And, you already know, the X, the scarlet letter X, did not fairly imply porn in the way in which that it does now. And there was even a type of cachet to it, you already know? You already know, younger folks have been flocking to motion pictures like, “I Am Curious (Yellow),” you already know, these actually boundary pushing, risque motion pictures. However, you already know, additionally they anxious that the film would make folks homosexual, primarily. So there was some moralistic curiosity from United Artists in, you already know, ensuring folks knew that there was some hazard to this film. However that did not damage with the advertising and marketing.

GROSS: However after it received the Oscar for Greatest Image, the X was modified to an R. What was the logic behind that?

SCHULMAN: Yeah, so after it received the Oscar, they went again to the rankings board and it was modified to an R with out altering something. And there was some…

GROSS: Yeah, not a body was modified within the film.

SCHULMAN: Yeah. However there was some discomfort, I believe, in Hollywood that, you already know, an X-rated film had received Greatest Image. Like, what did that imply? You already know, somebody who was an govt at Paramount on the time informed me, you already know, they really had conferences to debate whether or not they – you already know, whether or not Paramount ought to go into the porn enterprise. You already know, folks have been nonetheless adjusting to this new system and attempting to include motion pictures that basically pushed the envelope into the mainstream in a approach that simply had not been taking place underneath the manufacturing code.

GROSS: Let’s take a brief break right here. Should you’re simply becoming a member of us, my visitor is Michael Schulman, a workers author for The New Yorker and creator of the guide “Oscar Wars: A Historical past Of Hollywood In Gold, Sweat, And Tears.” We’ll be proper again. That is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: That is FRESH AIR. Let’s get again to my interview with Michael Schulman. His guide “Oscar Wars: The Historical past Of Hollywood In Gold, Sweat, And Tears” comes out in paperback this week.

Let’s discuss campaigning for Oscars, as a result of it is turn into – as you write, it is turn into a cottage business. Give us a way of how massive the business is lobbying for Oscars.

SCHULMAN: Proper. Nicely, in a approach, it is a bit much like a presidential marketing campaign. You already know, you could have marketing campaign strategists and publicists and individuals who spend your complete yr engaged on marketing campaign strategizing, inserting advertisements, coming into movies in movie festivals, and kind of positioning motion pictures and interesting to explicit academy members. You see presidential candidates, you already know, going to totally different main states like, you already know, New Hampshire, South Carolina. The film model of that’s, you already know, all of those precursor awards just like the Golden Globes, the SAGs, you already know, the BAFTAs, this type of run up.

There are additionally, like, occasions all year long the place, you already know, a presidential candidate may, you already know, go to the – you already know, a state honest in New Hampshire and, you already know, eat some corn on the cob. The film star model of that’s, you already know, going to the Santa Barbara Movie Competition to be honored or going to a cocktail occasion. And naturally, the academy has all types of guidelines and pointers surrounding what folks can and might’t do. And so they mainly make up these guidelines to meet up with no matter, you already know, the marketing campaign strategists invent.

GROSS: And that leads us to Harvey Weinstein, as a result of he – as you set it, he turned campaigning for Oscars right into a blood sport. What are a few of the issues that he did that nobody had achieved earlier than?

SCHULMAN: Nicely earlier than Harvey Weinstein actually had his rise within the ’90s at Miramax, you already know, Oscar campaigning could be inserting advertisements within the commerce magazines, you already know, for-your-consideration advertisements in Selection or no matter – and, you already know, folks having, you already know, possibly some non-public screenings at their properties in Beverly Hills. What Weinstein did was mainly depart no stone unturned. He wouldn’t simply blanket, you already know, the airwaves and the papers with ads, however he would, as an illustration, discover out the place explicit academy members lived. And if there have been, you already know, three folks within the academy who occurred to dwell in Santa Fe, he’d have folks name them and arrange a screening there and ensure they went. And, you already know, he would discover little pockets of Academy members. And there have been simply nonstop, you already know, occasions, events, hoopla. He additionally had an actual present for kind of creating stunts that might get publicity. You already know, as an illustration, he had a – when “The English Affected person” was out, and he staged a whole night at City Corridor in New York Metropolis with, you already know, folks studying from the guide and music and – however then he would additionally discover methods to kind of create humanitarian campaigns out of his motion pictures, you already know, famously, you already know, “My Left Foot” with Daniel Day-Lewis – he introduced the film and Daniel Day-Lewis to Washington and, you already know, screened the film for senators.

The campaigns, although, did not at all times actually fairly match the film. You already know, extra not too long ago – “Silver Linings Playbook” was one among his motion pictures, and he kind of spun this marketing campaign that it was, you already know, a very severe film about psychological well being, which it type of is not.

GROSS: Discuss just a little bit concerning the campaigns between “Saving Non-public Ryan,” the Spielberg World Conflict II movie, and “Shakespeare In Love,” the comedy about Shakespeare that was produced by Weinstein’s firm, Miramax. What are a few of the issues that Weinstein did in that marketing campaign that have been unprecedented?

SCHULMAN: Nicely, so this was 1999, and this has simply gone down in historical past because the ugliest best-picture struggle of all time. An vital a part of that story is DreamWorks, which is Steven Spielberg’s studio. DreamWorks was based in 1994 by Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. So it was actually these three bigwigs. And so they have been on the quilt of Time journal. Everybody was so excited. This was the primary main Hollywood studio in, you already know, a long time and a long time.

And it took them just a few years to truly put out a film that was an enormous success. The – you already know, “Saving Non-public Ryan” – it was Spielberg’s massive World Conflict II film that was a tribute to his personal father’s technology, and his father had fought within the struggle. And it got here out in the summertime of 1998. It was a big success, a essential darling, and it was presumed to be the front-runner for finest image for a lot of months.

Then, in December, alongside got here “Shakespeare In Love” from Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax, and it was actually such a distinct type of film. It was frothy and enjoyable and intelligent and romantic. And it was about artwork, not struggle, and love, not, you already know, demise. And as we have seen many, a few years on the Oscars, the – a kind of front-runner fatigue units in, and so folks have been all of the sudden on this new dynamic. After which what Weinstein did with Miramax was push each conceivable angle he might with this film. Like, there have been tons of advertisements. He was throwing events.

The factor that basically made this marketing campaign so ugly was that DreamWorks obtained phrase by means of the grapevine that Weinstein was destructive campaigning towards “Saving Non-public Ryan,” that he was saying to journalists that they need to write that, primarily, “Saving Non-public Ryan” was solely good for the primary 25 minutes, you already know, the well-known D-Day sequence, and after that was mainly a run-of-the-mill World Conflict II film. And so this obtained to DreamWorks.

DreamWorks was completely livid. They began complaining to the press about all the pieces Miramax was doing. Harvey Weinstein denied, denied, denied. This sounds acquainted. And the individuals who labored for him did not essentially know what he was doing on a regular basis, and they also felt that they have been simply being smeared by DreamWorks.

And by the point everybody obtained to Oscar night time, there was a lot resentment and enmity between these two studios. And other people nonetheless thought that “Saving Non-public Ryan” would win. After which Spielberg received finest director. Harrison Ford got here out to current finest image. So the DreamWorks folks thought, oh, my gosh, it is Indiana Jones. In fact it will be “Saving Non-public Ryan.” However “Shakespeare In Love” received. And it was simply this explosion of shock and recrimination. And the top of selling at DreamWorks, Terry Press, says that she was within the mezzanine watching, and that she felt like her face was on fireplace.

Then, the following day in The New York Instances, there was an article about executives in Hollywood complaining that Weinstein had turned Oscar campaigning into, you already know, one thing that had – simply has to do with cash and politicking and that he had kind of cheapened the entire course of. Because it seems, ultimately, somebody tallied up the advertisements and discovered that “Saving Non-public Ryan” had really positioned extra advertisements within the trades than “Shakespeare In Love.” However that kind of did not matter at that time as a result of everyone was so resentful of how Weinstein had modified the paradigm.

GROSS: Should you’re simply becoming a member of us, my visitor is Michael Schulman, creator of the guide “Oscar Wars,” which comes out this week in paperback. He is a workers author for The New Yorker. We’ll be proper again. I am Terry Gross, and that is FRESH AIR.


HARRY NILSSON: (Singing) Everyone’s speaking at me. I do not hear a phrase they’re saying, solely the echoes of my thoughts. Individuals stopping, staring. I can not see their faces, solely the shadows of their eyes. I am going the place the solar retains shining by means of the pouring rain, going the place the climate fits my garments…

GROSS: That is FRESH AIR, I am Terry Gross. Let’s get again to my interview with Michael Schulman, creator of the guide “Oscar Wars: A Historical past Of Hollywood In Gold, Sweat, And Tears.” It is concerning the behind-the-scenes Oscar battles relationship again to the founding of the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences, battles over who will get to vote and who will get to win. The guide comes out in paperback this week. Our interview was recorded final February, shortly earlier than final yr’s Oscars and earlier than the 2023 Writers Guild of America and Display screen Actors Guild strikes.

So we have been speaking about how Harvey Weinstein modified how folks marketing campaign for Oscars, making it a way more aggressive, way more costly marketing campaign. Speaking about Harvey Weinstein leads us straight into the #MeToo motion and its influence on the Oscars. And a kind of impacts is that Harvey Weinstein was expelled from the academy due to his sexual harassment and sexual assaults. However that led to some attention-grabbing issues for the academy about, what about different individuals who have been accused of sexual harassment or assault, or who have been discovered to have really dedicated these acts? Speak about that just a little bit.

SCHULMAN: Nicely, yeah, I imply, folks mentioned on the time, you already know, what a couple of Roman Polanski or so-and-so. What’s attention-grabbing concerning the final couple of years is that Hollywood and film followers – you already know, us, the general public – have actually began to reckon an increasing number of with, you already know, these questions of, do you separate the artist from the artwork? And, you already know, how a lot do you reward – you already know, if somebody is nominated for an Oscar or in competition and so they’ve achieved one thing that you already know, is morally objectionable or questionable, how a lot do you issue that into, you already know, the voting? And, you already know, it virtually looks as if the academy wants its personal resident rabbi to kind of reply moral questions, you already know, these quandaries that come up. You already know, if somebody is – made an off-color joke sooner or later, do you have to set that apart and simply concentrate on their efficiency? And these are actually not straightforward questions as a result of they occur alongside a spectrum of seriousness. And, you already know, somebody like Harvey Weinstein shouldn’t be within the academy. In fact, he is in jail now.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SCHULMAN: So being within the academy is type of the least of his issues.

GROSS: You already know, as a result of, like, the historical past of Hollywood is a lot concerned with, like, the, quote, “casting sofa.” The casting sofa has been so intertwined with the historical past of Hollywood and the highly effective males who ran the studios and the administrators, too. So I simply surprise, like, in case you have been to have a look at Hollywood’s previous, would, like, half of the highly effective males or greater than half be responsible? Like, what would that seem like? Yeah.

SCHULMAN: Yeah, I imply, Hollywood historical past is inextricable from sexual coercion and assault. I imply, you already know, the Columbia Photos mogul Harry Cohn was completely infamous for harassing actresses. You already know, Louis B. Mayer, who primarily invented the academy, he was the very highly effective head of MGM. You already know, one of many tales about him is that he kind of got here on to the actress Anita Web page and kind of threatened her, in so many phrases. And when she refused him after which, you already know, she went and requested for a increase, and so they mainly removed her. And her profession rapidly ebbed. So, you already know, it is a story as outdated as Hollywood.

GROSS: All proper. Let’s speak concerning the very starting of the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences, which administers the Oscars. And solely members of the academy are allowed to vote. That was based in controversy involving a labor battle as a result of the studios have been afraid of labor organizing. Inform us about that battle.

SCHULMAN: Proper. So the academy was based in early 1927. It was the brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, the top of MGM. And the founders have been mainly 36 individuals who have been a cross-section of the highly effective folks in silent-era Hollywood. And their unique rhetoric was extraordinarily utopian. They noticed themselves as a League of Nations for Hollywood. And far of what they have been saying is that they wished to, you already know, create concord and resolve disputes. And that is kind of the sunny facet of what they have been doing. The subtext of that’s that Hollywood was not unionized on the time, aside from the technical craftspeople. And so the academy, in a approach, was created to preempt, you already know, fairness or another organizing physique from organizing the artistic professions.

GROSS: How would the academy forestall that?

SCHULMAN: Nicely, mainly, by making a platform for resolving labor disputes that was, you already know, finally managed by the highly effective, you already know? Like, as an illustration, if the writers have been negotiating a contract with the studios, like, the academy would kind of oversee the contract slightly than, you already know, a labor union doing it. So in its first 10 years, the academy was actually seen because the enemy by the type of rank and file in Hollywood, who felt, you already know, very a lot rightly in order that they have been preempting unionization. And within the ’30s, these guilds, just like the Display screen Actors Guild and the Display screen Writers Guild, began to emerge as a part of the labor motion of the ’30s, of the Melancholy. And so they went to struggle with the academy.

You already know, they’d inform their members to resign from the academy en masse. They might boycott the ceremony. And there was an actual query of whether or not this very younger academy would survive. It obtained to the purpose the place the president of the academy on the time, the director Frank Capra, realized how poisonous this all was. And he beloved the Academy Awards. And he mainly mentioned, OK, the academy is now not going to do any of that stuff, any of that negotiating, battle decision. Something having to do with, you already know, economics or contracts we’re simply not going to do it anymore. And they also actually sed loads of their unique function. And what they preserved was the Oscars, which was the one factor that the academy did that just about everybody in Hollywood preferred.

GROSS: However the very first ceremony sounds very underwhelming.

SCHULMAN: Yeah (laughter). Yeah, effectively, it was very totally different. It was a banquet on the Blossom room of the Roosevelt Resort. And there was dinner. There have been a bunch of speeches. There was academy enterprise. After which on the finish, there was a, mainly, 15-minute ceremony the place they handed out all of the awards.

GROSS: Completed (laughter).

SCHULMAN: And even then, I imply, what fascinates me concerning the very first Oscars is even originally, 12 months 1, Hollywood was on such shaky grounds, you already know? As an example, “The Jazz Singer,” the groundbreaking talkie that mainly killed off the silent motion pictures, had simply come out. And it was given an honorary award as a result of the Academy felt it could not even compete with all the opposite nominees, which have been silent movies. And by the following yr, the second Academy Awards, the entire nominees had sound.

GROSS: Is it the primary yr of the Oscars that there was really an Oscar for finest title playing cards? And people are, like, the captions that you just see in silent movies.

SCHULMAN: Sure. Joseph Farnham was the – has the excellence of being the primary and solely winner of finest title writing.

GROSS: Let’s take one other break right here. Should you’re simply becoming a member of us, my visitor is New Yorker workers author Michael Schulman, creator of the guide “Oscar Wars: A Historical past of Hollywood In Gold, Sweat And Tears.” We’ll be proper again. That is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: That is FRESH AIR. Let’s get again to my interview with Michael Schulman about his guide “Oscar Wars: A Historical past Of Hollywood In Gold, Sweat And Tears.” It is concerning the behind-the-scenes conflicts and infighting over the Oscars ever because the awards began in 1929.

Let’s speak concerning the anti-communist hysteria of the late ’40s and the ’50s. In 1947, HUAC, the Home Un-American Actions Committee, began concentrating on Hollywood as a result of it was afraid that, you already know, communists have been dominating American broadcasting and telecasting and flicks and that one tactic was to enlist glamorous personalities to look at communist entrance conferences and rallies. So it was an understanding that Hollywood had loads of sway over public opinion. And, you already know, possibly Hollywood can flip America communist. The place the Oscars are available in is that some Oscar nominees and a few Oscar winners had written their screenplays underneath pseudonyms as a result of they have been blacklisted. So you could have this example the place individuals who have been fronts for the precise screenwriters, as a result of the precise screenwriters are blacklisted, are getting up and getting the awards. And, you already know, the people who find themselves voting do not even essentially know who the true author is. So what are a few of the loopy outcomes of that?

SCHULMAN: OK, so it is a Oscar scandal that was a bit misplaced to historical past that I completely beloved. However in 1957, the actress Deborah Kerr got here out and introduced the award for finest movement image story – this class doesn’t exist anymore – to somebody named Robert Wealthy for a film known as “The Courageous One,” which was a couple of Mexican boy and his pet bull. Robert Wealthy was not there to obtain the award. And after the ceremony, no person might discover him as a result of he was a phantom. He did not exist.

And this grew to become a type of a scandal, a type of press scandal the place everybody in Hollywood was scratching their heads, pondering, who is that this man who received this award? And the producers of this film mentioned, oh, Robert Wealthy – he was an ex-GI we met in Munich a few years in the past. And we purchased the story from him, and we do not know the place he’s. He is perhaps in Europe. He is perhaps in Australia. Who is aware of? You already know, amazingly, Life journal really ran an illustration of what Robert Wealthy may seem like primarily based on the producers’ reminiscences of him, you already know, like, aquiline nostril and parted hair and yea excessive.

In fact, Robert Wealthy turned out to be a entrance for Dalton Trumbo, who was actually essentially the most well-known author on the blacklist. He had been within the Hollywood Ten, the ten blacklisted individuals who really went to jail for defying HUAC. And so he had exiled himself to Mexico for a number of years, went to a bullfight, had this concept, offered it to the producers of this film. After which, to his shock – ‘trigger he did not suppose it was even that nice a film – he received this Oscar. Or, slightly, the imaginary Robert Wealthy received the Oscar.

GROSS: So what was Dalton Trumbo’s response when this, like, fictitious identify received the Oscar? And, in fact, no person was there to just accept it as a result of there was no such particular person.

SCHULMAN: He was very amused as a result of, to start with, he did not suppose very extremely of his personal film. You already know, he mentioned, if that is what passes for originality, it tells you – you already know, it goes to point out you what the Academy’s concept of originality is. However he realized that it was a golden alternative to kind of play the press and switch the tables. And so he began, like, giving interviews the place he’d say, effectively, I is perhaps Robert Wealthy. Or possibly it is my pal Michael Wilson, who was one other blacklisted screenwriter. And mainly he used his wit, and he used his phrases and his cleverness to kind of fanned the flames of this scandal. And finally he managed to govern the academy leaders into rescinding their rule towards blacklisted folks being nominated for Oscars. The rule solely lasted two years as a result of the Academy realized it was mainly unenforceable.

GROSS: Was the academy punished by HUAC after rescinding that rule?

SCHULMAN: Nicely, this was the type of late ’50s at this level, and HUAC was dropping steam. You already know, there was no method to formally finish the blacklist. It needed to simply kind of die off. And, you already know, Hollywood is a spot the place optics and PR imply – and notion imply all the pieces. And so mainly, what Trumbo realized is that with the intention to finish the blacklist, he needed to make it extra embarrassing for the studios to keep up it than to defy it. And this mainly labored. In 1960, Trumbo famously broke the blacklist by getting his personal identify on the credit for 2 motion pictures, “Exodus” and “Spartacus.”

GROSS: And so they have been each such massive movies.

SCHULMAN: Yeah, and so they have been big hits. So – and, like, President Kennedy went to see “Spartacus” and appeared to take pleasure in it. So all of the sudden it was a political non-event for Trumbo to get a display screen credit score.

GROSS: Let us take a look at the place we’re at the moment. You have been within the balcony on the Oscars the night time that Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, and also you could not inform precisely what was happening. You are so deep into the Oscars. You have been deep into them ever because you have been a child. Was it thrilling for you in its personal peculiar method to be there for such a type of dramatic second that everybody will probably be speaking about for years.

SCHULMAN: Oh, completely. So what was attention-grabbing about it was that – OK, I used to be within the balcony. I’m very nearsighted. That’s vital for this story. So I could not actually see what was taking place when the slap occurred. However I might hear – I might hear completely when Will Smith, screamed, get my spouse’s identify out your – (mumbling) – mouth. And I keep in mind pondering, I do not suppose you possibly can say that phrase on community TV. I believe that is actual.

However at dwelling, individuals who have been watching might see however not hear as a result of it was all bleeped out. So I instantly obtained 20 textual content messages from folks I knew asking, what simply occurred? What simply occurred? And we have been simply as confused within the room as a result of some folks thought, oh, that should have been staged. Some folks thought, oh no, it positively wasn’t. And it took a pair hours to determine what had really occurred. And on the time, there was a lot debate over whether or not they need to have, you already know, mainly escorted him out. As an alternative, he stayed. After which he received finest actor, extremely, and obtained up and gave this teary, very uncooked, very emotional speech, which in fact made nice tv. However it kind of left you to surprise, like, ought to this be taking place?

After which the way in which I ended the night time was I went to the Vainness Honest occasion, and round 12:30 a.m., I made a decision to only take one final have a look at the dance ground after which go dwelling and write my story for The New Yorker about the entire night time. And I used to be on the dance ground, and I rotated as a result of I felt one thing behind me that was getting consideration. I flip round and there was Will Smith, three toes away from me, holding his new Oscar, dancing, smiling. His spouse, Jada Pinkett Smith, was proper subsequent to him elevating the roof. The DJ began enjoying “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” which was, in fact, Will Smith’s massive hit from the ’90s. He began dancing alongside to himself and rapping alongside to his youthful self. Fifty telephones got here out and began recording. And simply watch him, like, with this massive grin, you already know, this man who had been by means of this emotional paroxysm, you already know, in entrance of everybody dwell on stage, it was such an unsettling and surreal picture. And happily for me, I used to be type of searching for a brand new ending to the guide, and it just about wrote itself.

GROSS: Yeah. Proper. Proper. Nicely, thanks for doing this.

SCHULMAN: Thanks a lot for having me, Terry.

GROSS: Michael Schulman’s guide, “Oscar Wars: A Historical past of Hollywood In Gold, Sweat, and Tears” comes out in paperback this week. Our interview was recorded simply earlier than final yr’s Oscars. This yr’s Oscars are Sunday, March 10. One in every of this yr’s nominees will probably be our visitor tomorrow, Jeffrey Wright, who’s nominated for finest actor. He stars in “American Fiction,” which is nominated for finest image. Developing, guide critic Maureen Corrigan critiques a bestselling Japanese thriller collection that is simply been printed in English. We’ll be proper again. That is FRESH AIR.


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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This textual content will not be in its ultimate type and could also be up to date or revised sooner or later. Accuracy and availability could differ. The authoritative document of NPR’s programming is the audio document.


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