Thesp not ready for honorary award

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences wants to honor Peter O’Toole, but he’s not sure he wants to be saluted.

After the Acad last week announced that it would salute the 70-year-old actor with an honorary award (Daily Variety, Jan. 27), the thesp sent a handwritten open letter to AMPAS stating he was “enchanted” by the gesture, but said that since he is “still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright, would the Academy please defer the honor until I am 80?”

Acad prez Frank Pierson on Tuesday told Daily Variety, “We will have the Oscar for him and if he cares to pick it up, that would be great.” The hope is that he will change his mind.

O’Toole, famed for his eccentricity as well as his talent, has been nominated for seven actor Oscars but has never won.

Saying that the mood at the org is “bemused and sorry,” Pierson added, “it would be great if he decides to change his mind and join us.”

Pierson this week sent a letter to the actor saying, “The board unanimously and enthusiastically voted you the honorary award because you’ve earned and deserved it. As to being ‘in the game,’ nobody ever thought you were out of it. The award is for achievement and contribution to the art of the motion picture, not for retirement.”

The helmer-exec pointed out Tuesday that Paul Newman and Henry Fonda, for example, won competitive Oscars after receiving honorary awards.

Pierson contested another aspect of O’Toole’s letter: The actor wrote that “the board of the Academy had informal talks with my agent, during which conversations the subject of the Academy having it in mind to award me an honorary Oscar was presented.”

The Acad prez emphasized to Daily Variety that there were no informal talks, “we don’t negotiate and it’s not contingent upon anyone appearing.”

AMPAS execs and Oscarcast producer Gil Cates will discuss what to do in the event O’Toole does not show up. This is uncharted territory: In the past, winning thesps such as Marlon Brando and George C. Scott have refused the Oscar, but no honorary winner has ever declined the prize.

In the cases of Brando and Scott, the name plates on the statuettes were unmarked, since no one knew the winners until the envelope was opened; thus, there were no official Oscars ever designated for those two. The O’Toole situation is different as his name will be inscribed on the statuette.

Academy exec director Bruce Davis said there will be a physical statuette at the March 23 ceremony, and if O’Toole decides not to attend, it will go into the Academy’s vault. As Pierson’s letter told O’Toole, the statuette “will be at the Academy for you to pick up when you’re 80 or whenever you’re ready.”

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