Posthumous prizes rare for Acad

Cinematographer Hall has already been honored by ASC, BAFTA

HOLLYWOOD — It’s hard enough for a living person to win an Oscar. But those who have passed away and gone on to win a statuette are rare indeed.

With his ninth Oscar bid for “Road To Perdition,” cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, who died January 4, has joined the select company of artists ranging from silent film star Jeanne Eagles in 1928-29 to Spencer Tracy in 1967 nominated posthumously for an Academy Award.

Hall, who was first nommed in 1965 for “Morituri,” has won twice: for “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid” (1969) and “American Beauty” (1999). His work on “Perdition” was already recognized by the ASC and BAFTA so far this kudos season.

Because this would be the last chance for the Academy to honor Hall, some have dubbed him the sentimental favorite but whether his death has any effect on the outcome is questionable. Only the name of the movie, not Hall’s, appears on the actual ballot. Whatever the results next Sunday, Conrad W. Hall (“Panic Room”), who followed his dad into the lensing business, says the family is thrilled about this Academy recognition even if it seems bittersweet.

“My dad loved the industry and loved what he did. The nomination is a tremendous satisfaction validating that my father went out on top,” he says. “Win or lose it doesn’t really matter to us since the nomination has always been the pinnacle.”

The family had requested that in case his father does win, director Sam Mendes, who hired Hall for “Perdition” and “American Beauty” would accept the honor on the Oscarcast. However the Academy nixed the idea, saying it only allows stand-ins for posthumous winners if they are an “appropiate member of the family,” so Hall’s son, not Mendes, will reluctantly take the stage in case his name is in the envelope.

Over the Acad’s first 74 years, posthumous victories have not happened often. “Gone With The Wind” scribe Sidney Howard, killed in a tractor accident several months before the film’s 1939 premiere, was the first posthumous winner. Others include composer Victor Young for 1956’s “Around The World In 80 Days” and Peter Finch, Best Actor for 1976’s “Network.”

James Dean (1955’s “East Of Eden” and 1956’s “Giant”) has the distinction of being the only person to have two consecutive noms after death but he didn’t win either one. Before Hall’s nod the most recent posthumous noms came in 1995 for the best pic nominee “Il Postino” when both its late producer, Mario Cecchi Gori and its late lead actor, Massimo Troisi were named to the acad’s list that year. Neither won.

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