If there’s one thing that has defined kudocasts in the threat of a strike, it’s that “The show must go on.”
They’ve had to ad lib, they’ve had to improvise, they’ve even had to bring in network suits to present awards. But what Oscar and Emmy folks have never done is actually cancel or postpone a ceremony because of labor unrest.
The big unknown is just what will happen this year, as the Writers Guild of America declines to issue waivers for the Golden Globes and the Oscars. The prospect of an actor boycott forced the People’s Choice Awards to switch to a pre-taped series of clips of honorees receiving their trophies.
The Oscar show was delayed three times in the past 79 years, but all due to outside events. And the Emmys were delayed twice in 2001, once because of 9/11 and then due to the invasion of Afghanistan. (When a scaled-back ceremony was finally held at the Shubert Theater in November, the telecast had to compete with the final game of the World Series.)
But while strikes affected the planning and execution of the ceremonies, the evenings proceeded fairly smoothly.
The 1988 Oscarcast was held five weeks after the Writers Guild of America strike started, but there was hardly a boycott.
Billy Wilder, a WGA member and big union supporter, showed up to collect his Thalberg Award. Olympia Dukakis didn’t cave in to any political pressure given that her cousin Michael was heading to the Democratic nomination. In fact, when it came to controversies, the horrendous traffic on the way to the Oscars’ new venue at the Shrine Auditorium was more of a flap than anything guild related.
What helped is that part of the ceremony had been written before the strike started. To fill out the rest, producer Sam Goldwyn Jr. recruited comedians to deliver statuettes and (hopefully) come up with some good quips on their own.”We had one advantage in that most of the work on the show was done,” Goldwyn says. Although he recalls pickets, they were kept away from the Shrine. The major complications were matters of logistics. “We had all kinds of problems, but they weren’t the strike,” he recalls.
In fact, the public probably didn’t notice much different about the ceremony, other than host Chevy Chase’s reference to the strike in his opening monologue, which began, “Good evening, Hollywood phonies.” Whether his improvisations worked — some critics said they didn’t — was a whole other matter.
Of the prospect of picketing in the coming ceremony, Goldwyn says he thinks it is “a shame that the Oscars have been dragged into this.
“I think it is above all that,” he says. “I think it is a mistake to turn the Oscar show into some kind of political football. This is a celebration of people who create movies, it’s not a tribute to cigar-chomping moguls, and it shouldn’t be perceived as that.”
The times the Oscars or Emmys have been postponed have more to do with outside events: In 1938, flooding in Los Angeles delayed the ceremonies by a week. When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, the ceremony was delayed for two days until after his funeral. In 1981, the Oscars were delayed for two days after an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
The Oscars in 1960 went on as planned in the midst of a six-week Screen Actors Guild strike, but it didn’t stop an influx of stars from attending. In fact, the acrimony seemed to have been on hold that night — “Strike clouds lift so Oscar can hold court,” Variety proclaimed — while emcee Bob Hope found humor in the walkout.
“Welcome to Hollywood’s most glamorous strike meeting. … The actors brought in an unbiased mediator — Fidel Castro. … Someone put weed killer on Hedda Hopper’s hat.”
But 20 years later, another Screen Actors Guild strike forced a boycott of that year’s Emmy broadcast. Hosts Michael Landon, Bob Newhart and Lee Remick bowed out, but it went forward, with Steve Allen and Dick Clark taking the emcee duties.
The TV Academy tried to fill in the gaps with “behind the scenes” profiles of below-the- line crafts, and a presenters’ list that ranged from NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff to producer George Schlatter to the Smothers brothers. The only major acting winner to show was Powers Boothe for his role in “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.”
“It may be the most courageous moment of my career,” he said, “or the stupidest.”