Death to All Hollywood Awards Shows!

Death to the Oscars Harlan Ellison

Why the man who co-wrote 'The Oscar' hates the Oscars -- and all kudocasts

Harlan Ellison® has written or edited 75 books, written 1,700 stories, essays, articles, and newspaper columns, two dozen teleplays and a dozen motion pictures. He has won the WGA Award for teleplay four times. He is also one of the three credited screenwriters on “The Oscar,” which he wrote for Steve McQueen and Peter Falk but ended up starring Stephen Boyd and Tony Bennett. He calls the picture “a festering wound” to this day.

As a devout believer in Open Covenants, Openly Entered Into, I will not lie to you from the git-go: I do not merely hate all awards shows, I wish to see them beheaded, stakes driven through their black and corrupted widdle hearts, and to see the decapitated remains buried at a crossroads come midnight. Now we are on the same page.

About the time I matured enough to know there were no such things as yetis, the Loch Ness Monster and the stork bringing babies, I gave up on the Academy Awards, the revered Oscars. It was 1952, and Cecil B. DeMille’s lumbering spaz “The Greatest Show on Earth” was christened best picture, beating out Fred Zinnemann’s “High Noon,” John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge” and John Ford’s “The Quiet Man,” to name only three challengers. I, and everyone in Hollywood knew, the Academy had been embarrassed into throwing the aged director a sop for his having been (correctly or otherwise) passed over for decades. But sitting in New York, watching the annual TV panegyric, I shrieked like a shrike, tore out my eyes, and swore I’d take a marlin-spike to the temple before I ever allowed myself to be taken in again with such flouting chicanery.

SEE ALSO: Why Awards Season Is Worth the Slog

Those who give the awards exchange ballots among each other’s categories, provide a pasha’s fortune to publicity flak-providers, logroll, solicit and hustle shamelessly to pit every talent against every other talent, making it a transparent and debased three-card Monte scam. Phoney deified. Ass-kissing sanctified. As Bogart called it: “A mugg’s game.”

There are, at rough, hardly comprehensive total presently more than 70 awards ceremonies ranging from the Oscars and Golden Globes and Emmys and Grammys to the BAFTA, Image, Country Music Awards and People’s Choice Awards. Very nice, to acknowledge outstanding work by one’s peers: Rent a hotel ballroom, print up brochures enumerating the honorables at-bat, have some rubber chicken and frozen peas, and get on with it. I’ve been to many such events, and have even won a plentiful share of plaques, orbs, medals and parchments … and almost without exception each ceremony was boring. That’s the reason television programming should eschew all awards-giving hours-long rituals of self-aggrandizement, phoney-baloney pomp and pretense at trustworthiness.

Like World Wrestling, the Strident Housewives of the New Jersey Marshlands and the chance of winning the Publishers Clearance Sweepstakes, these soi-disant jubilations of achievement are phonies. Boring, bought and traded, lugubrious and endless shams that try to convince the naive and gullible that one should waste an entire TV evening just to “see what the lades are wearing on the red carpet.” I had to murder my beloved wife with an Anthony Bourdain cheese grater when she uttered those words and cozened me into exhausting 500 years of my remaining life watching the most recent Oscar extravaganza of bad gags, false humility, inflated encomia and dance routines that haven’t been inventive since Busby Berkeley worked with Ruby Keeler.

How to better the environment, clean up the airwaves, stop this madness? Unless the gullible masses stop muttering and rise with cudgel and vomit, my answer is: Armageddon.

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  1. peterblood71 says:

    Academy Awards and other award shows were initially started as simply a promotion for the film industry and they still are. Harlan Ellison is a very well known talented writer curmudgeon with strong opinions that would make Ebenezer Scrooge blush. Doesn’t make them the right opinion, just an opinion. But if we listen to him we might as well close down things like Little League or anything where people are just trying to have a little fun if terms aren’t always equitable, and stop giving those darn little kids undeserved plastic trophies just to make them feel good about themselves!

    You can find unfairness in about any human activity. I know some take the Oscars too seriously but they are a bit of a lark, an enjoyable lark. For those of us without the fearsome over-thinking-it intellectual misfortune of being Harlan Ellison it’s not a big deal. It’s not life or death to win or not win. (Well actually many insist upon winning there IS an Oscar job killing curse.) For most it’s just a diversion, an entertainment, though quite plainly not for the pseudo-intellectually impaired.

    The Academy today is a little different than yesteryears where outrageous outcomes and disingenuous political voting were more common place where the obviously wrong films won. Some of that might still occur if it’s an actors last film or a sentimental vote (a human failing I know) but I do think voters today try to take the voting a little more independently and seriously trying to genuinely award the talent on display. Not always successfully but last time I looked humans have a tendency to be imperfect in all their endeavors, including the efforts of the very opinionated but talented Mr. Ellison.

  2. E.V. says:

    With the exception of the people’s choice awards, just call them the Circle Jerk Awards.

  3. Sam says:

    Think of the hotels, bars, restaurants, food caterers, theaters, fashion designers and stylists, make up artists, hairdressers, limo drivers, parking attendants, and everyone in between who depend on these award ceremonies and their many pre and after ceremony parties to make a living. Hollywood would be a boring town without all these parties.

  4. Tommy Marx says:

    “I, and everyone in Hollywood knew, the Academy had been embarrassed…”

    Does anyone edit these articles? How does that sentence make sense to anyone, grammar Nazi or not? Or should I say, “How does that, sentence make sense to, anyone grammar Nazi or not?” This whole article reads like it was a bunch of random thoughts jotted down and then transcribed by someone who learned English by talking to customer service representatives in Indian call centers.

    • goldenboy62 says:

      Hmmm, I have no problem understanding that sentence.

      • Tommy Marx says:

        Good for you. When commas are used as a parenthetical statement, however, the sentence has to work even if the parenthetical is removed. “I the Academy had been embarrassed…” does not work.

        It should have read “I, and everyone in Hollywood, knew the Academy had been embarrassed…”.

        The fact that you understood it doesn’t mean it’s grammatically correct.

        Most of the article has similar problems. I wouldn’t mind so much if it was just some hack (like me, for instance) writing an opinion piece. But Harlan Ellison is a hugely respected author, and while I don’t care if he makes the occasional error, it does bother me a lot that Variety can’t even do a quick edit on his piece to make sure there’s no obvious mistakes.

    • Frank W says:

      Don’t you know who Harlan Ellison is? He wrote the “best” Star Trek episode, “City on the Edge of Forever” but it was rewritten from his original script. He still won best original screenplay–for his version, not the one actually made. He created the Canadian TV show, The Starlost, which was rewritten away from his original concept. So, NO ONE edits Harlan Ellison.

      As a sometimes professional proofreader, I have no problem with the line you quoted. I can hear the vocal inflection with the placement of the commas.

      • Tommy Marx says:

        I know who Harlan Ellison is. I also know a badly written article when I read it. I’m so glad you can hear vocal inflections, but it would be nice if the grammar was correct, or if he included the “i” when spelling ladies, or if any thought whatsoever had been given to making this sound more like a valid argument instead of an incoherent rant. I’m glad you liked his “Star Trek” script. I’m not commenting on that, I’m commenting on his badly written article.

      • peterblood71 says:

        Harlan HATED Gene Roddenberry’s rewrite of his Star Trek script CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER but then the characterizations as written by Harlan didn’t fit the established show. In Ellison’s script the characters weren’t acting as they had been written, but often completely out of character. As the showrunner Gene had to make it work for the show and within their guidelines and budget. Despite that it still turned out as the best Classic Trek show ever. So in fact Gene Roddenberry “edited” Harlan Ellison. But Harlan Ellison is still owed a lot of respect for his efforts and ideas.

  5. Ken from Toronto says:

    Loved your amusing column, Mr. Ellison…but it must be hard living Year In and Year Out with that ignominy of having co-penned THE OSCAR – surely one of the tackiest films of all time – hanging over your head. I for one like the Academy Awards — forget the stupid red carpet, and the often-inane pomp; as a film enthusiast, I’m always keen to see who gets the technical awards. It’s the one night out of the year when talented designers and technicians and other behind-the-scenes guys and gals get their public due. You’re right about GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH however…and you forgot to mention SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN in that sterling 1952 line-up.

  6. Frank W says:

    Panegyric? Did Shatner wipe out on his motor in your driveway again?

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