Nanny still needed

Letter to the editor

Memo to Frank Pierson: Time to get real?

To: Peter Bart

From: Frank Pierson, the Village Scold, aka Irate Nanny

Dear Peter,

Even while we were still basking in the praise for a fine Oscar show, (and smoldering in the ashes of the ratings), you urged me and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to stop acting like an Irate Nanny (Variety, March 24-29.) “slapping wrists” for unseemly conduct and embarrassing Oscar campaigning.

You fail to understand: That is our job. That is what is expected of us, and we manfully do our duty. If anyone is to call this industry to account for errors and omissions, how can it be anyone but us?

We are all veteran professionals — we have seen and know the enemy and too often it is us.

You say you see the Academy’s mission as working “to boost public enthusiasm” for the industry. That’s a PR job, a sales pitch. That’s Willy Loman out there with a shoeshine and a smile.

We are a Jewish mother, reminding the kids to wipe their noses and wear clean underwear. Actually our mission statement is “to advance the arts and science of motion pictures,” not sell them. That’s Jack Valenti’s job.

We give praise for what is best about Hollywood. The Award of Merit (as the Oscar is formally known,) is a recognition of achievement, not, as you write, to advance careers. What an Oscar win does for careers is a side effect, and a nice one, but that’s not why we began handing them out.

You applaud the race down to the Oscars, the hype and glitz and glam, as you should, because you are a reporter and all that is news — your food and drink. You are a businessman as well; you sell the news. So the bigger and more expensive the campaign the better for you.

Up to a certain point this is also true for the Academy, because we depend for our existence on the income from the Awards Show. I say “up to a point,” because when the Oscars become only a handicapped horse race in which money and favors determine the result, the meaning of the Oscar vanishes. And when the public perception becomes that Oscars can be bought with money and favors it destroys the value and meaning of the show.

Who goes to the track to see a fixed horse race?

This is a sad reflection of what has happened in the politics of the nation. An apathetic voting public increasingly sees public office and their government as already bought and sold. Should we give up and just go with the flow? Give up on campaign reform, and accept corruption of the process? I don’t think so. I don’t believe you do, either.

The possible erosion of confidence in the Oscar would inflict a deeper wound on the honorees. No one ignores the impact on careers of a nomination or a win. But the Oscar has a greater symbolic meaning, which is demonstrated even more powerfully by the few who have spurned or insulted it. The very intensity with which it has been rejected shows how much it means to everyone, win, lose, draw, right, left or center.

I’m not sure how it came to have this weight and importance, but it has. Having that golden symbol of something good and great become base metal is something I have to fight to prevent. On behalf of those who were nominated and won fair and square, I owe it to them.

So, far from stopping the slapping of wrists and twisting of arms, I’m looking for stronger measures, and even the commercial interests you cite are with me.

If we reduce the Oscar to a product for sale we all lose.

Now, go to your room.

Your loving Irate Nanny.