When Oscar nominees lunch became a must-attend ritual

Eye on the Oscars 2013: The Nominees

Some Oscar rituals take a while to grow in Hollywood.

Take Oscar fashion. Stylists and designers didn’t achieve superstar status until 1989, when Oscar producer Allan Carr held a pre-awards fashion show, petitioned designers (with major help from Rodeo Drive’s Fred Hayman) to lend gowns to actresses and radically expanded the red-carpet coverage.

As rituals go, the Oscar Nominees Luncheon is another late bloomer.

Held in March 1982, the first midday get-together was the pet project of then-Academy prexy Fay Kanin, who opined, “It is appropriate that the Academy create an event that pays proper tribute to the individual achievements of each and every Oscar nominee.”

Not many nominees showed up for that first year’s lunch. Even three years later, a Variety headline let it be known: “Lunch for Oscar Nominees Marked by Many No-Shows.” The article went on to state that only six of the 20 acting nominees showed up and “no nominated directors checked in.” And it didn’t help that there was a writers’ strike.

Fortunately, after a decade of nominee wooing, the luncheon finally arrived. In 1994, that year’s eventual thesp winners Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia”) and Holly Hunter (“The Piano”) not only appeared but talked up their excitement.

“It was good when I got nominated for ‘Broadcast News,’ but I’m older and I appreciate this more,” Hunter said.

Hanks admitted that he looked forward to winning. “If you are lucky enough to be invited to a pancake breakfast and the’re giving out portable televisions, you want to go home with one of those televisions,” he said.

Last year, the luncheon set an attendance record: 150 of the 188 nominees showed up, with a whopping 18 of the 20 actor nominees in attendance. (That’s quite a remarkable percentage when one looks back at 1967, when three of the actor winners — Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Scofield and Sandy Dennis — didn’t even bother to collect their Oscar trophies in person at the ceremony!)

One rite of the luncheon is the producer’s exhortation to keep acceptance speeches short at the awards show. In recent years, a video clip has featured Hanks giving instructions, such as, “Reading a long list of names only shows us your bald spot.”

In addition to food, of course, the luncheon includes individual photos with a giant Oscar statue, a group photo of all attending nominees and a reading of the nominees’ names, which often bestows a high-school feel to the whole proceedings, especially when some monikers receive louder cheers than others. Not that the clapping means much. The 2010 nominee Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”) scored higher on the applause-meter than the eventual winner Natalie Portman (“The Black Swan”).

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