Things were a bit different at this year’s Governors Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences annual gala in which honorary Oscars are presented to icons of the film industry.
Instead of being held two Saturdays before Thanksgiving, the ceremony took place the Sunday just before Turkey Day due to scheduling conflicts at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Hollywood. For the first time, a deejay provided the tunes during the cocktail reception. And, like so many events in the past week, the red carpet was scaled back to photos-only out of respect for the victims of the California wildfires.
“This devastating fire so close to our own homes and those of our friends has bonded us in a special way,” academy president John Bailey said during his opening remarks, adding, “Many thousands of our fellow Americans are homeless living in tents. Nearly 1,400 people are still unaccounted for. Our loving thoughts go to all those affected [in northern California] and here. And our thanks to the firefights and the first responders, many still on the front lines. Tonight, we could demonstrate our support for those effected by the fires of the past few weeks — when you reach out to offer them assistance, please be generous.”
After guests mixed and mingled and unofficially campaigned for Oscar nominations over dinner, the gala transformed into a celebration of the 2018 honorees: Cicely Tyson, publicist Marvin Levy, composer Lalo Schifrin, and producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.
Tom Hanks noted that the 90-year-old Levy is the first publicist to receive an honorary Oscar. “Marvin faces a daunting challenge,” Hanks said of Steven Spielberg’s longtime publicist. “After years of the writers and the directors and the actors pouring their sweat equity into a film and without giving too much away, Marvin Levy has to make the American public want to give up their precious time and their hard-earned cash to go see it. A marketing department could make you aware of a title, but it takes something of a story teller to get an audience hooked on a story without giving away the story. That’s what Marvin Levy does. That’s his magic.”
Levy’s first job in the industry was at MGM working on “Gigi”, “North by Northwest,” and “Ben Hur.” “I find it hard to believe this is actually happening,” Levy said after Laura Dern presented him with his statuette. “This Oscar is the most exciting and surprising award I can imagine… It certainly makes me think of all the bosses and mentors who have inspired me along the way.”
Schifrin, best known for composing the iconic “Mission Impossible” theme, was presented with his Oscar by Clint Eastwood (they’ve worked on eight movies together), but not before introductory remarks by Kathy Bates. “Let’s be honest, without the cool ‘Mission Impossible’ theme, I bet you Tom Cruise fails in his mission the first time,” Bates said as the audience erupted in laughter.
Eastwood began by asking Schifrin to come onto the stage so he could “ask him a couple of questions because I can’t see the teleprompter.” Once on stage, the two engaged in playful banter before Eastwood handed him the Oscar. “You can put it on the front of your car like a Pontiac,” the “Dirty Harry” star cracked.
“Receiving this honorary Oscar is the culmination of a dream,” Schifrin said. “It is a mission accomplished.”
Tyler Perry discussed Tyson’s significance within the African-American community. “She is a queen to us. We bow down to her,” he said. “It’s not just because she was very selective of the roles she chose over the years because she would only do roles that served us as African Americans. It’s not just because she’s an activist or a philanthropist, but it’s because she was such a great example, an amazing woman with a good heart and a good soul. And we honor her for just being who she is.”
Tyson, who was presented with her Oscar by Quincy Jones, gave an emotional speech, recalling how her mother was not one to offer compliments or words of encouragement. “Mom, I know you didn’t want me to do this, but I did and here it is” she said, raising her Oscar to the sky.
Tyson recalled that not long after receiving critical acclaim for her work in TV-movie adaptation of “The Autobiography of Jane Pittman” in 1974, she called her mother. “I said to her, ‘Well?’ and she said, ‘Well what?’” Tyson remembered. “I said, ‘You better tell me something.’ And she said, ‘I am so proud of you.’ And I think if I had not heard those words from her, none of this would make a difference to me.”
She capped up off her remarks by saying, “You know, next month on Dec. 19, I am going to be 94 years old, and I don’t know if I would cherish a better gift than this. This is the culmination of all those years of have and have-not.”
Producers Kennedy and Marshall, who have been married for 32 years, received the final prize of the evening, the Irving Thalberg Award. They are the first couple to receive the honor, and Kennedy is the first women to do so.
Spielberg remembered learning that the two were more than just friendly co-workers when he caught them making out on his office couch. “From where I stood and what I saw, suddenly I’m the third wheel,” he said. “We were still three, but they were two.”
Kennedy joked they she didn’t think she could “recover from the couch story.”
She recovered quite nicely and went on to urge the industry to embrace diversity and inclusion. “Each of us has the obligation to ensure that everyone who has a story to tell be given the opportunity that I and many of you in this room have had,” she said. “And it is my hope that with this inclusion of these powerful new voices, we might just bring the world back to its senses and maybe, just maybe, shatter a few glass ceilings along the way.”