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Stephen Schochet




Seven Ways of Winning Oscars

by Stephen Schochet


There is not a clear path to an Oscar victory which is borne out by these tales.

1) Try and one-up your co-star: Due to scheduling problems caused by her TV role in Charlie's Angels (1976-1981), Kate Jackson was forced to give up the role of the husband leaving, child abandoning female lead in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). The part went to Meryl Streep who expressed distaste for her co-star. She told the story of how he come up to her at an audition, burped, grabbed her breast and said," Hi, I'm Dustin Hoffman". True to their characters, Hoffman had a closer relationship during filming with Justin Henry, the actor who played his son, than with his leading lady. In the tense scene when Mrs. Kramer tells her spouse that she intends to try and get custody of their child, Hoffman angrily felt that Streep with her nervous mannerisms was trying to upstage him. He improvised by smashing a glass of wine against the wall. She reacted fearfully on camera and both ended up in the winner's circle on Oscar night.

2) Don't listen to your producer: After David O. Selznick hired Vivien Leigh to play Scarlett O'Hara for what would be her Academy Award Performance in Gone With The Wind (1939) he became concerned about her endowments or lack thereof. The producer, who earlier had made the busty Lana Turner audition to play the Civil War heroine in a bathing suit, requested that the twenty five year old performer from British India put on some falsies. The future Best Actress winner dutifully went into a nearby dressing room, examined herself in the mirror and said," Oh Fiddle Dee Dee. I'm not going to wear these things." She straightened out her posture and left the cubicle without her new garment. The bespectacled O. Selznick rubbed his chin while examining her for several moments, then said," You see what a difference that makes!" The same story was told fifteen years later about Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly during the making of Rear Window (1954).

3) Remember old acquaintances: Anthony Hopkins met Katherine Hepburn during the filming of The Lion In Winter (1968). Playing her own distant ancestor Eleanor of Aquitaine brought Hepburn her third of four Oscars. In her free time when she wasn't lecturing Hopkins about his alcoholic demons, she was shocking him by swimming twice a day in the freezing Irish Sea. She explained that it was so awful she felt great afterwards. Twenty-three years later the role of Hannibal Lector in The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) was turned down by Gene Hackman who had tired of violent parts. The producers passed over Louis Gosset Jr., fearing the publicity of casting a black man as a cannibal, and unexpectedly chose the five foot seven Hopkins. The now more sober Welshman took home the Best Actor at the Academy Awards with only forty-five minutes of chilling screen time. He claimed that his serial killer's controlled madness had been partially inspired by Hepburn.

4) Make a film people can interpret: The novel The Wit And Witticism's of Forest Gump by Winston Groom featured a hero who was heavily into sex and drugs and only sold ten thousand copies when it was released in 1984. It kicked around Hollywood for ten years before Tom Hanks showed an interest in playing the lead. The character was softened and special effects maestro Robert Zemekis was hired to direct.

Zemekis, Steven Spielberg's former protege, had earlier helmed Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) in which star Bob Hoskins had magically interacted with cartoon characters. Now it was Hank's turn to appear on screen with twentieth century historical figures who had passed on such as Elvis Presley, Lyndon Johnson and John Lennon. Zemikis downplayed the technology, claiming that even the earliest movies had been nothing but special effects, but the results were amazing. The only problem was the bosses at Paramount Studios had no idea how to market the episodic film. Was it an action movie, comedy or dramatic tragedy. They decided to put out posters with no captions showing Hanks as Gump sitting on a bench. Let the audience interpret it. They were shocked when Forrest Gump (1994) raced to box office records and and several Academy Awards including Best Picture.

5) Suffer for your art: When a Director falls in love with his leading lady, he will often favor her with close-ups. Such was the case with Fred Zinneman and Grace Kelly during the making of High Noon (1952).Their relationship may not have been exclusive. There were all sorts of rumors about the future Princess, who had been educated by nuns, getting together with members of the film crew.

Kelly's leading man was the fifty one year old Gary Cooper, who had replaced the much younger Marlon Brando at the behest of the millionaire lettuce grower who had financed the movie. Nervous about being paired with the twenty-two year old Kelly, Coop was suffering from an ulcer. This led to ridiculous scenes when Gary looked pained when beautiful Grace declared her love for him. After preview audiences almost laughed the western out of the theater a frantic editing job ensued. Kelly's close-ups were reduced and Gary Cooper's reaction shots were placed next to the bad guys threatening to kill him. Cooper won his second Academy Award for Best Actor and stated," First time an ulcer ever won the Oscar."

6) Fight With Your Director: Ben-Hur (1959) which cost fifteen million dollars was at the time the most expensive movie ever made. For years afterwards it's Oscar winning star Charlton Heston speculated that Hollywood would never produce another film like it, it was too expensive to build all those sets and hire all those extras. But he was proven wrong in the year 2000 when Director Ridley Scott and executives at DreamWorks Studios decided that there had been too many recent science fiction films. What this generation hadn't seen was a Roman spectacle and computer technology made the costs feasible. The result was the eighty million dollar production of Gladiator (2000). Mel Gibson was asked to be the lead character Maximus but he begged off claiming he was too old and had hurt his knee playing tennis. He was replaced by the star of The Insider (1999) Russell Crowe, despite Ridley Scott's worries that he was too fat to handle the physical requirements. The Director, who had nearly had come to blows with Harrison Ford during the making of Blade Runner (1982), had a similarly tense relationship with the tempermental Crowe. The New Zealand born actor was not allowed to joins his mates for soccer games during production. "They have me wrestling tigers and sword fighting and their worried about me playing football?" he asked incredulously. He worried that Scott wasn't putting his performance in it's best light. For his part Scott couldn't fathom why Crowe failed to see that the overall look of the movie was more important than any individual performance.

Proving John Wayne's old adage that actors hate directors until the film comes out, when Crowe won his Best Actor Award at the Oscars he said,"The bloke responsible for me getting this is Ridley Scott". The Director was less forgiving. During the Gladiator shoot they had tragically lost one of their actors, the hard drinking Oliver Reed who had died while sitting on a bar stool. His final scenes had been shot with digital technology. Scott spoke cryptically about the amazing advances in film making. "Stars like Russell Crowe don't have to worry about being replaced by computers. . . yet.

7) Sheer Longevity: The eighty-two year old Charlie Chaplin was invited by the Academy to return from Switzerland to accept his second honorary Oscar in 1971. The little tramp's left wing political leanings had made him a very controversial figure but he was still revered and received one of the longest standing ovations in the award show's history. One person who was dying to finally meet him was comedian Jackie Vernon. For ten years after Chaplin had moved abroad in 1952, Vernon had sent him admiring fan letters every week, hoping for a response. The silent film legend had never replied so finally Jackie gave up. But now his idol was here in the flesh and Jackie could fulfill his lifelong dream of meeting him. Backstage he approached Chaplin in his wheelchair. "Mr. Chaplin, I have always admired and wanted to meet you. My name is Jackie Vernon." The old man repeated the name thoughtfully," Vernon. . . Vernon. . . So why did you stop writing?"




Author Stephen Schochet is a professional tour guide in Hollywood who years ago began collecting little known, humorous anecdotes to tell to his customers. His new book isHollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! The book contains a timeless treasure trove of colorful vignettes featuring an amazing all-star cast of icons including John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn, and many others both past and contemporary. Tim Sika, host of the radio show Celluloid Dreams on KSJS in San Jose has called Stephen, “The best storyteller about Hollywood we have ever heard." Available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or wherever books are sold.

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