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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olivia and Joan at the 60th Annual Academy Awards

The year was 1988. In honor of the milestone 60th anniversary ceremony, the Academy planned a huge "year by year" salute toward the end of the show, kind of like how they did it for the 70th and 75th Oscars where the stars on the stage would get a moment of screen time.

Among the legends invited to the LA Shrine Auditorium on that hot April day in 1988: Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, and Audrey Hepburn, just to name a few.

Also invited: Olivia deHavilland and Joan Fontaine.

They both showed up to the ceremony, yet they arrived separately.

According to the book, "Inside Oscar" by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona:

Rebecca's Joan Fontaine managed to arrive on time without the help of the Academy's escort-who never materialized-but her sister wasn't so lucky. Olivia had to hop out of her car and hike 10 blocks in order to be there to hand out an award. Robert Osborne recounted that "She and others were all dressed to the nines, hurrying off to a ga-ga glmaour event while rushing past taco stands, donut shops, and gawking onlookers, the latter munching on hot dogs and cradling babies, surprised at the unexpected passerby. Sigh!

Olivia was scheduled to present an award that night.

Joan wasn't asked to present (either that or she refused; it's uncertain), but her sister was invited to present the Oscar for Art Direction and she accepted. Olivia's appearance was within the first hour of the ceremony, right after Olympia Dukakis won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress Moonstruck.

Olivia walked onstage to "Tara's Theme". There was a standing ovation. The television cameras didn't get a shot of Joan; so viewers couldn't tell if she was standing or sitting during the ovation.

Olivia enthusiastically announcened the winners of the award (the team from "The Last Emperor").

The big moment of the evening was supposed to be at the end--shortly before the last Oscar (Best Picture) was handed out. It was to be a salute to all 60 of the past Oscar winning years. Supposedly, the Academy invited at least one cast member from an Oscar winning film from each year (1927-1987), and they would appear on stage and on camera for a brief moment as each year and film would be introduced one by one.

Olivia would be representing "Gone With the Wind". Joan would be representing "Rebecca".

But the "Year by Year" segment flopped.

Shortly before air time, legendary silent/20s/30s actress Anita Page (age 77) was so overcome with heat exhaustion that she collapsed as she approached the red carpet. She was rushed to a local hospital and treated.

Thankfully, Ms Page was OK after awhile, but her absence left a void in the "Year by Year" presentation. Apparently she was the only person there to represent the year 1928 (The Broadway Melody) So the producers of the show scrapped the segment at the last minute.

As a consolation, the director of the telecast made sure that cameras caught a few glimpses of some of the recognizable (or perhaps not so recognizable) film legends throughout the night, so viewers were able to at least see Mercedes McCambridge (All The King's Men, 1949), Karl Malden (On The Waterfront, 1954), Charles "Buddy" Rogers (Wings, 1927), Celeste Holm (All About Eve, 1950), Charlton Heston (Ben Hur, 1959), and Burt Lancaster (From Here to Eternity, 1953), even for just a few seconds.

Other legends were there in the audience, such as Roddy McDowall (How Green Was My Valley, 1941) and Robert Stack (Written on the Wind, 1956), but sadly, they didn't get any screen time, not even a reaction shot. I'm sure there were more stars present, but I just don't know who.

There was only one shot of Ms. Fontaine during the entire ceremony; it was a reaction shot where the audience sees how she was clearly not amused with host Chevy Chase's unfunny monologue.

According to the aforementioned book Inside Oscar, Joan became a little impatient towards the end of the ceremony, and was wondering when it was time for her appearance onstage. Reportedly she was sitting very close to Roddy McDowell, and at one point turned to him as asked, "When do we go on?" "Later Later" he assured Rebecca's second Mrs. deWinter.

Apparently a number of the stars were never told that the segment was cancelled, nor that Anita Page was hospitalized.

It's too bad the "Oscar-Year-by-Year" segment flopped. It would have been a neat segment to watch. The Academy tried a similar stunt again for the the 70th (1998) and 75th (2003) ceremonies when they invited all of the Oscar recipients of acting awards (but in '98 and '03, it didn't matter what year the stars represented, since they were introduced alphabetically--the Academy learned from their embarrassing mistake)


That night in 1988, there was no "reunion" between Olivia de Havilland and her sister Joan Fontaine, something many fans were hoping for. It's possible that it the last time the two sisters were in the same building together.

According to the book "Inside Oscar", Joan was upset about the segment being cancelled, and that she didn't receive any screen time other than one split-second reaction shot. She reportedly vowed to never return to another Oscars ceremony which explains her absence from the 70th and 75th anniversary tributes. (Olivia appeared at the 75th Oscar ceremony in 2003)