Every time The Academy presents awards it adds a page to Hollywood history. As we learn in Bruce Davis’s fine new book The Academy and the Award (Brandeis University Press) the institution known for its Oscars has given honorary awards for many years. But in the 1940s the decisions were made rather haphazardly, often the night before the award ceremony. Producer Walter Wanger talked a tired board of governors into giving him such an award in the wee hours of the morning just so they could go home to bed.

Kevin Brownlow joyfully clutched his Oscar in 2010

In more recent times the producers of the Oscar telecast have been under pressure to shorten the event without giving short shrift to the winners of the honorary awards, as so often happens. Thus, in 2009 it was decided to devote an entire evening to these presentations. They may not have a worldwide television audience but the recipients are cheered on by their peers and no one is rushing them to finish their speeches.

My wife and I were lucky enough to attend the first of these evenings, when the honorees were Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, and master cinematographer Gordon Willis. A year later we were delighted to see the Academy recognize one of my heroes, British film historian and documentarian Kevin Brownlow. The honor roll has continued ever since, with no shortage of deserving awardees. (I’m strictly an amateur photographer but I’ve included some of my favorite snapshots from ceremonies past.)

Euzhan Palcy, Michael J. Fox, Diane Warren and Peter Weir pose with their awards during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 13th Governors Awards. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

This past Saturday I was privileged to watch as Michael J. Fox received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his dedication to finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, a cause which strikes close to home for me. Oscars were also presented to groundbreaking filmmaker Euzhan Palcy, director Peter Weir and songwriter Diane Warren.

The Academy cleverly packs the house with likely contenders for awards this year, adding both glamor and immediacy to the proceedings. The audience is a contemporary who’s who and the result for an observer like me is dizzying. Adam Sandler walked over to give me an unexpected fist bump. Moments later I shook hands with someone I didn’t recognize immediately. I hadn’t seen Brendan Fraser in ages, but am so pleased about the resurgence in his career. J.J. Abrams introduced me to the director of the much-discussed Indian import RRR, S.S. Rajamouli. And my pal Pete Hammond enabled me to meet The Daniels, the directing duo responsible for Everything Everywhere All at Once. I actually sought out Danielle Deadwyler to tell her how dazzled I was by her performance in Till; she couldn’t have been more gracious.

It was fun to see the often deadpan Spike Lee break in to a smile when he was honored in 2015

Such encounters aren’t everyday occurrences in my life so I cherish them all the more. At the end of the evening I ran into Black Panther director Ryan Coogler and his wife Zinzi, who had just visited my USC class two nights earlier. I can drop his name with impunity because he actually attended my class years ago. Ryan and Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige are both uncommonly loyal to the their alma mater, the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and my class in particular, so I think I’m entitled to brag about knowing them.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024