On a spring day in 1974, I was visiting at a friend’s house in Beverly Hills whose parents were famous musicians. I was a big fan of their work and I was acting cool and collected, holding back from gushing, when their neighbors dropped by to talk about what to wear to the Academy Awards the following week. This couple was nominated for an Oscar for providing the lyrics to a Best Song that year The nomination was for a little number that they titled The Way We Were sung by their good friend Barbra Streisand who was also nominated for Best Actress that year. I was just a little star struck, but I was still managed to tell Marilyn and Alan Bergman that I would be seeing them at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion the following Monday (the awards were held on Mondays then, the day that theatres were traditionally dark, I guess so actors in Broadway shows could attend the ceremony).
A close school chum from the Theatre program at my university had offered me a ticket. Her father was Secretary of the Academy that year. He was a seven-time nominee (he soon became an Oscar winner, for Best Sound for All The Presidents Men in 1976). They were not attending the awards and she had a single ticket up for grabs.
I wore a tux from the university’s costume department. I was frantic getting the makeup stains off the white dinner jacket. I got myself to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, parking a few miles away. I was seated a row away from Paul and Linda McCartney. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (who was nominated) were across the aisle.
The nominees that year:
THE STING, American Graffiti, Cries And Whispers, The Exorcist, A Touch Of Class
JACK LEMMON in Save The Tiger, Marlon Brando in Last Tango In Paris, Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail, Al Pacino in Serpico, Robert Redford in The Sting
GLENDA JACKSON in A Touch Of Class, Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist, Marsha Mason in Cinderella Liberty, Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were, Joanne Woodward in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
JOHN HOUSEMAN in The Paper Chase, Vincent Gardenia in Bang The Drum Slowly, Jack Gilford in Save The Tiger, Jason Miller in The Exorcist, Randy Quaid in The Last Detail
TATUM O’NEAL in Paper Moon, Linda Blair in The Exorcist, Candy Clark in American Graffiti, Madeline Kahn in Paper Moon, Sylvia Sidney in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
GEORGE ROY HILL for The Sting, Ingmar Bergman for Cries And Whispers, Bernardo Bertolucci for Last Tango In Paris, William Friedkin for The Exorcist, George Lucas for American Graffiti
The Bergmans, actually did win that night. I deeply wanted Streisand to win. She lost to Glenda Jackson in a stunning upset. It was a cool year to have been at The Academy Awards: That gay streaker ran across the stage, a moment which showed David Niven‘s unflappable aplomb as he quickly quipped about the man’s “shortcomings”, Katharine Hepburn made her only appearance on an Oscar stage, little Tatum O’ Neal became the youngest winner in Oscar History, plus I sat close enough to gawk at three of Eddie Fisher’s former wives. As usual, not a single Black person was nominated. Some of the speeches were very political.
I still have my ticket/pass to the ceremony.
The Bergmans continued to work (Marilyn left us last year) for the next four decades. So did Streisand. She might still be trying to get her Gypsy film project off the ground. Jackson returned to acting after decades serving in Parliament. She returned to the stage and won a Tony Award for Broadway revival of Edward Albee‘s Three Tall Women in 2018, and appeared as King Lear on Broadway in 2019. Newman is gone now, joining Lemmon, Brando and Kahn at the Craft Services in the Great Beyond.
This evening will be the 95th Academy Awards ceremony, and my 63rd as a television viewer. I have watched the Oscar ceremony on television since I was five years old. When I was a kid, I used to hold up a big brass candlestick as my statue and practice my acceptance speech in the bathroom mirror:
“I thank no one for this award. I did it all myself, with own talent and moxie, plus a little sex…”