Factoids and Interesting Oscar Facts: 6th-10th

A couple of days ago we opened our series of interesting Oscar facts leading up to TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar programming. That post covered the first five awards, and this time we’ll take a look at the next five years. It’s a time period of both firsts and events that have never been seen before or since. So without further ado, let’s take a look . . .

-This was the first year for the short-lived Best Assistant Director category. A staggering seven people, one from each major studio, were given an award. Overall, eighteen people were nominated and no specific films were nominated along with the individuals.

It Happened One Night won all the major awards, including every award it was nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
-This was the first of two years where write-in votes were allowed. This gave Bette Davis a write-in nomination for Best Actress for role in Of Human Bondage, after she had been snubbed. The award went to Claudette Colbert.

-This was the second and final year for write-in votes. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the only write-in to win an award, for Best Cinematography.
The Informer won Best Adapted Screenplay and became the first ever decline an award, due to union issues.
-The very short lived Best Dance Direction category was first introduced this year.
-An unprecedented three of the five Best Actor nominations went to Mutiny on the Bounty, but none of the three won (it went to Victor McLaglen in The Informer).

-After four years of naming only three Best Director nominees (not including write-ins), the number of nominees was bumped back up to five.
My Man Godfrey was nominated for all four acting categories, and won none of them.

-This was the final year for the Best Dance Direction category. Dave Gould, Bobby Connelly, Hermes Pan and Bugsby Berkeley were nominated all three years it existed.
-Gould’s nomination for A Day at the Races was the only time a Marx Brothers film was nominated for any award.
-It was also the final year for the Best Assistant Director category.
A Star is Born became the first color film to be nominated for Best Picture.


Factoids and Interesting Oscar Facts: 1st-5th

With TCM set to begin it’s 31 Days of Oscar programming this weekend, it’s time to introduce a new running feature: interesting facts and info about the Academy Awards of yesteryear. Throughout the next month, we’ll run through some information about each ceremony which could be considered from the “classic” or old movie era. Talking about last year’s awards, for instance, would seem a little out of place on this blog.

This won’t include the full list of winners and nominees, which can easily be found multiple places online. Instead, we’ll take a look at some interesting information and little tidbits. Let’s start out with the first five awards:


The Jazz Singer remains to this day probably the most notable film released in 1927 due it’s status as the first feature length talkie. Wings also follows closely behind with the notable achievement of being the first film to win Best Picture (then called Outstanding Picture). But for all of the historical significance and sensation The Jazz Singer caused, it was only nominated for one official award– Adapted Screenplay. It did, however, receive an honorary award for its significance.


-This is the only year where no film one more than one Oscar.
-Although the name is not well known now, Elliot Clawson was nominated for a remarkable four Oscars for best writing. He pulled this off in his final year of work, a writing career that began in 1913 with 81 films to his credit.


-Three of the five nominees for Best Actor received two nominations: George Arliss (who won), Maurice Chevalier and Ronald Colman.
-This was the debut of the Best Sound Recording category. Two of the five nominated were musicals: The Love Parade and The Song of the Flame. The latter is notable for being a technicolor film, and the first color film used with a widescreen sequence. It is now lost.


-Jackie Cooper, at nine years old, was the youngest person nominated for any award for 48 years. He lost to Lionel Barrymore, the oldest nominee that year.


-Helen Hayes, in only her third screen appearance (and first sound role), won her first Oscar. It would be 39 years until she won again.
-As both producer and director of The Champ, King Vidor was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director. He lost in both categories.
Grand Hotel is the only Best Picture winner to have not been nominated in any other category.

On Remakes

It’s easy, and maybe understandable, for classic film fans like myself to get all up in arms when a classic movie is remade. For example, it’s a good thing I wasn’t into watching these old movies when the remake of Psycho came out, or I likely would have had a brain aneurysm at the idea of it. The most recent example is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which has done quite well at the box office, and is based off a 1947 film (which is turned based off a James Thurber story). But for as much complaining as there may be about remakes sometimes, remakes are nothing new. As a matter of fact, remakes are as old as popular movies themselves.

Take The Wizard of Oz as one example. By the time the famed Judy Garland film was released in 1939, there had already been three other adaptations. Classic works of horror fiction like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein and Dracula have been especially susceptible to being remade, with as many as dozens of adaptations as each. There was even a practice among some directors to remake their own films, something done by Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra and others as well.

So are remakes really that awful? Do they do anything to tarnish the original, when you actually stop and think about it? 12 Angry Men, airing late tonight on TCM got me thinking about this idea. That film, itself originally a tv special and then a play before it ever hit the big screen, has not only been remade several times, but as been the subject of dozens of homages and parodies over the decades. Has the prevalence of remakes and other similar pieces hurt it’s legacy and importance? Not in the slightest. Once source even cites that in 2011 the film was the second most frequently shown film in British secondary schools.

If anything, the argument could be made that these remakes help the exposure of the classic films. Take the original Walter Mitty. As of the time of this writing, the DVD of the 1947 version ranks #28 on best selling comedies on Amazon.com, right above and below two different seasons of Modern Family. You’re not going to see any other movies from the 40s on the list that high. It’s very obvious that any new interest in original Walter Mitty came about because of the remake.

So maybe remakes aren’t so bad after all. If it allows more people to be exposed to a classic film, then it’s been a benefit. If it doesn’t accomplish that, there’s still no harm done. The originals are always there.

Another tragic story: Mabel Normand

Last week I wrote about the importance of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and the tragedy that befell him as a result of his scandal, in advance of some of his films being on TCM. With some more being shown tonight, it’s worth noting that his trail blazing co-star in many of these films, Mabel Normand was involved in her own murderous scandals, and a life that ended far too soon.

Normand not only worked with Arbuckle, but co-starred along with Charlie Chaplin as his career began. There were plenty of other comedies she starred in without those names as well. But none of is this most notable to her career as a trailblazer. Normand had great control of her career, and also directed many of her films, including some of the early Chaplin films. By 1918, she even had her own film studio. Not only was she tremendously funny, but she was also the most successful female comedian, and the most powerful one as well.

And then, just one year after Arbuckle’s murder scandal, Normand found herself as a suspect in a murder of her own.


Normand’s connection to director William Taylor was a sordid affair, with Taylor allegedly attempting to help her recover from cocaine addiction. Although Normand was never charged, the press had a field day with the story, especially since she had been with him just prior to his death.

One year later, she found herself linked to violence once again when her chauffeur shot a well-known millionaire, using Normand’s own gun. Once again, Normand found her named plastered on all the headlines of this story, despite having nothing to do with it.

A combination of these scandals helped bring Normand’s career to a halt:



Normand, previously incredibly prolific, made no films in 1924 or 1925. This was the first time she had proved to be inactive for more than a span of several months. By 1926 she appeared in a couple more films, the same being true in 1927. Any sort of a comeback was short-lived, however. Her health failed shortly thereafter, and after a long stay in a sanitarium she died in 1930 at the age of 37.

Her importance in the world of silent comedy cannot be understated, and just like Arbuckle, one has to wonder what her output could have been like in the time she was plagued with scandal.

Check out a few of her films with Arbuckle on TCM tonight. “Mabel’s Strange Predicament,” directed by her and featuring Chaplin’s first appearance as The Tramp (the first filmed, but not the first released) here.

Links: The Reporting of Robert Osborne

Last night, TCM aired it’s Private Screenings special, which profiled the face of the channel, the great Robert Osborne. It was a fascinating look at the career of a man who’s met everyone and done everything. Having spent so many decades as a reporter, I thought it would be interesting to track down some of his old articles. So below are some articles stretching across the career of Robert Osborne.

A September 1992 piece on the death of Steffi Dunna.

From 1998: Previewing a production of The Jazz Singer.

Writing about Angela Lansbury’s 2006 return to the stage.

On the death of Betty Comden.

A “Rambling Report” from 1995.

The Tragedy of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle”

History has not been kind to silent film stars.

Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd have gotten a lot of recognition, and deservedly so. They’re still heralded as all time greats and there are plenty of DVD (and now Blu-Ray) releases of their films coming out. After that group, there’s Harry Langdon, who gets mentioned a lot less often but was still a major star in his day. And after that, it’s a major sliding scale down to guys like Ben Turpin, Lloyd Hamilton and many others who were huge stars but have faded as time has gone on.

And then there’s the awful story of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who’s reputation and legacy tanked while he was still active.

Arbuckle was, by the early and mid-teens, the silent comedy star. Not only did he precede both Chaplin and Keaton in terms of major fame, but he also worked with Chaplin early on and gave Keaton his start in films. That alone would make Arbuckle notable enough, but he was both hugely popular and talented. Despite being massively obese, Arbuckle was incredibly light on his feet and could pull off amazing fast movements and gags for a man his size. Physical comedy was always the chief weapon at a comedian’s disposal in those days, and Arbuckle was able to handle that in spades. For a period, he was as big of a star as possible and at was at the top of his game.

And then this happened.


Arbuckle found himself in the middle of a sensational scandal, accused of raping and murdering a girl at a party. In the years that followed, his career and reputation was ruined. The first two trials were declared mistrials after hung juries. By the time the third trial came around, nearly all of the evidence against him had fallen apart and it became clear that he was completely innocent. The third jury found him not guilty within minutes and apologized to him, but the damage had been done to his career by that point.

From that point on, he barely worked. Some work was done by him on Keaton projects (rumors persist that he directed part of Sherlock Jr. and he directed a few items under a pseudonym. Even worse, by the time a resurgence of sorts started up in the 30s, Arbuckle quickly died at a young age.

Further exposure to his work has been limited. Silent films in general have not survived well, but in his case it appears to be even worse due to such extreme measures as even burning some of his films at the height of his trials. Many prints that exist are in poor shape, and some went through extreme cases to become restored. One example is his short Love, which only fairly recently was pieced together through different foreign prints.

In an ideal world, more focus would be made on his legacy and abilities as a comic, instead of being largely undiscussed outside of his scandal.

There are still many ways to see Arbuckle’s work. Love is one of dozens of shorts included on the DVD set The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, which also contains some of his later work as a director. Other collections such as The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection highlight some of his wonderful work with the comedy legend. It’s easy to see from watching just a few of these why he was a legend in his time, and why it is such a tragedy his career came crashing down.

Several of Arbuckle’s comedies air late Sunday night on TCM both this Sunday and next Sunday.

Joan Crawford in Silent Films

At the time of this writing, we’re only a few hours away from the first night of Joan Crawford films on TCM, as she is star of the month. What makes tonight most notable is that this lineup features a lot of her silent work. There’s some really quality work in that early period, so it’s great that it’s being shown. The Unknown, on at 8PM EST, is particularly strong and is the work of one of my favorite directors of the period, Tod Browning. In total, there’s nine silent Crawford films this evening, some of which I will be seeing for the first time. I would now like to suggest two additional Crawford silent films you won’t see tonight, both very different from each other.


The first is the 1925 drama film The Circle, which Crawford plays a supporting but important role in. Crawford plays a young married woman conflicted in love. Ultimately, she decides to leave her husband for her lover. Decades later, the woman her son married faces the same dilemma (hence, the circle). It’s not a role that gives Crawford a ton of screen time, but there are really strong characters throughout, making this a very compelling story of human relationships.

The other is the 1926 comedy film Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, in which Crawford plays the love interest of the under-appreciated Harry Langdon. In addition to be an opportunity to see an early Crawford film, it also serves as a good introduction to the comedy of Langdon. This is one of the films at the peak of Langdon’s career, with the legendary Frank Capra at the helm. If you’re looking to expand your silent comedy horizons, this is definitely one to see.

A short clip of Crawford in The Circle can be seen here and Tramp, Tramp, Tramp is available in full here.

Top ten: best classic movies seen for the first time this year

It should come as no surprise that I watch a lot of classic films throughout the year, and in most cases they are films I’ve seen before (sometimes numerous times). But every year there are new great old films that I get to see for the first time. So I decided to take a look at the ten best classic films I finally saw this past year. Yes, you’ll look at the list and be disgusted that I didn’t see some of these until now. In all cases, it was a grave error on my part. But hey, at least it’s been rectified now.

Instead of actually ranking them from best to worst, I’ve copped out and decided to just list them in order of release date. If the film is available legally online, I’ve included a link to watch it. Check pit the ones here you haven’t seen, and don’t chastise me too horribly for the films I only just saw this year.

-Artheme Swallows His Clarinet (1912)

If the title wasn’t self explanatory enough, the image thoroughly captures it as well. This comedy short is very silly and in that respect is kind of a minor film. It’s still pretty funny and the effects are interesting to see. It’s good lighthearted fun. Well, it’s fun for us, but it wasn’t very fun for Artheme.

Watch it on YouTube.

-Intolerance (1916)
Yes, I should have seen this a lot sooner as someone who loves silent films. In my defense, sometimes it’s hard to set aside three hours for a film. Now that I finally have, it was definitely worth it. It’s just amazing to see that some a massive undertaking was pulled off, four different stories told so excellently. The sets themselves made it worth seeing. Overall, it is just show a visually beautiful film.

-The Playhouse (1921)
Buster Keaton pulled off a lot of technically amazing routines, and what he pulls off here is certainly one of his most ingenious. The first portion of the short takes place within a dream in which Keaton literally plays every role in a playhouse. From all musicians to all audience members (male and female) he does it all. As one audience member (Keaton as well) remarks “this Keaton seems to be the whole show.” The rest is typical amusing Keaton, but this opening portion is something worth seeing.

What Price Hollywood? (1932)
The basic story of this pre-code film as been seen before, as told later on in A Star Is Born. This overall is a dark and gripping look and the seedy underbelly of the film industry–tumultuous relationships, alcohol and downward spirals. It’s the kind of film that probably wouldn’t have been made with the code in place.

The Awful Truth (1937)
Screwball comedies are amazingly fun, so this is one that I should have seen sooner. From start to finish, it’s complete insanity, just as these movies should be. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne were a hilarious comedy pair in this movie and others, and it’s really on display here. Although I had to sit through a terrible Matthew Broderick introduction to see this movie on TCM, it was worth it.

-Ball of Fire (1941)
This is another screwball comedy I should have seen so far, especially since I love Barbara Stanwyck. She is at her best here, acting as temptress to a naive ensemble of great character actors. This is now maybe one of my favorite roles Stanwyck ever played, and is a hilarious movie.

-Lifeboat (1944)
Outside of his early work in the 20s, I’ve seen most of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. This is one that somehow I missed over the years, and it’s too bad that I did. Like a few other of his films, it is contained within a very small setting that is put to great use. There’s also deeper characters and more political overtones than you would see from a typical Hitchcock film.

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
Yes, this is another film I should have seen a long time ago. With great acting all around and beautiful cinematography, this is now a top noir film for me. Unique settings like an aquarium and the conclusion in a fun house are particularly impressive and add to the film’s charm.

-The Fallen Idol (1948)
The basis for the film is basic and harmless enough, a white lie told to a young boy. From there, it spirals further out of control into death and suspicion. And what makes it most interesting is that all of this is from the perspective of that same young boy. It gives the story a unique and pretty gripping angle.