The Golden Age of Hollywood Revisited

Following is a guest post by Pamela Fallon Thornley for the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon.  You can follow Pam on Twitter at @fallonthornley .

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The first Academy Award ceremonies I was able to watch fully, was the 54th Ceremonies in 1982, on March 29th.  I know this because I was 14 years old and I was able to stay up late due to an education strike (either teacher or janitorial).  This meant that I did not have school the next day.  I had been able to watch parts of the show in the past, but this was my first time watching it from start to finish. It was thrilling to sit with my bowl of popcorn, and enjoy this glimpse into this glamorous world.  I was in heaven being able to watch the show, but being a classic movie fan it was a little sad that many of the actors and actresses that I really admired and loved were no longer with us or at the very least no longer acting.  I was 30 years to late to have been part of the award shows that I really wanted to see.  The best way to explain it, looking back at that ceremony now, was that it was a little bitter sweet.  It was, however, a year that showed that the bright lights of the Golden Age of Hollywood had not completely burned out.

In the 1970s, a spark of the old Hollywood could still be seen. Despite the fact that by this time period many classic stars had retired there were still some great veteran actors and actresses that were still performing, and I don’t mean just guest appearances on Love Boat.  I am talking about real roles, in critically, and often financially successful films. Roles that put them in contention for an Oscar statue.  During this ten year period of the seventies, there were many classic film stars from the thirties and forties winning Oscars.  That is not a small accomplishment considering they were now competing with a new generation of actors and actresses.   During this period, some Classic stars that were known more as leads during their early years, were now taking smaller, but in no way less significant roles.  Former best actress winners, Helen Hayes and Ingrid Bergman, both found ways to continue their movie careers by taking supporting roles, and by doing so, each won another Oscar.  In both cases, Helen in 1970 with the movie Airport, and Ingrid in 1974 with the movie Murder on the Orient Express, were both one member in a large movie cast.  Also, in both cases they were able to shine above all the others on the screen and prove that their talent was still as strong as ever.  Another past Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas won a second best supporting actor Oscar in 1979 for his role in Being There.  A role tailor-made for his acting talents, and a wonderful part for a career that spanned fifty years.  In the seventies other veteran actors of classic Hollywood found great acting roles that not only got them an Oscar for best supporting actor, but also brought them to the attention of a new generation of movie goers and fans.  John Mills a British actor who got started in the 1930s, won in 1970 for his role in Ryan’s Daughter, Ben Johnson, a western star from the 1940s, won for his part in Last Picture Show in 1971,and in 1975, comedic actor George Burns won for The Sunshine Boys.

This was all  leading up to the 54th Annual Academy Awards, when the Golden Age of Hollywood really blazed up, and took back the Oscars.  This time around two stars from that era, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, were not only up for supporting awards, but for best actor and actress Oscars. It was the perfect year for me, as a classic movie fan to be watching. Henry Fonda had been nominated before for, Grapes of Wrath in 1940,  and for 12 Angry Men in 1957, but he had never taken home a statue for acting (he had received an honorary Oscar in 1981). Katharine Hepburn on the other hand, had been nominated in almost every decade of her career (elven nominations), and at this point had won three Oscars.  She was an actress who never seemed to go out of fashion. Yes, the types of characters she played had changed over the years.  No longer the ingénue she stopped playing the career woman or socialite type roles, and moved into a long line of complex mother characters. By this point she had transitions into the grandmother roles. No matter the part she always seem to knock it out of the park.  The movie that they were both being nominated for was On Golden Pond, and the fact I had seen it made me feel even more of an invested interest in them winning.  It was the first time they had ever worked together, and I thought they were both brilliant in it. I could gush about their performances, but I think watching them at work would be far more effective in showing how great they both were in this movie. This is a fairly well-known clip from the movie, but I wanted to use it because it really showcases them both.  It is a very emotional scene, but check out the line at the end said by Fonda about horses.  A rather humorous comment considering he spent much of his career playing a cowboy.

As a viewer of the award show, my excitement was dampened when Jon Voight announced that Katharine had won, but was not there to accept her award. Being new to the game, I didn’t know that she was not one for going to the Academy Awards.  Despite my disappointment, this still ended up being one of the most memorable shows ever for me, and it was because of the category that Sissy Spacek was presenting, Best Actor.  Nothing thrilled me more than when she announced the name Henry Fonda.  As with Katharine, he was not there to receive his award, but his very proud daughter Jane accepted it in his honor.  I know many felt that he got the Oscar more for his great body of work than for his actual acting in On Golden Pond, but I do not agree.  I felt that it was more a case, that one is never too old for the perfect part, and that he was meant to play Norman Thayer.  That role, in another person’s hands would not have been award worthy.  I know that this was not the last time a veteran Hollywood star won an Oscar, but for me it was important and historic because I was able to witness the day Henry Fonda finally received his Oscar.

pammyAs I said at the beginning remembering this ceremony for a classic movie fan is bitter sweet.  As thrilled as I was over Henry Fonda’s win, I was equally sad over the reason why he did not attend the ceremony.  The reason his daughter accepted the award for him was that he was too sick to attend.  Even sadder, is that we lost him later that year, along with Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, and had lost Melvyn Douglas the year before.  I was just getting to know them all, but that is the heart breaking price one pays when you are a classic movie fan.  One good thing is that they all will live on in their movies.

Many Thanks to  Kellee (@IrishJayhawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled, Paula (@Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen for hosting the second annual 31 Day of Oscar Blogathon! Please visit their blogs for more posts and information about this Blogathon.

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14 thoughts

  1. Such an apropos post considering the talented actors/actresses we have lost over the last few weeks. At least we do still have their movies and now I want to watch On Golden Pond again.

  2. I totally agree with your assessment of Henry Fonda as Norman. I have seen a couple of stage productions and the live TV version of “On Golden Pond” and, in each case, had no complaints with the female leads, but have yet to see anyone touch Fonda in that role.

    There may be many admirable filmmakers and performers on the Oscar program these days, but there is no one that I love the way I love my classic stars.

  3. What a sweet tribute to Henry Fonda in his Oscar winning role. And I liked what you said about so many stars of “Old Hollywood” still being present in the 1970s and 1980s. It reminds me of something my friend John said when we were watching the Oscars together in 2011. They kept showing Annette Bening and Warren Beatty in the audience because she was nominated for The Kids are All Right, and my friend said, “Wow. Warren Beatty is now the Old Hollywood.” Which is what the next generation will be saying one of these days about Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise. The actors are mere mortals but the movies go on eternally.

    1. I know what you mean. When I was writing this piece I was thinking about different veteran actors that have won an Oscar in recent years like Christopher Plummer. He is seen as Old Hollywood, but didn’t really make a name for himself until the sixties. That isn’t Old Hollywood in our world. lol

      Thank you for leaving a comment.

      Pam

    1. Not only did they not work together, but I couldn’t find a picture of them together when they were younger to use in the post. There must be pictures from parties and events, but I couldn’t find them on the internet. It is a funny thing considering how well they worked together.

      Thank you for leaving a comment.

      Pam

  4. And who is STILL here, showing them all up and having a grand time doing it?
    Dame Angela Lansbury! Oh, and will she be up on that stage accepting her Oscar?…….No! They have relegated her and the other very important but not glitz and ka-ching winners to pre-tapings. Boo! 😦

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