Supernal Dreams: Should Roger Corman and Christopher Lee recieve Honorary Oscars?

At next Sundays Academy Awards show, art director Robert Boyle will be awarded with an honorary Oscar. While he certainly deserves such an honor, it’s rather amazing to consider how many living genre artists have been overlooked in this area. Today, in an article in The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday argues that Roger Corman is long overdue for such an honorary Oscar. It’s a sentiment I hardily agree with, and maybe it actually could happen at next years awards show.

Roger Corman (center) directs Jane Asher and Vincent Price.

Besides Mr. Corman, I’d also say Christopher Lee should be added to the list. In fact, given the role both Roger Corman and Christopher Lee have played in the film industry over the past 40 years, that these two living masters have never even been nominated for an Oscar has to be considered nothing less than, to quote Mr. Lee, “a disgrace!” Of course, genre legends like Boris Karloff were never nominated, either. But, in reality, none of this is very surprising, especially if you look at the long list of directors who have never won Oscars. Just a glance, and you’ll see it’s actually much more of an honor to be on the list of non-winners!  Here are just a few of the great directors who have never won an Oscar as best director – a list which includes some of the greatest name in the history of the cinema:  Orson WELLES, Alfred HITCHCOCK, Howard HAWKS, Stanley KUBRICK, Jean RENOIR, Fritz LANG, Otto PREMINGER, Nicholas RAY, Arthur PENN, Ingmar BERGMAN, Douglas SIRK, Robert ALTMAN, George LUCAS, Sidney LUMET, John BOORMAN, Alain RESNAIS, Jules DASSIN, Jean Luc-GODARD, Joseph LOSEY, Michelangelo ANTONIONI, Anthony MANN, Federico FELLINI, Roger CORMAN, Roberto ROSSELLINI, Sergio LEONE, Francois TRUFFAUT and many, many others.

Now, given the way Oscars are chosen, by a large group vote, there’s no real surprise that so many excellent people have never won, or even been nominated. But where there is little or no excuse is when people like Corman and Lee are denied consideration for an honorary award. Both Mr. Corman and Mr. Lee are now in their eighties, and they both have the kind of filmographies that cannot be dismissed as aberrations. Mr. Corman, just by virtue of who he has started in the industry – many who have gone on to win Oscars themselves – should have the kind of votes needed within the Academy to get an honorary nod. But the members are not the ones who choose such awards. A much smaller group of about 50 members, who make up the board of governors, do the choosing. So it seems that some of Corman’s big name discoveries will have to step up to the plate and ask the board that he be considered. How about it, all you Roger Corman Oscar winners – like Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Robert Towne, Ron Howard, Robert De Niro, etc., etc.

As for Christopher Lee, like Bernard Herrmann before him, he nearly resigned from the Academy when they gave the best picture Oscar to A BEAUTIFUL MIND over the far superior film, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.

Here are some of Christopher Lee’s comments about that Academy fiasco, when I talked to him shortly after THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING had lost the best picture award:

LAWRENCE FRENCH: You’ve been very outspoken in your praise of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, so it must have been a great disappointment for you when the film lost the best picture award.

Christopher Lee as Saruman in LORD OF THE RINGSCHRISTOPHER LEE: Oh, that was a complete disgrace. The fact that the film did not get the best picture and best director awards was absolutely disgraceful! I’m not ashamed to say that, and I have no objection if you print it, because I’ve already said it, several times. Fellowship of the Ring was so much superior to anything else in contention. So far superior! Of course there were some other good movies, like Moulin Rouge, A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park and In the Bedroom, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Fellowship of the Ring in terms of achievement. The excuse given, was that the Academy has never given the Best Picture Oscar to a fantasy film. Well, that well may be true, but I don’t accept it! I really thought not giving Fellowship of the Ring the best picture and best director awards was quite outrageous. It’s all politics though, and behind the scenes maneuvering. A Beautiful Mind was an American movie, by an American director (Ron Howard), who is very popular and a very good director. He has been in the business a long time and did a very good job. The film is interesting, but it wasn’t even remotely accurate! But don’t get the idea that I’m talking down the other pictures, because I’m not. Some of them where extremely good. But what I am saying, is that Fellowship of the Ring was so infinitely superior to everything else, that is was absolutely disgraceful it didn’t get more awards. It was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, and although it was extremely unlikely it would win in all 13 categories, in my opinion it should have gotten at least eight, if not nine Oscars—including for best costumes and best art direction.

LAWRENCE FRENCH: Of course, because there are fewer than 6,000 members in the Academy, my guess is Fellowship of the Ring probably lost by only a handful of votes.

CHRISTOPHER LEE: It’s funny you should say that, because my wife heard that Fellowship of the Ring lost by only ten votes! So it was indeed, very close. But what really matters is what’s on the screen. That’s what the audience looks at, that’s what the industry looks at, and that’s what the Academy members look at. What they see – isn’t that the important thing? Well, then, why didn’t Fellowship of the Ring get the Oscar, and why didn’t Peter Jackson get the directing Oscar?

LAWRENCE FRENCH: My theory is that most of the best directors in the cinema, like Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, didn’t get Oscars because they were too far ahead of their time.

CHRISTOPHER LEE: Or they upset the establishment, as Orson did. It’s all politics and manipulation, though. I remember when Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for Kramer Vs. Kramer back in 1979, he got up on stage, and said, ‘how can I say that I’m a better actor than Jack Lemmon’ (who was nominated for The China Syndrome). I thought, ‘well at last, somebody is starting to tell the truth.’ I don’t really know how you can choose best actor, although I must admit, all my own choices for actor and actress won Oscars this year. It’s possible to choose best film, or best director, but I don’t understand how you can choose best actor. And when you think of some of the actors who didn’t win. Did Robert Mitchum ever get an Oscar? And you think of something like The Night of the Hunter. What about Boris Karloff? His performance in Frankenstein was sheer genius, absolutely heartbreaking. See what I mean? It’s really all politics and manipulation. Everybody knows that.

LAWRENCE FRENCH: Of course, you weren’t even mentioned in New Line’s trade ads as best supporting actor for playing Saruman in Fellowship of the Ring.

CHRISTOPHER LEE: Well, that didn’t bother me, because it’s not a question of whether I’m mentioned, or whether my name is in a certain position in the credits. It’s what’s on the screen that is far more important than any critical reviews. You were saying some very nice things about my performance in the film. Well some people have agreed with you, and some people haven’t even mentioned that. But it’s what’s on the screen that counts. I keep saying that, because it’s true. It what’s on the screen that the audience looks at, what the industry looks at, and what the Academy looks at. Isn’t that the really important thing?


About the Author

Lawrence French

LAWRENCE FRENCH celebrated his 20th anniversary as a contributor to Cinefantastique Magazine with his cover story on the making of THE RETURN OF THE KING. As Cinefantastique’s longtime San Francisco correspondent, he has written numerous stories about Pixar and Lucasfilm, and interviewed such genre stalwarts as Vincent Price, Tim Burton, Ray Harryhausen, John Lasseter, Phil Tippett and Ray Bradbury. He is also the editor of the highly regarded website on Orson Welles, His book as editor of Richard Matheson’s Edgar Allan Poe scripts for THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM was published by Gauntlet Press in 2007, with a second volume on TALES OF TERROR and THE RAVEN due out in the future. For Cinefantastique Online, he currently writes the regular column Supernal Dreams.

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