Heath Ledger's family plans to take his Oscar, which should go to Matilda if he wins!
Yesterday, when Heath Ledger's family landed at LAX airport to begin their march to the podium to pick up his inevitable supporting-actor Oscar for "The Dark Knight" this Sunday, a reporter asked Ledger's dad if Heath's daughter Matilda will get the statuette. Kim Ledger replied — shockingly — "Oh, yeah, down the line. We'll keep it for her forever!" You can see the video on TMZ.com.
Huh? The award belongs to Matilda. The academy requires that posthumously bestowed Oscars go to the late person's spouse or a child of legal age. The only reason Matilda is not going up to the Oscars podium to accept is because she's only 3 years old. Her mom can't do it either, or on her daughter's behalf, because, well, that whole thing's rather messy. Michelle Williams never married Heath Ledger and she was estranged from him at the time of his death.
After serving as symbolic stand-ins for Heath Ledger at the Oscars podium, the family should send the statuette to Matilda, not stuff it in their luggage and head Down Under to Australia. But that, according to the TMZ video, is what they're apparently planning to do with something that doesn't belong to them.
So they have no intention of honoring the deal that they reportedly struck with the Oscars? As academy executive director Bruce Davis explained to the Associated Press. "It's complicated, because there are two different questions that have to be answered. First, we have to decide who gets the job of accepting the award onstage on the night of the ceremony. And then there's the question of the eventual disposition of the posthumous statuette, which may not stay with the person who accepts it."
Davis goes on to clarify: "In the event that Heath Ledger should be selected as the supporting actor recipient, the statuette will be held in trust for his daughter by her mother, Michelle Williams, until Matilda reaches the age of 18. At that point, she may execute what we call an heir's agreement and keep the statuette forever — or, if she chooses not to do that, it will return to us."
Obviously, much confusion reigns over what to do about all of Ledger's awards this derby season. No one has yet claimed his Screen Actors Guild Award. "We are still holding it until the proper paperwork can be filled out," SAG Awards producer Kathy Connell tells Gold Derby via e-mail. But what does that mean? Is there a dispute over who signs? Or a debate over other terms of the paperwork? Will all of this be resolved soon? When we asked SAG such follow-up questions via return e-mail, the guild did not respond.
There's a lot of that dodging and ducking going around these days about the status of Ledger's showbiz awards for "The Dark Knight." The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. says they shipped Heath's Golden Globe over to the office of his publicist Mara Buxbaum at ID-PR, who hasn't yet returned my call when I inquired about its status a few hours ago. Then I heard that Heath's Critics' Choice trophy was shipped to Warner Bros. awards office. When I asked those folks about the statuette's status, they said they don't have it. If I want an official comment, I should speak to Ms. Buxbaum.
Technically, no one should be accepting the Oscar on Heath Ledger's behalf at Sunday's ceremony. It's against the rules. Well, kind of a rule, an unofficial one that was cooked up after Marlon Brando staged that ridiculously embarrassing stunt at the 1972 awards, having fake "Indian" Sacheen Littlefeather ambush the podium to refuse his Oscar for "The Godfather." Since then the academy has made many exceptions to that "rule," but it's gotten tough on stand-in wannabees. For example, in 1981 it refused John Gielgud's request to let Michael York accept his supporting-actor trophy for "Arthur."
In general, exceptions to the rule seem to be cases involving deceased winners. In this instance, someone should represent Heath Ledger on stage because, as Oscarcast writer Bruce Vilanch tells Gold Derby, "We all want closure."
Oscarcast producers also want socko TV ratings and, having Heath Ledger's family at the podium uttering heartfelt words about their lost loved one, will be pure, great theater. We know that because they already passed their audition when they made an emotional appearance at the Australian Film Institute Awards in December.
One of the Oscars' greatest theatrical moments, historically speaking, occurred when another exception to the rule was made, one involving a winner who was still alive. In 1981 — the same year the academy pooh-poohed aging British theater actor John Gielgud — Oscar leaders caved to a sexy Hollywood superstar, Jane Fonda, when she insisted upon accepting the best-actor trophy for her ailing dad Henry ("On Golden Pond"). She ended up delivering an Oscar-worthy performance at the podium, hoisting his golden trophy up high as she addressed him, tearfully, while he watched on TV at home: "Dad, me and the grandkids will be right over!"
The last posthumous award went to cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, who won his third Oscar for "The Road to Perdition" in 2002. His son Jim Hall accepted on his behalf.
The only acting Oscar awarded posthumously was to Peter Finch who died in January 1977 while promoting "Network." When Finch's name was announced weeks later as the best actor of 1976, Paddy Chaefsky — who had won a third Oscar earlier in the evening for his scorching "Network" screenplay — came up to accept on his behalf. However, the firebrand writer — in defiance of the academy's orders — then called Finch's widow Aletha to the podium and she read out a speech he had written for her.
Photo: TMZ, SAG Awards