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Oscars make room for expanded best picture race by bumping honorary winners

June 26, 2009 |  5:13 pm

Following the decision of the academy to expand the best picture Oscar race to 10 nominees, there were concerns that the telecast would get even longer with clips introduced and screened from the extra five contenders. Turns out the board of governors had decided to shift the tributes to winners of the Thalberg, Hersholt, and honorary Oscars to their own ceremony in November.

These honorees will be announced in September and, as per the academy news release, "they will also be acknowledged at the year's Academy Awards ceremony." That wording could mean a highlight reel of the November event will be shown during the Oscarcast as is done now with the scientific and technical award winners. Or it could mean that the honorees are introduced in the audience of the Kodak Theatre.

There have been 37 winners of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award which is presented to “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” The first recipient of this award, named for the recently deceased MGM producer, was Darryl F. Zanuck in 1937. The most recent honoree was Dino De Laurentiis in 2000.

Since establishing an honorary award back in 1956 in memory of actor Jean Hersholt, founder of the Motion Picture Relief Fund, the Board of Governors has voted to bestow it 33 times. While they were able to find an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry" 24 times in the first three decades of the award, only 9 have been given out in the last twenty years. From 1992 to 1994, four famous faces were honored for their work on behalf of the little people - Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman, and Quincy Jones. Then the pool ran dry and it took till 2001 before another good soul, director Arthur Hiller, could be found. Two years ago exec Sherry Lansing received the Hersholt and this year it was Jerry Lewis who was feted.

Honorary Oscars have been awarded since the very first ceremony when Warner Bros. was lauded "for producing 'The Jazz Singer,' the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry" and Charlie Chaplin was told it had been "unanimously decided that your name should be removed from the competitive classes, and that a special first award be conferred upon you for writing, acting, directing and producing 'The Circus.' The collective accomplishments thus displayed place you in a class by yourself." The most recent honoree was this year when Robert F. Boyle was saluted "in recognition of one of cinema's great careers in art direction."

This news has sparked a lively discussion in our forums. LonePirate thought, "I would rather they remove these presentations from the show than some of the rank and file technical awards. They will still be showing clips and highlights which hopefully will capture the best moments of the dinner. Maybe a channel like AMC or TMC will broadcast the ceremony live since it will occur nearly three months before the main ceremony." And Cederick said, "I don't mind this, to be honest."

However, for LMKOscar this is a "very bad move." And Seanflynn is particularly passionate on the subject. As that poster said, "A special dinner of course in some ways makes the honorees have more time, but this now deprives what made the honors valid - the tribute, the clips, and audience ovation and reaction - mostly absent from tens of million of people. These often were the most special moments of the show."

Indeed, Katharine Hepburn – who won a record four lead actress Oscars from an even dozen nominations – attended just one Oscar ceremony. That was to present her good pal Lawrence Weingarten with the Thalberg Award at the 1973 Oscarcast. Her appearance was kept a secret and she was greeted with a standing ovation. As she said, "I am also very happy that I didn't hear anyone call out, 'It's about time.' I am the living proof that a person can wait 41 years to be unselfish." Watch Katharine Hepburn's only Oscar appearance on the academy's You Tube Channel.