On Wednesday, the motion picture academy announced the four honorees to be feted at the second annual Governors Awards on Nov. 14. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola is to receive the Thalberg Award while film historian Kevin Brownlow, French auteur Jean-Luc Godard and actor Eli Wallach are all to receive honorary Oscars.
Only Coppola has ever contended at the Oscars, winning five of his fourteen bids for writing, directing and producing. He won the adapted screenplay race three times -- "Patton" (1970), "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather Part II" (1974) -- and picked up Oscars for directing and producing that latter film as well. To date, there have been 38 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 MGM producer who had died unexpectedly just weeks before -- was Darryl F. Zanuck in 1937. The most recent honoree was studio exec John Calley last year.
The academy has been honoring those dedicated to preserving film history like Brownlow since the 10th Oscars back in 1937 when the Museum of Modern Art was lauded "for its significant work in collecting films dating from 1895 to the present." In 1973, French film historian Henri Langlois was feted for "his devotion to the art of film, his massive contributions in preserving its past and his unswerving faith in its future." And in 1978, MOMA was again acknowledged, "for the contribution it has made to the public's perception of movies as an art form."
Recognizing a filmmaker such as Godard, who has never been nominated for an Oscar, is unusual but not unheard of. In 1999, the Polish writer-director Andrzej Wajda was saluted while in 1991 the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray was lauded. And last year, the academy extolled the work of home-grown B-movie mogul Roger Corman.
Most performers who are given an honorary Oscar have contended for at least one during their career, including last year's recipient Lauren Bacall, who was nominated for best supporting actress in 1996 for her performance in "The Mirror Has Two Faces." Wallach joins the ranks of never-nominated honorees Douglas Fairbanks (1939), James Baskett (1947), Harold Lloyd (1952), Danny Kaye (1954), Eddie Cantor (1956), Stan Laurel (1960), Edward G. Robinson (1972), Groucho Marx (1973), Myrna Loy (1990) and, of course, Bob Hope (1940, 1944, 1952, 1965).
Photo: Francis Ford Coppola juggling his three Oscars at the 1974 Academy Awards. Credit: AMPAS