• Gary Seigel

A Stunning Defeat: Haskell and the Academy Awards of 1967

[An exclusive excerpt from the Journals of Haskell Hodge]

Tonight’s the night. The 39th Annual Academy Awards, and though my aunt and uncle are at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium watching the ceremony (Uncle’s TV station sponsors the pre-show), I’m at the house, supposedly baby-sitting Hope.

She sits through most of Bob Hope’s monologue, but as the show proceeds, she moans, “When are they going to get to the real awards already?”

Many games of gin rummy later, Lee Marvin finally announces the five nominees for Best Actress, and Elizabeth Taylor nabs the trophy for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

I scream and jump up and down. Though I figured Richard Burton will probably not win Best Actor, it is still the first time a husband and wife have been nominated for the same film playing husband and wife.

“This is a big deal, “ I tell Hope.

“What’s big is her! How much weight did she gain for that role?”

“She transformed herself, didn’t she? Quite remarkable, and it’s history- making for other reasons. Martha is one of the first female characters in cinema to use curse words and say ‘Screw You’ and talk back to her husband. In fact, the film broke all censorship barriers, allowing profanity and very adult situations on the big screen for the first time. As a result, Jack Warner single-handedly changed the rating system.”

I didn’t tell Hope this, but I tried to go by myself to the Encino theatre and see this movie, but, as expected, a big sign said you had to be 18 or over or accompanied by an adult. I even knew the girl who worked at the box office. Delia’s best friend, Becky. When I handed Becky my $2.50 cents, she said, "No way, Hask-skull.You gotta be 18." I lied and told her I was definitely eighteen, but she shook her head. “I know how old you are, doofus. Move aside, so I can help the next person in line.”

I turned around, facing the man behind me, figuring it was worth a try. “I’m with him,” I told Becky, but he shook his head, quite adamantly. “No way. Go home, kid.”

“Anyway,” I pat Hope on the knee.” Despite a little misadventure, I want this movie to win. I want it to win badly. I want the movie that changed the censorships laws to rule the night!”

When it came time for this last award, I silence Hope by cutting her a second piece of chocolate cake “Here’s the moment of redemption,” I tell her. “Despite only winning four out of the thirteen Oscars it had been nominated for, it should win the big one. Here it comes!”

Beautiful, thin, sexy, sleek Audrey Hepburn opens the envelope, pauses and leans her head heavenward. “The winner is…” she gasps as her eyes widen. Say it! Say it already. She pauses. “And the winner is A Man of all Seasons.

My jaw drops to my knees. I nearly fall off the couch. “What did she just say?” I throw my hands in the air and scream. “Are you kidding me? There’s no justice in the world!”

Hope rolls her eyes. “Jesus Christ, it’s just a TV show!"

I eventually tuck my cousin under her sheets and like a somnambulant, I drift off into my bedroom and sit on the Lazy Boy chair, arms folded across my chest, staring into space.

How could a boring historical British film beat out Liz and Dick?

When my aunt and uncle return home from the parties, it is nearly three in the morning. I still have my clothes on. My aunt shakes me and tells me to get into my pajamas and crawl into bed.

“What are you still doing up?” She seems frustrated.

“I’m in shock. It was breakthrough film making! Black and white! Star-studded! Edward Albee on film. How could it lose to a movie about a stubborn priest who doesn’t believe in divorce?”

“Sir Thomas Moore was not a priest, per se, and this was a major historical event that changed The Church of England.”

“Still, the Academy should be ashamed of itself!”

My aunt now trucks me in and kisses me on the forehead. “You have to understand The Academy feels that since it’s erased its code of ethics this year, it must atone for its sins. It couldn’t award Virginia Woolf the prize. A domestic war between man and wife. Too real. Too close to home. At least the movie got made.”

“It should have swept the awards,” I mumble.

“I agree, but the Academy members are old. Many of them are church going. And to atone for their sins, the Academy gave the most religious movie ever made an Oscar. That’s just the way things work.”

“Penance?” I ask.

My aunt bends over and now and pinches my cheek. “I hope you’re not coming down with something. If you want, I’ll let you sleep in tomorrow, and you can miss first period.”

Just before my Aunt Sheila leaves the room, I sit up and call her name.

“One last thing. If they ever make a movie about my life someday? There will be no censorship problem. Nothing sinful ever happens to me.”

My aunt lets out a loud almost frightening laugh.

“Oh honey, you’re only 17!” She strolls back to the bed, and leans over me. “So much can and will change in one year. Who knows what naughty things you might be up to?”

Haskell’s Journal is only available in this blog. If you’d like to read Haskell Himself, it will be available wherever books are sold beginning January 19, 2020.]

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