You would expect that an awards show filled with people who work in the entertainment industry would be a fairly professional event, one in which speeches are read with a modicum of stumbling mistakes, names are pronounced properly and audiences behave reasonably well. But if you’ve been following my ‘Dopey Oscar Moments’ posts of the last week and a half, you would know this to be untrue.
As proof that the Academy Awards were always capable of weirdly awkward encounters and pathetically inept off-script improves, I’ve posted above an ‘outtakes reel’ of the 1936 Oscars, with George Jessel presenting a handful of the winners with their statues. What on earth was this made for? There is no audience present except for the annoyed offscreen director so my guess is that, in the days before the nationwide Oscar telecast (first televised show was in 1953), these little mock-presentations were intended for the newsreel’s coverage of the distant Hollywood event. Jessel, who was so celebrated for his emcee talents that he was known as the ‘Toastmaster General’ in Hollywood, is possibly the worst presenter in the history of the awards. He screws up literally every name–both people and movies–and looks profoundly uncomfortable, like a distant cousin who’s been called in late to substitute for the magician at your nephew’s birthday party. He calls ‘Mr. Deeds Goes To Town’ ‘Mr. Deeds Comes to Town’, provoking an impatient Frank Capra to call for a retake; pronounces Paul Muni’s name ‘Mooney’ (Muni responds by referring to himself derisively as ‘Mooney’); Luise Rainer’s name comes out as ‘Ray-e-nier’; and the Academy is referred to by a variety of scrambled combinations (Science and Art, Art and Films, Academy Of Arts etc.) At the end, Louis B. Mayer is presented with the best picture award for ‘The Great Ziegfeld’, alongside the film’s producer Hunt Stromberg (who Mayer simply refers to as ‘Stromberg’–I can hear Mayer in his office demanding of his secretary “Get Stromberg in here quick! And where’s my Chicken soup?”) and the film’s director Robert Z. Leonard, who plays nervously with a cocktail glass that has been inadvertently left on the table for some reason. The whole thing has an air of nobody wanting to be there and Jessel, stiff and clumsy, must have seen his hopes for a screen career melting away as the impatient honorees watch in dismay at his bird-flapping-in-the-wind performance. Oh brother, where art thou Bob Hope?