Plotting the Oscars
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 23 Mar 99 11:39:27 -0800
Subject: Plotting the Oscars
Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: Michael Preston <MichaelP@newvisions.org>
From: Greg Olear <Greg_Olear@ap.org>
There is a controversy swirling about the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion.
Bigger than ubersnitch Elia Kazan walking away with a lifetime achievement
award. Bigger than Meryl Streep being nominated for Best Actress even
though she wasn't in any movies last year. Bigger than the Academy
graciously allowing TWO people of color to attend the awards this year.
I allude, of course, to the Great Imposter, the Milli Vanilli of Tinseltown,
who dove into the ocean of love with the Best Actor Oscar. See, Roberto
Benigni doesn't really exist. Nor did he write or direct the holocaust
comedy "Life is Beautiful." The whole thing is as fake as those gaudy set
pieces or Sophia Loren's chin.
Benigni was created by the studio collective, who saw a need for a misfit
actor everyone could love. Explains Academy doyen Jack Velenti, "We wanted
a guy who made everyone happy, made everyone laud the beauty of life. A
bunch of sat around kicking out names: Frank Feelgood, Donald Dulcet, Larry
Love. And then someone blurted out 'Bob Benign.' Which is a ridiculous
name...until you make it Italian!"
To create their lovable actor, the collective rejected many ethic
stereotypes that have been well-represented in films during Oscar's 71
years--the sweet Southerner, the prudish Brit, the free-loving
Frenchman--before Velenti, inspired by the Toto character in Preston
Sturges' screwball comedy "The Palm Beach Story," suggested they make Bob
Benign your stereotypical effusive Italiano. Roberto Benigni was born.
"There was a push to make Bob Benign black," added Velenti, "or a woman.
But I said, to hell with that. We already have Whoopi hosting the damn
show. The American people can only stand so much diversity."
And so it was that Nick Nolte was beat out for Best Actor by a gushing
character eerily reminiscent of the one he himself played in "Lorenzo's
Oil." Almost as ironic as Anne Heche's mike dying during the presentation
of the technology award.
"I was robbed," Nolte groused.
Coming up with a worthy script and directing the picture were a bit more
difficult--but not much. "Thanks to Kazan, many excellent scripts of the
50s never saw the light of day. We found one by a blacklisted screenwriter
who died of alcoholism in Rome. It was called 'Life is Miserable.' We
changed the title, slapped on a more poignent ending, got Roman Polanski to
direct it, and the rest is Hollywood history."
To make their creation as lovable as possible, the collective told
Benigni--who in real life is Munson Magruder, the founding member of the
San Jose Dinner Theatre Players--to laugh uproariously even when they did
the homage to the dead, to gesticulate wildly and speak broken English
during the acceptance speeches, and to freak out award presenter Helen Hunt.
Never mind Kazan not apologizing. Never mind that three of this year's Best
Actress nominees played an old virgin queen, a young virgin queen, and a
man. Never mind Chris Rock being allowed in the building. Pulling off the
Benigni stunt was--aside from Miramax's marketing department causing the
biggest swing in an election since Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but
lost in electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877--the night's biggest
"I'd say we should give Magruder an Oscar for pulling it off," adds Velenti.
"But we already did."
© 1999 Peter Langston