Stuntman, documentarian among early Oscar winners
- Article by: SANDY COHEN
- Associated Press
- November 30, 2012 - 9:41 AM
LOS ANGELES - The honorary Oscar winners at the 4th annual Governors Awards include a stuntman who broke 56 bones during his performing career, a documentarian who has made movies for six decades, the founder of the American Film Institute and a philanthropist who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for arts, education and health-related causes.
Hal Needham, D.A. Pennebaker, George Stevens, Jr., and Jeffrey Katzenberg will accept their Oscar statuettes from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Board of Governors at a private ceremony Saturday at the Hollywood and Highland Center. Clips from untelevised dinner program may be included in the Academy Awards telecast on Feb. 24.
Here's a look at the honorees:
HAL NEEDHAM was behind the wheel of a car flying 30 feet in the air when he realized he'd put too much gunpowder in the cannon he'd used to make the vehicle flip in the 1974 John Wayne film, "McQ." Needham broke his back and punctured a lung when he landed, but still felt his Cannon Turnover invention was a success.
"I just backed the powder way down and it became a real slick way of turning a car over," the 81-year-old said in a recent interview.
The veteran stuntman and inventor, who went on to write and direct action classics including "Smokey and the Bandit," won the academy's Scientific and Engineering Award in 1986 for another of his creations: The Shotmaker Elite, a camera car and crane equipped with its own generator.
"That just goes to show you that you don't have to be the smartest person in the world to figure out what works and what doesn't," he said.
He quit performing stunts when he made "Smokey" in 1977. He regards the film among his proudest achievements. His last film credit was in 1999 for the TV movie "Hard Time: Hostage Hotel."
For the past year, Needham has been traveling the country promoting his memoir, "Stuntman!: My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Death-Defying Hollywood Life."
He said he was "in a little shock" when he learned he'd be receiving an honorary Oscar for his entertainment contributions: "I never figured someone like me, with my background and everything, I didn't figure it would get to this point, but I'm happy it did."
Still, he says stuntmen don't need annual recognition from the Academy Awards, as some have suggested.
"Stuntmen bring a lot to the film industry, especially in action films, but if you start trying to give an Oscar for a stuntman, say he doubled a star, I think that takes away from the star's value," Needham said.
D.A. PENNEBAKER has been making documentaries since 1953, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for 1993's "The War Room," yet he's still overwhelmed when he considers his honorary Oscar.
"It's sort of a cross between a Nobel Prize and being the fourth batter for the New York Yankees," he said in an interview from his home in New York.
The 87-year-old said he's always been "a little uncertain about the idea of films competing or any work of art competing against other works of art," but understands that awards are ultimately good for business.
"Anything you can do to increase the awareness of these (documentaries) — including giving me an Oscar — is probably useful. But in a way it's kind of like giving somebody a moose," he said. "You're not sure what to do with it, but there it is! ... Especially for directors, when you win the Oscar, then the thing sits on your head and says, `What are you going to do next?'
Pennebaker and his wife and partner of 30 years, Chris Hegedus, are currently at work on a project "that some people think is ridiculous and we think is really fantastic" about an attorney who hopes to get an oppressed animal legally declared a person. The maker of the seminal 1967 Bob Dylan film "Don't Look Back" is also considering a future music project with the band Yo La Tengo.
GEORGE STEVENS, JR., was 11 years old when he attended his first Academy Awards, and he wasn't too happy about it.
"I gave up a very important twilight double-header that the Hollywood Stars baseball team was playing because my mother told me that I was going to accept some award" if his father, director George Stevens, won for 1943's "The More the Merrier." "Casablanca" won instead.
The younger Stevens' second trip to the Oscars was better: He was with his dad, who won for directing 1951's "A Place in the Sun."
"Driving home, the Oscar was on the seat between us, and I was young and quite excited," Stevens, 80, recalled. "(My father) looked over and smiled and said, `We'll have a better idea of what kind of film this is in about 25 years.' And that affected my life. What he was talking about was the test of time."
Stevens went on to dedicate his career to honoring and preserving just such timeless projects, helping establish the American Film Institute in 1967 and the Kennedy Center Honors 10 years later. He continues to produce the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, a job he now shares with his son, Michael. But Stevens remains so dedicated to the task that he's flying to Los Angeles for a few hours to accept his Oscar, then immediately jetting back to Washington, D.C. to put on the Honors program the next day.
"I'm thrilled that the board of governors chose me, in part because I have so many shared values with the board of governors and the academy in terms of films of quality and film preservation and training opportunities for new filmmakers," Stevens said. "That makes it especially pleasing."
Stevens, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his own 1963 documentary short, also continues to make movies. He and his son are working on a documentary about Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Herblock.
JEFFREY KATZENBERG says he doesn't really deserve the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the academy's recognition of philanthropic contributions.
"The only thing I did was ask everybody else, and they're the ones who did it," the 61-year-old DreamWorks Animation chief said in an interview, humbly downplaying the more than $200 million he's helped raise as chairman of the Motion Picture and Television Fund and the millions more of his own money he's given to support arts, education and health care.
"I feel as though this is their award," he said, "and I feel like I'm accepting it on behalf of my own community here because they are the ones that have responded and allowed me to succeed in supporting all these great charities."
Katzenberg first learned about being charitable from his parents, whom he described as "generous givers." As a young professional, he followed the examples set by Lew and Edie Wasserman, who introduced him to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, and lifelong philanthropist Kirk Douglas, whom Katzenberg characterized as "a great inspiration."
"He's one of the most generous people I know, and I asked him why he did it," Katzenberg recalled. "He said, `You haven't learned how to live until you learn how to give.' And when those words come from Spartacus, you listen."
Katzenberg was nominated for an Oscar as a producer of 2002's "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," but says his proudest moments have stemmed from giving.
"The most moving and most tragic and, in a way, most rewarding for me personally was after 9-11, we had this amazing telethon where all of the talent of movie and television and music industries came together and did this unprecedented two-hour live concert," he said.
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APSandy.
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