Sorry, Doris Day: Honorary Oscars go to Maureen O’Hara, Harry Belafonte

The motion picture academy announced Thursday that actor/singer Harry Belafonte will receive the Hersholt humanitarian prize at the upcoming Governors Awards while actress Maureen O’Hara, animator Hayao Miyazaki and writer Jean-Claude Carrière will all get honorary Oscars. This year’s ceremony will take place on Nov. 8 in the Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland. The timing is such that many of this year’s hottest Oscar prospects will attend to glad-hand voters. (Chris Beachum and I discuss the merits of the process and the four honorees in a video embedded at the bottom of this post.)

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Miyazaki and Carriere are already Oscar champs, with the former winning in 2002 for “Spirited Away” and Carrière sharing in a win with Pierre Étaix for the Live Action Short “Heureux Anniversaire (Happy Anniversary)” back in 1962. Neither Belafonte nor O’Hara were ever nominated for an Academy Award. 

While screen legend O’Hara will be a popular choice, she may have bumped out your top pick for the honor — Doris Day. Once again, the board of governors snubbed this screen legend who topped the box office list for four years (1960, 1962 – 1964) and was a one-time Oscar nominee (“Pillow Talk,” 1959). With all the work she has done over the years as an animal advocate, she also would have been a worthy choice for the Hersholt, which is being given out for an unprecedented fourth year in a row. 

The selection process is fairly straightforward. Members of the board put forth suggestions, with each of the top choices then voted on individually. Honorees must receive support from at least half of those on the board. The usual limit is three honorees. For a fourth person to be named, he or she needs to garner two-thirds of the votes; this has happened every year since 2009 but for 2011. 

Since the academy shifted these kudos from the telecast to a separate non-televised ceremony five years ago, they have feted 19 people. 

In 2009, honorary Oscars went to actress Lauren Bacall, cinematographer Gordon Willis and producer Roger Corman while studio executive John Calley received the Thalberg Award.

In 2010, honorary Oscars were bestowed on actor Eli Wallach, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and film historian Kevin Brownlow while Francis Ford Coppola was given the Thalberg.

In 2011, honorary Oscars were awarded to actor James Earl Jones and makeup pioneer Dick Smith while TV personaility Oprah Winfrey was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

In 2012, the academy snubbed on-screen talent entirely with honorary Oscars going to stuntman turned director Hal Needham, documentarian D.A. Pennebaker and director/producer George Stevens, Jr. while studio exec Jeffrey Katzenberg received the Hersholt. 

In 2013, honorary Oscars went to actor/writer Steve Martin, actress Angela Lansbury and costumer Piero Tosi with Angelina Jolie getting the Hersholt. 

From the Academy press release:

Carrière, who began his career as a novelist, was introduced to screenwriting by French comedian and filmmaker Pierre Étaix, with whom he shared an Oscar for the live action short subject “Heureux Anniversaire (Happy Anniversary)” in 1962.  He received two more nominations during his nearly two-decade collaboration with director Luis Buñuel, for the screenplays for “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” and “That Obscure Object of Desire.”  Carrière also has collaborated notably with such directors as Volker Schlöndorff (“The Tin Drum”), Jean-Luc Godard (“Every Man for Himself”) and Andrzej Wajda (“Danton”).  He earned a fourth Oscar nomination for “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” with director Philip Kaufman.

Miyazaki is an artist, writer, director, producer and three-time Oscar nominee in the Animated Feature Film category, winning in 2002 for “Spirited Away.”  His other nominations were for “Howl’s Moving Castle” in 2005 and “The Wind Rises” last year.  Miyazaki gained an enormous following in his native Japan for such features as “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” “Laputa: Castle in the Sky,” “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” before breaking out internationally in the late 1990s with “Princess Mononoke.”  He is the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, a renowned animation studio based in Tokyo.

O’Hara, a native of Dublin, Ireland, came to Hollywood in 1939 to star opposite Charles Laughton in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”  She went on to appear in a wide range of feature films, including the swashbucklers “The Black Swan” and “Sinbad the Sailor,” the dramas “This Land Is Mine” and “A Woman’s Secret,” the family classics “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Parent Trap,” the spy comedy “Our Man in Havana” and numerous Westerns.  She was a favorite of director John Ford, who cast her in five of his films, including “How Green Was My Valley,” “Rio Grande” and “The Quiet Man.”

An actor, producer, singer and lifelong activist, Belafonte began performing in theaters and nightclubs in and around Harlem, where he was born.  From the beginning of his film career, he chose projects that shed needed light on racism and inequality, including “Carmen Jones,” “Odds against Tomorrow” and “The World, the Flesh and the Devil.”  He was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, marching and organizing alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and often funding initiatives with his entertainment income.  Belafonte was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1987 and currently serves on the boards of the Advancement Project and the Institute for Policy Studies.  His work on behalf of children, education, famine relief, AIDS awareness and civil rights has taken him all over the world.

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