On Thursday, the motion picture academy announced this year’s recipients of the Governors’ Awards. Director Spike Lee and actress Gena Rowlands are to receive honorary Oscars while actress Debbie Reynolds will get the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award. This trio of talents will be feted in a non-televised event on Nov. 14 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.
The selection process was fairly straightforward. Any of the 51 members of the board of governors can put forward a name. Honorees must receive support from at least half of those on the board. While the usual limit is three honorees, there have been four honorees every year but one (2011) since these awards began in 2009. For a fourth to be named this year, he or she would have needed to garner two-thirds of the votes.
We had asked our readers for their top choice from a roster of 10 previous Oscar nominees. By a wide margin, they went with Doris Day. This screen legend 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 is also a worthy choice for the Hersholt humanitarian award, which was given out for an unprecedented fourth year in a row in 2014.
Reynolds was in a distant second place with our readers. As with Day, she contended for Best Actress once (“The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” 1964) in a career that stretches back to the late 1940s. Still going strong at age 83, Reynolds has proven to be unsinkable herself. Since the early 1970s, she has worked tirelessly to preserve costumes and memorabilia from the golden age of studio moviemaking. Reynolds was honored by SAG with a lifetime achievement award in January.
Rowlands earned Best Actress Oscar nominations for appearances in two of the 10 films she made with her husband John Cassavettes: “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974) and “Gloria” (1980). This four-time Emmy winner continues to work and was top-billed in last year’s “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.”
Lee, a quadruple threat as writer/director/producer/actor, has been nominated for two Oscars in his career: for the Original Screenplay to his breakout film “Do the Right Thing” in 1980 and for Best Documentary Feature for “4 Little Girls” in 1998.
Since the academy shifted these honorary kudos from the telecast to a separate non-televised ceremony six years ago, they have celebrated 23 people:
In 2009, honorary Oscars went to actress Lauren Bacall, cinematographer Gordon Willis and producer Roger Corman while studio executive John Calley received the Irving 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 actors Steve Martin and Angela Lansbury as well as costume designer Piero Tosi while actress/director Angelina Jolie was feted with the Hersholt; and
Last year, actress Maureen O’Hara, animator Hayao Miyazaki and writer Jean-Claude Carrière got honorary Oscars while actor/singer Harry Belafonte got the Hersholt.
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