Saturday, February 23, 2013

Academy Award Writing Trivia

     Today I’m putting out a rare post that has something to do with writing.  Since the big night is tomorrow, this is coming in just under the wire.

1)      Frances Marion (born Marion Benson Owens) was the first woman to win an adapted screenplay Oscar (defined as a screenplay based on a previously published work) way back in 1930, as she shared the credit for “The Big House.”  Ms. Marion was also one of the more productive scribes, as she totaled 300 screenplays, of which 130 were filmed.
2)      Larry McMurtry holds a weird screenwriting distinction.  To date he’s the only person who both adapted another person’s work, and won (for 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain,” based on Annie Proulx’s book), and had someone else win the Oscar while adapting his own book (as James L. Brooks did in 1983 adapting McMurtry’s “Terms of Endearment.”
3)      Emma Thompson is the only person to both win an Oscar for acting (Best Actress for 1992’s “Howard’s End”*) and for writing (For adapting 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility,” from the Jane Austen book.)  Several others were close, though. Among them was Billy Bob Thorton, who won for adapting 1996’s “Slingblade,” while being nominated for Best Actor for the same movie, and was nominated again for Best Supporting Actor for 1998’s “A Simple Plan.”  Alec Guinness won Best Actor for 1957’s “Bridge on the River Kwai” and was nominated for adapting 1958’s “The Horse’s Mouth.”  Ruth Gordon (the old lady from “Harold and Maude” and those two movies when Clint Eastwood costarred with an orangutan) won Best Supporting Actress for 1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and was nominated (with her husband) three times for Best Original Screenplay for 1947’s “A Double Life,” 1949’s “Adam’s Rib,” and 1952’s “Pat and Mike”  John Huston was nominated 7 times for Adapted or Original Screenplay (winning for 1949’s “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”) and nominated once for Best Supporting Actor for 1964’s “The Cardinal.”  He also was nominated 5 times for Best Director, and won once (again for “Sierra Madre.”)
4)      It’s not uncommon for Oscar nominees to adapt their own plays or musicals for the screen, but it’s much rarer for authors to adapt their own novels.  And of these, most of them work with someone else, usually the director, to finish the screenplay.  To date, only three people have adapted their own books, by themselves, and won the Academy Award.  William Peter Blatty, for 1973’s “The Exorcist,” Michael Blake, for 1990’s “Dances With Wolves,” and John Irving for 1999’s “The Cider House Rules.”  James Kennaway, for 1960’s “Tunes of Glory,” Michael Tolkien, for 1992’s “The Player,” and Scott Smith, for 1998’s “A Simple Plan,” came close, but were only nominated.  You could also make a case for Nicholas Meyer for 1976’s nominated “The Seven-Per Cent Solution,” but he was using Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters.  Finally, Pierre Boulle was credited with the win for adapting 1957’s “Bridge on the River Kwai,” from his own novel, but Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman actually wrote the screenplay, Boulle was just the front during the Red Scare days.
5)      Back in the very early days of the Awards, there were different rules for numbers of nominees.  In 1928-1929, there were 11 nominees, of which 4 were written by one man, Elliot J. Clawson (“The Cop,” “The Leatherneck,” “Sal of Singapore,” and “Skyscraper.”)  Even with all these chances, though, he didn’t win.
6)      As far as I can tell (and please let me know if I’m incorrect), only one graphic novel has been nominated for an Oscar, 2001’s “Ghost World,” (novel by Daniel Clowes, screenplay by Clowes and Terry Zwigoff).
7)      Woody Allen holds the record for most writing nominations, and it’s not even close.  He was nominated 15 times, all for original screenplays.  He also holds the record for most wins, with 3.  Additionally, he was nominated as Director 7 times (1 win), and for Best Actor once (didn’t win).  So he qualifies as an almost for #3 on this chart, too.
8)      1995’s “Toy Story” holds the record for most writers for a nominated screenplay.  It took 7 writers, including Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Joe Renft.
9)      Mario Puzo actually got two adapted screenplay Oscars (with Francis Ford Coppola) for one book, since “The Godfather” was used for 1972’s movie of the same name, and partially for 1974’s “Godfather 2,” (which also required some new material).
10)  Finally, and this may be my favorite bit of trivia, a non-existent person once received a nomination.  In 2002’s “Adaptation,” a meta-tale of Charlie Kaufman adapting a book into a screenplay, one of the main characters is Charlie’s twin brother, Donald.  The actual screenplay is credited to both.  Only Charlie actually exists.

* At the risk of being juvenile, this had to also be one of the easiest, if not the easiest movie titles to turn into its porn parody name, with absolutely no changes necessary.   

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