Bridging the Generation Gap at the Oscars

Bridging the Generation Gap at the Oscars

On April 14, 1969, Gregory Peck strode across a deserted hall of Los Angeles’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion like a weary cowboy crossing a prairie. Two years prior, he had been elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His job was to introduce forty-one Academy Awards. Peck, who was seated in the atrium’s mirrored staircase, looked around and raised his voice to announce his decision. “It’s kind of lonesome out here. The audience is already on the inside.”

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The studio musicals were the most nominated films of the year. “Oliver!”And “Funny Girl,”Barbra Streisand (26 years old) was the star of the show and arrived at the ceremony wearing a see through pants suit. Peck hired Gower Champion, a stage director, to make the Oscar broadcast more streamlined. Bob Hope was replaced by Gower Champion, who shared hosting duties. “Oscar’s best friends,”Ingrid Bergman (with Sidney Poitier and Burt Lancaster), Jane Fonda (with her short hair waved to support her role in the youth markets) are just a few of them. “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

Bergman opened the Best Actress envelopeShe discovered a shocker: Streisand had gotten together with Katharine Hpburn, for “The Lion in Winter.”Streisand didn’t have the chance to be upstaged by Hepburn because she was absent. She squeaked at her statuette. “Hello, gorgeous!” “Oliver!”Five awards. The M.P.A.A. established five awards a few months earlier. The M.P.A.A. had established a new rating system to replace the old Production Code that had been in place for three and a quarter decades. “Oliver!”It was rated as G, which signifies that it is safe for children to enjoy. “general audiences,”They were who they were. But a closer look revealed another Hollywood—and a more unconventional kind of movie—clawing at the gates. “Rosemary’s Baby”The screenplay by Roman Polanski and Ruth Gordon’s performance as Best Supporting Actress were the only reasons it was nominated. Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” had managed four nominations, Best Picture not among them, and won for special effects—the only Oscar that Kubrick would ever receive. And sitting next to Streisand was her estranged husband, the little-known Elliott Gould, wearing the droopy mustache he had grown for Robert Altman’s “M*A*S*H.”

After the awards, congratulations on a smashing show poured into Peck’s Academy mailbox (along with a few complaints that it was “too far out”). “At a time when the morals within movies are being pushed to the outer edges of chaos,”Vincent Canby wrote the TimesAwards for films such as “Oliver!” “reassure everyone in the industry that all is well, that Hollywood really isn’t some giant bordello that’s about to be raided.”

He spoke too quickly. One year later, Gould would be nominated to direct a movie about husband-swapping. Fonda would stand up on the red carpet and Fonda would wear hippie garb. The Best Picture winner would be rated X.

Barbra Streisand’s pantsuit caused a stir at the Forty-first Academy Awards.Photograph by Ron Galella/Getty 

Photograph by Bettmann / Getty

The Academy arrived later than Hollywood, even though it arrived late in the Sixties. “The Graduate”And “Bonnie and Clyde”Both won the Best Picture Cut in 1968, but both were defeated by the Sidney Poitier drama “In the Heat of the Night,” one of Hollywood’s belated acknowledgments of the civil-rights movement. The Paramount executive Peter Bart, 36 years old, watched the events unfold. “Rosemary’s Baby”Lose the adapted-screenplay prize “The Lion in Winter.” “I was by far the youngest person in the audience,”He said. The award ceremony was scheduled for the veiller of the forty-first. TimesThe Academy’s bizarre membership process was mocked “a trying ritual that rivals finding a cheap apartment in Manhattan,”It is worth noting that the three-thousand-odd votes body was “heavily weighted with older people, many of whom are no longer very active in the film business.”The nominations proved this point. As VarietyThe following observations were made: “Over-50 demographic age characteristics of Academy members was brought sharply home with lack of a best picture nomination for ‘2001,’ this year’s youth fave.”

If anyone could bring the Academy out from obsolescence they would reincarnate it like “2001” ’s Star Child, it would have to be someone who understood what the sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll generation was looking for. Gregory Peck, a square-jawed, fifty-three-year old man most Americans thought of as their Dad, was appointed to the job.

Peck, a former rower and a man of impeccable looks, arrived in Hollywood in 1943. Although he could be rigid to the point where he seemed stiff, his strength was appealing because of the dearth of leading men in Hollywood during World War II. He was nominated three times for Best Actor in the nineteen-forties. “The Keys of the Kingdom,” “The Yearling,”And “Gentleman’s Agreement,”This film won Best Picture. He played a Gentile journalist pretending to be Jewish in order to expose antisemitism. This role was in keeping with his offscreen liberalism. He was nominated for the war drama in 1950 for the fourth time. “Twelve O’Clock High.”He was a man of principle who is reasonable on screen and off. But it wasn’t until he was forty-six that he found the role that burnished his legend: Atticus Finch, in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”Atticus, a man behind round spectacles, was the citizen hero, gentle father, and fair-minded dissident. “In that film,”Harper Lee stated, “the man and the part met.”

Lee gave Peck a necklace and watch made of gold that belonged to her father, the model for Atticus. He carried it to the Academy Awards on April 8, 1963 where he finally received the award. won Best Actor. Peck was able to assume a new role of civic leader because of the moral glow of Atticus. The next year, he was elected to the Academy’s board of governors. Unlike Ronald Reagan, Peck declined to run for political office, instead becoming Hollywood’s unofficial mayor—Reagan’s liberal shadow. He was elected president of the Academy in June 1967.

Peck’s role as Hollywood’s liberal ambassador came at a cost to his acting career. Lyndon Johnson conferred the Presidential Medal of Freedom on him in 1969’s first month. “humanitarian to whom Americans are deeply indebted.” Three days later, Vincent Canby panned Peck’s new film, “The Stalking Moon,” writing, “Peck is so grave and earnest it seems he must be thinking about his duties on the board of the American Film Institute, rather than on survival.”Children as young as eleven years old in 1962, when Peck was first seen as Atticus Finch by Peck, were now burning draft cards. They didn’t want a father figure; they wanted rebellion.

Peck wasn’t blind to the sea change. “Film turns young people on like nothing else,”He said that predicting an earthquake in 1968 was impossible. “American New Wave,”Mike Nichols, Francis Ford Coppola and others brought it about. It was not clear where Peck would fit in this future. He split his time between a Brentwood house and a South of France home, preferring Trollope to Philip Roth.

Peck entered 1969 with a different direction in mind. Stephen, Stephen’s son, had received his draft certificate and joined the Marine Corps. “He was very patriotic, my dad, even though he was against the war,” Stephen recalled. “He stoically said, ‘Well, you gotta do what you gotta do.’ And off I went.” In the spring of 1969, Stephen shipped out to Da Nang, where his father sent him boxes of Dickens and Brontë.

Peck was an instructor at the Academy and was responsible for putting out fires. He had been awarded. “some bruising comments”He wrote to a close friend about the Oscar Telecast. “especially about Barbra Streisand’s derriere.”The ratings slump was despite repeated attempts to spice up the broadcast. As in the recent years, when the #OscarsSoWhite scandal cast a harsh light on the Academy’s sclerosis, the swiftly changing times were rendering the Oscars irrelevant. Peck had to do something bold in order to bring the Academy up-to-date. Peck had already ordered a study of the membership rolls with the idea to demot administrators and P.R. People to non-voting status. Then, he received a push from an unlikely source: Candice Bergen (22 years old).

Candice Bergen at Truman Capote’s 1966 Black and White Ball at the Plaza, with a mink bunny mask by Halston.Photograph by Elliott Erwitt/ Magnum

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After nearly two years of jet-setting, Bergen returned to Los Angeles in 1967. She made films in France, Greece, went along on pheasant shoots and liaised with an Austrian count. With her sculpted beauty, she resembled a Nordic deity with her silky blonde hair and elegantly flared nostrils. Her wardrobe was stocked with Dior and Hermès, and her style fell somewhere between Holly Golightly and Princess Grace.

The L.A. she returned to was not identifiable. “Men in page-boy haircuts preened, ruffled and jeweled, lurching in high-heeled buckled boots, fashionably foppish,”She wrote her memoir “Knock Wood,” “while women’s heads were shorn: they were more eyelashes than hair, peering out from under the spiky black thatch shading each eye and trying to look like Twiggy, their patron saint.” In New York, Bergen had attended Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball at the Plaza, wearing a mink bunny mask loaned to her by Halston. As she moved through the crowd, a Women’s Wear Daily reporter asked her: Wasn’t it inappropriate to be hobnobbing at a ball while war was raging in Vietnam?

“Oh, honestly,”Bergen sniffed her bunny ears.

She was back in Los Angeles and sent out invitations for her twenty first birthday. “mourn the passing of my youth”Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant were among the guests. This was her world: it was the world of her father, Edgar Bergen, a ventriloquist whose fame had come from his top-hatted wooden alter ego Charlie McCarthy. Candice was born in 1946. “Charlie’s sister.” In her father’s office, she would gaze at his special Oscar, awarded in 1938—made of wood, with a movable mouth.

Candy was now a Revlon model, and a star of “The Group,” the film Sidney Lumet made from the Mary McCarthy novel, her fame eclipsed Edgar’s—the “father of Charlie McCarthy”It was the “father of Candice Bergen.”He was now prehistoric in the sixties. Charlie and Edgar were forced to perform at county fairs. But it wasn’t as if Candy were especially up with the times. “Evidently the Sweet Bird of Youth had passed me by like a Boeing,”She recalled, “and I found myself, at twenty-one, peering at the generation gap like a tourist—from the far side.”

Bergen was dressed in Dior lounge pajamas and went to Benedict Canyon party one night. The house smelled like burning sandalwood. Janis Joplin’s voice blasted from the sound system. The women wore moccasins, the men had shaggy hair and were covered in beads and bells. “People were sitting and passing a joint and listening to the music,”She told me: “and I’m there with my crocodile bag and my little kitten heels. It was just, like, where am I?”

Bergen, confused, found Terry Melcher, his host. Doris Day’s son, Melcher had been Bergen’s first love when she was sixteen and he was a college dropout in Italian loafers. Melcher wore jeans, an Indian shirt, and his hair down to the shoulders five years later. He worked at Columbia Records, which placed him at the center of the California rock scene: he produced the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” and played on the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” “You seem so old,” Melcher told Bergen. “Don’t you miss being a kid?”

Candice Bergen, and Terry Melcher in 1968.Murphy George Photography / Daily Herald Mirrorpix Getty 

They were again married. They rode motorcycles through the mountains and she tried her best to fit in with his hippie circle which included John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. “I was beyond straight,”She recalled. “No number of robes and beads, no amount of dope was going to change that, though God knows I tried.” She moved into Melcher’s house in Benedict Canyon, where the party had been: 10050 Cielo Drive.

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