‘Bringing Up Oscar’ details bios of Academy’s founders
With all the hype, glamour, opulent wealth and sunny self-congratulations surrounding each year’s Academy Awards presentations, it’s strange to think back to a time when the movie business was a loose assortment of slightly disreputable hustlers scrambling to give their fledgling industry a gloss of respectability and prestige.
That’s just the colorful and deliciously seedy backstory that emerges from “Bringing Up Oscar: The Story of the Men & Women Who Founded the Academy” (Pegasus, $27.95), author Debra Ann Pawlak’s rambling and anecdote-filled history of the motley pioneers, hucksters and dreamers who built the movie industry into a pop-culture dynamo and gave birth to the little golden statuette called Oscar.
Essentially, Pawlak’s book is a 384-page, copiously detailed historical survey
cataloging the lives and careers of the 34 men and two women who in January 1927 were summoned by MGM founder Louis B. Mayer to an industry gathering that led to the establishment of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.
At a pivotal moment in Hollywood history – when Prohibition and the Depression were creating great uncertainty and when movie-star extravagance, murders and drug scandals threatened to forever taint the infant industry’s reputation – Mayer and others agreed on the need for an organization to promote and uphold film as a high art, as well as a profitable business. Hence, the gathering of founders.
A colorful gathering it was, indeed, including a retinue of one-time cowboys, vaudevillians, prospectors and even junk dealers who were in on the ground floor of the prospering motion picture business. Some of the movers were already household names (Cecil B. DeMille, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks) and some were cantankerous usurpers with shaky histories (Harry M. Warner, who ran a bicycle shop before producing the breakthrough “talkie” titled “The Jazz Singer,” and Joseph M. Schenck, who did jail time before going on to discover Marilyn Monroe).
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