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Oscar’s ‘In Memoriam’ montage has become a political hot potato

Dennis King Modified: February 28, 2014 at 9:55 am •  Published: February 28, 2014
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Peter O'Toole
Peter O'Toole

When the Oscar ceremonies air this Sunday night, a weepy few moments will be set aside to pay brief tribute to Hollywood luminaries who have died in the past year.

Since 1994, a short obituary segment – usually labeled “In Memoriam” and accompanied by a sentimental song (such as the version of “Smile” performed by Celine Dion during the 2011 broadcast) – has aired each year about midway through the glitzy, self-congratulatory party.

But with tight time constraints, not every deceased movie notable – or even every departed Academy member – can be included. And so inclusion in the “In Memoriam” montage, mainly featuring actors but including other behind-the-scenes notables, has become a hotly contested honor. So politicking for Oscar’s attention continues even after death.

In recent years, some significant exclusions have raised the hackles of more than a few Hollywood insiders, caused some famous hurt feelings, and upped the stakes of the obituary game.

Shirley Temple Black
Shirley Temple Black

In 2012, actor Harry Morgan, known chiefly for TV work on “Dragnet” and “MASH” but also with more than 100 film credits to his name, was left out of the Oscar-night memorial while several lesser-known technical personnel were included. It caused quite a furor.

In 2009, the B-movie actress Maila Nurmi (a.k.a. Vampira of Ed Wood’s famously mocked “Plan 9 From Outer Space”) was memorialized, while the great Eartha Kitt, with 67 acting credits, was ignored. Added to slights of previous years – which included actors Corey Haim, Farrah Fawcett, Bea Arthur and Peter Graves – the political implications of inclusion on or exclusion from the memorial list have made it a closely watched feature of each Oscar broadcast.

This year, handicappers might be inclined to place potential candidates in three categories. Call it the “In Memoriam” odds sheet, and here it is:

Sure bets: monumental actor Peter O’Toole, beloved child star Shirley Temple Black, former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, the widely respected James Gandolfini, the tragically flawed Phillip Seymour Hoffman and actor-director-writer-Ghostbuster Harold Ramis.

Annette Funicello
Annette Funicello

Good bets: Visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, old Hollywood actresses Eleanor Parker, Esther Williams, Joan Fontaine, Julie Harris and Jean Stapleton, plus Eileen Brennan, Karen Black and Paul Walker, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert.

Outside shots: actors Michael Ansara, Conrad Bain, Dennis Farina, Steve Forrest, Milo O’Shea, Cory Monteith and Bonnie Franklin; screenwriters Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Elmore Leonard; directors Hal Needham, Antonia Bird and Les Blank, and

producer Saul Zaentz.

R.I.P.

- Dennis King