Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears

HarperCollins. Feb. 2023. 608p. ISBN 9780062859013. $35. FILM
Controversy has plagued the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and its Oscar ceremonies for since its inception in 1929, which Schulman (Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep) shares in this entertaining history of America’s oldest major entertainment award. Labor disputes nearly killed the Academy at its birth. Blacklisting was an embarrassment, especially when blacklisted writers won Oscars under assumed names. Award rivalries created bad blood between sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. An independent accounting firm was first brought in to maintain ballot integrity after Bette Davis’s Of Human Bondage performance became the industry’s first Oscar snub; Warner Brothers wasn’t going to allow her to be rewarded for her freelance work at rival RKO. Schulman also examines the Academy’s slowness in recognizing change in the 1960s and ’70s and devotes a long chapter to the slighting of artists of color. But it’s the gossip readers will remember most: the disastrous opening of the 1989 awards ceremonies, with its older stars—Alice Faye, Dorothy Lamour, etc.—moved across stage like mummies; the wrong name read for best picture in 2016; and Will Smith slapping Chris Rock.
VERDICT This lively, gossip-rich account is ideal reading for cineastes.
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