Monday, March 25, 2013

This Week in Television History: March 2013 PART IV

Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:

As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

March 25, 1983
Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever aired. 
Technically, the 25th anniversary of Motown Records should have been celebrated nine months later, in January 1984, but that was only one of several details glossed over in staging the landmark television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. Filmed before a rapturous live audience on March 25, 1983, the Motown 25 special is perhaps best remembered for Michael Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean," which brought the house down and introduced much of the world to the "moonwalk." There were other great performances that night, too, but there were also moments that revealed cracks in the joyous-reunion image that Motown chief Berry Gordy sought to portray.
The most glaring breakdown in decorum came during what could have been the evening's greatest triumph: the reunion of Diana Ross and the Supremes. When Ross, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong performed together that night for the first time in 13 years, they took to the stage with something closer to 20 years' worth of unresolved resentment among them. Early in their performance of "Someday We'll Be Together," as Diana slowly moved upstage, Mary and Cindy had the audacity to keep stride alongside her. Diana turned around and angrily pushed Mary back—a move that was carefully edited out of the later broadcast but which prompted Smokey Robinson and others to take the stage and form an impromptu chorus/demilitarized zone between the warring Supremes.
The "Battle of the Bands" medley between the Temptations and the Four Tops was a much bigger creative success, though the biggest individual names in the Temptations—Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin—were absent due to squabbling within the group, leaving Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams as the only original Temptations on stage that night. Also missing from the stage that night was a man whose name was then unfamiliar to all but the most obsessive Motown fans, but whose contribution to the label's success was monumental. The late James Jamerson, whose bass guitar formed the foundation of almost every great Motown record of the 1960s, was in the building that night, but as a paying member of the audience seated in the back rows. His own troubles with alcohol abuse played a part in his estrangement from the Motown "family," but so did a decades-long history of what he and fellow members of the Funk Brothers—the Motown backing band—felt was a lack of appreciation and respect for their role in creating the famous Motown sound.

March 27, 1973
Marlon Brando declines Best Actor Oscar.  
Marlon Brando declines the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Godfather. The Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather attended the ceremony in Brando’s place, stating that the actor “very regretfully” could not accept the award, as he was protesting Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans in film.
Now revered by many as the greatest actor of his generation, Brando earned his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the brutish Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). The role was a reprisal of Brando’s incendiary performance in the 1947 stage production of Tennessee Williams’ play, which first brought him to the public’s attention. Nominated again for roles in Viva Zapata! (1952) and Julius Caesar (1953), he won his first Academy Award for On the Waterfront (1954).
Brando’s career went into decline in the 1960s, with expensive flops such as One-Eyed Jacks (1961), which he also directed, and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962). Aside from his preternatural talent, the actor had become notorious for his moodiness and demanding on-set behavior, as well as his tumultuous off-screen life. Francis Ford Coppola, the young director of The Godfather, had to fight to get him cast in the coveted role of Vito Corleone. Brando won the role only after undergoing a screen test and cutting his fee to $250,000--far less than what he had commanded a decade earlier. With one of the most memorable screen performances of all time, Brando rejuvenated his career, and The Godfather became an almost-immediate classic.
On the eve of the 1972 Oscars, Brando announced that he would boycott the ceremony, and would send Littlefeather in his place. After Brando’s name was announced as Best Actor, the presenter Roger Moore (star of several James Bond films) attempted to hand the Oscar to Littlefeather, but she brushed it aside, saying that Brando could not accept the award. Littlefeather read a portion of a lengthy statement Brando had written, the entirety of which was later published in the press, including The New York Times. “The motion picture community has been as responsible as any,” Brando wrote, “for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil.”
Brando had been involved in social causes for years, speaking publicly in support of the formation of a Jewish state in the 1940s, as well as for African-American civil rights and the Black Panther Party. His Oscar statement expressed support for the American Indian Movement (AIM) and referenced the ongoing situation at Wounded Knee, the South Dakota town that had been seized by AIM members the previous month and was currently under siege by U.S. military forces. Wounded Knee had also been the site of a massacre of Native Americans by U.S. government forces in 1890.
Brando was the second performer to turn down a Best Actor Oscar; the first was George C. Scott, who politely declined to accept his award for Patton in 1971 and reportedly said of the Academy Awards hoopla: “I don’t want any part of it.” Scott had previously declined a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Hustler (1961).
To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".

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Tony Figueroa

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