Oscar intrigue follows filmmakers to the grave
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Since March 21, 1994, when the first regular obituary segment was dropped into an Academy Awards show, a spot on the yearly scroll of recently deceased movie luminaries has become one of the evening's most hotly contested honours.
This time around it is a safe bet that Ernest Borgnine, Charles Durning, Nora Ephron, Tony Scott, Richard Zanuck and Marvin Hamlisch will get their few seconds in a roughly three-minute remembrance.
Beloved figures all. But who fills the next 30 or so spots in the memorial for this year's show is open to debate. And that debate is under way at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where a committee of members whose names are discreetly concealed from other members and the public are measuring celebrity, weighing achievement and trying to ward off entreaties from those who believe a loved one or former client should have a last moment in the limelight.
"Unfortunately, my calls to the Academy were not returned," Sheldon Roskin, a longtime publicist, said in an email this week, of his efforts to seek the inclusion of Tommy Culla, a public relations colleague unknown to moviegoers.
Roskin has so far hit a wall in his efforts on behalf of Culla. But things might go better for Lois Smith, a publicist who died last year. With clients as prominent as Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, Smith is perhaps poised to join Warren Cowan (who was remembered in 2009) and Ronni Chasen (who made the list in 2011, shortly after her gunshot murder) as one of a small number of publicity executives ever to make the cut.
Mostly, though, the winnowing process combines measured judgments about accomplishment with a determination to spread the honours across moviemaking crafts, and some gut calls about who ought to be remembered. Which has led to some maddeningly unpredictable honours and snubs.