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Published: Thursday, 9/30/2010

Tony Curtis joins a growing list of those inexcusably snubbed by Oscar

The Blade's blog Culture Shock is a three-times-a-week riff by Pop Culture Editor Kirk Baird on pop culture news, events, and trends. The blog will appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, with the odd night or off-day posting if something is merited.

Several years ago I interviewed Tony Curtis. Actually, I interviewed the actor twice, roughly three years apart, for separate publications. The interviews were conducted over the phone, even though the actor lived only a few miles from the Las Vegas newsroom where I worked.

It was just easier that way for Curtis — and for me, I suppose.

For the first interview, a Q&A, I spent all night reading "Tony Curtis: The Autobiography" like I was cramming for a final exam. I passed the test, i guess, since the interview went well. Curtis, as most anyone who's familiar with the actor, wasn't shy about talking about himself or his career.

The second interview was a bit more low-key — perhaps because Curtis, now in his 80s, was a bit more subdued.

The one common question in both interviews were his feelings over never receiving an Oscar, either in competition or in recognition for a lifetime of work.

"The Defiant Ones" brought him an Academy Award nomination in 1958 as Best Actor as a white racist escaped convict handcuffed to a black escapee, played by Sidney Poitier. The role was as close as Curtis would come to an Oscar, despite Oscar-worthy roles in "Some Like It Hot ," "Sweet Smell of Success," and "The Boston Strangler."

He wasn't bitter about the snub, though he didn't bother to disguise his hope that he would one day receive the lifetime achievement award, before he passed away. Now it's too late. Curtis died of cardiac arrest Wednesday evening in his Henderson, Nev., home. He was 85.

For what it's worth, Curtis certainly isn't alone in being ignored by the Motion Picture Academy.

Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, who directed Curtis in "Spartacus," never received Oscars for their work as directors. Arthur Penn ("Bonnie and Clyde," "The Miracle Worker," "Alice's Restaurant") who also died this week, never won an Oscar either. Sam Peckinpah ("The Wild Bunch," "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia") was never even nominated.

Peter Sellers never won, nor did Glenn Ford, Robert Shaw or Montgomery Clift.

Richard Burton was nominated for an Oscar seven times, Thelma Ritter six times, Agnes Moorehead four times, and Gloria Swanson three times — and none of the actors ever won. They're proof that more Oscar nominations doesn't increase your odds of winning.

And now it's too late for any of these actors and directors to take the stage and pick up his or her Oscar. Instead, it would be given posthumously.

While a lifetime achievement award means the Academy knows an actor or filmmaker is deserving of recognition for his or her body of work, a posthumous Oscar essentially means the Academy acknowledges that it missed the chance to honor someone while he or she was still alive. It's an apology in the form of a gold statue.

Sadly, Curtis can now be added to that growing list of those in film to whom the Academy owes an apology.

A few weeks ago a reader suggested I make some suggestions, a best-of as it were. I thought it was a good idea and so I'll start doing that at least once a week, if not more. I'll throw out a movie, TV show, book, CD, video game, and/or Web site worth your time.

I'll start with "The Social Network," a film a awarded five stars. For a full review go here.

It's a brilliant film that offers much more than a tell-all of the origins of Facebook. "The Social Network" features poignant social commentary; a fantastic cast led by Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; a brilliant script by Aaron Sorkin; and perhaps David Fincher's finest work as a director, as he masterfully packages everything together.

I also recommend the nonfiction novel, "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich, on which the film is based. It's an insightful and thoroughly entertaining read.

And for bonus cultural irony points might I suggest, after you see the film and/or read the book, post your accomplishment on Facebook. Verily, what hath Zuckerberg wrought?

Agree or disagree with a posting? Lemme know. Have a topic or suggestion? Lemme know that, too. Send an e-mail to kbaird@theblade.com or call 419-724-6734. Or even better and easier, rant on the message board.



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