I didn’t watch the Academy Awards last Sunday.

            I didn’t watch the Academy Awards last Sunday. Something about a bunch of actors handing out awards to each other just doesn’t ring true to me. How do you know if they are sincere……or just acting?

My disenchantment with the Oscar presentations started back in 1968, when Paul Newman didn’t win best actor for his role in “Cool Hand Luke”. He ate fifty eggs in that movie at one sitting. Fifty! You tell me any other actor who got nominated that year could have come close to that! My stomach went to spinning as I watched him cram those last few in. People around me were gagging on their popcorn and Milk Duds. I think about it now, forty-seven years later, and I still get a little nauseous. Now that, folks, is SOME MORE powerful acting!

            Ole Luke showed us a lot of grit in the face of confinement and adversity. He didn’t bow, he didn’t bend, he didn’t break……and when things looked the worst, he gave us that “you can’t beat me” grin that made everyone in the theater proud to be an independent, free thinking American. Shoot, I thought about rushing out and joining the nearest chain gang!    

            When he didn’t win, I knew the fix was in. Some of this “Best Picture”, “Best Actor”, “Best Animated Short Subject” electing might have been more political than ability. Big studio money, egos, behind the scenes shuffling and warped Hollywood thinking has won more Academy Awards than any real acting.

            Let me tell you how crazy the movie industry can be, the very same year “Cool Hand Luke” came out Paul Newman also delivered up an absolutely award winning performance in another film……he should have won first AND SECOND if the voting had been on the up and up. And he didn’t even get nominated for his role as John Russell in “Hombre”! Remember when the self-appointed aristocrat, as the stagecoach was abandoned in the middle of nowhere, was screaming at Newman, “Why do we have to follow you? Who put you in charge? Why do we all have to listen to you?” He turned to her with no malice and no grin, narrowed his eyes a mite and uttered, “Cause I can cut it, lady”. 

            No one doubted that he couldn’t!

But it didn’t seem to impress the academy voters. Movies haven’t had quite the same appeal to me since Paul left the business and my Captain Midnight Decoder Ring quit working. That’s why I couldn’t tell you one person this year who won an Oscar…….or who was even nominated. I don’t know who dazzled or who fizzled walking down that red carpet. I don’t know which acceptance speech ran on and on or which actress was first to blotch the simple cue cards. And I’m fairly certain the emcee didn’t keep the audience rolling like Bob Hope used to do it.

The only actor I ever thought was in the same category as Paul Newman was my older brother. Leon could look the most innocent or the most menacing of anyone I ever saw……..depending on the “occasion”. Daddy would send us down to clean the fence row and Leon, of course, would sit down the minute we were out of sight of the house. David and I were too small to make much of a dent in the weeds. Leon had that built in timer. He’d jump up, grab the sling blade out of my hand, and go to flailing away two seconds before Dad came around the corner to check on us. Dad would be angry that we “hadn’t even made a good start”.

Tears would dwell up in Leon’s eyes. “We’re doing the best we can. Kesley got sick. David almost stepped on a rattlesnake. It’s just hard to do all the work myself and look after two little brothers.” I felt sorry for Leon even as Daddy chastised me for not having a “working tool” in my hand.   

Leon, I think, was the screaming monster from the Black Lagoon in those deep woods behind the swimming pool. We all thought it was him…….but we couldn’t be for dead certain positive. Terry Kennon allowed it didn’t sound human enough to be Leon.  The acting here, if is was acting, was exquisite. Whatever or whoever, be it of this world or some other, was loud, blood curdling and nasty. It sure sent me flying out of those woods on more than one occasion!

The aging milk cow up on the second floor of the high school might have been Leon’s “Academy Moment”. When confronted with both parents, a stunned principal and the chief of police, my brother looked as surprised as Miss Polly Rucker when she encountered the bovine trying to get into her English class. Leon, with the innocence of a new born babe, allowed our old cow “had taken to wandering off”. And she would “sometimes follow us up Stonewall Street”. But he had “no idea” how the cow actually got into the school. He was “completely puzzled” by “the animal’s sudden interest in higher learning”.

He convinced me! And I was holding the side door open when he shoved Bessie into the auditorium.

You talk about acting!