I would like to thank the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for scheduling this year’s ceremony on my birthday. I have mentioned before that I was raised in areas in and around Los Angeles with close connections to the technical side of the motion picture industry that led to brief brushes with celebrities. You will not be surprised that this started literally on hour one of my life.
Due to the war shortages, it seemed inappropriate to continue holding banquet ceremonies at a fancy hotel. Therefore, the Academy Awards ceremonies were permanently switched to theater settings starting on Thursday, March 2, 1944. For the first time the 16th Awards ceremony was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Sid Grauman had placed a red carpet in front of his theater from the curb to the entrance, so this may have been the first time that movie stars walked “The Red Carpet” on their way into the awards.
As it had been since the second ceremony, the event was covered by local radio. but for the first time network radio broadcast overseas to World War II American GI’s. Jack Benny was the host for this ceremony and the special war-time broadcast. Also for the first time, winners for the best supporting actors and actresses categories received statuettes rather than plaques. Because of the war, all statuettes were made out of plaster rather than bronze. These were later replaced by the standard gold statue.
So what else of monumental importance happened on this day? For the answer to that you need to go about ten miles down the road from Grauman’s Chinese to the Methodist Hospital then located at 2826 South Hope Street in Los Angeles. The hospital rooms were said to include:
“many modern conveniences – radio is wired to every bed so that all that is necessary for entertainment is to plug one in.”
At about 4:18 pm a lady had given birth to a baby girl and having gotten that rapidly out of the way as her family always did, she plugged in one of those radios for the Oscar broadcast. Since she was a very good singer, she rocked the baby and sang the best song nominees. This child would never ever hear a “regulation lullaby” from this decidedly non-regulation woman. Other infants got Rock A Bye Baby and I got The Great American Songbook.
As it turned out on Thursday, March 2, 1944, “You’ll Never Know” from Hello Frisco Hello received the Academy Award for Best Song, The Best Picture Oscar went to Casablanca, while my parents got me. I don’t clearly remember the event, but it is inescapable that not counting in-utero, the first song I ever heard in my life was probably “You’ll Never Know”. Even stranger, this has always been one of my favorite standards and I didn’t learn until much later that it was played for my birth. This adds new meaning to the lyrics of “Children Will Listen”.
Unfortunately, none of the songs from Casablanca were eligible for an award since none of them were original to the movie. So there you have it. In any trivia contest I will always have the answer to
1. What year did Graumann’s Chinese first host The Academy Awards?
2. When were the Oscars first broadcast overseas?
3. Who was the Master of Ceremonies for the 16th Oscar broadcast?
4. What were the Best Picture and Best Song of 1943?
Should my age or the date of my arrival on the planet happen to slip your mind, you can look up the broadcast date for the 16th awards ceremony for The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. Ask me my age and I will tell you, “The body is the same age as Casablanca’s Oscar, but I’m only 36.” This tends to confuse people except those who know me. Find when you became the most “You” and stay there. My body was born in 1944. I became me in 1980.
On Sunday Oscar will be 86. My body will be 70 and I am still 36. Pour the champagne. I will be watching.