Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Bowery Boys' Oscar Nomination


from the great website
Classic Films & TV

Leo Gorcey as Slip and Huntz Hall as Sach.

I'm sad to say that the Bowery Boys were never nominated for an Academy Award--not even Leo Gorcey or Huntz Hall individually. That would have certainly made for an entertaining ceremony (imagine Slip bopping Sach with the gold statuette!). However, screenwriters Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman were nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing (Motion Picture Story) for the 1955 Bowery Boys pic High Society.

This was the script voters
meant to nominate.

 Their nomination is one of the biggest gaffes in the history of the Oscars. The voters intended to nominate the writer of the Bing Crosby-Grace Kelly-Frank Sinatra musical High Society (1956). That would be John Patrick, who received a nomination earlier in his career for The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1947).
Bernds and Ullman contacted the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and graciously acknowledged that they were nominated by mistake. However, the Academy's rules prohibited replacing them with another writer. Therefore, if you look up the 1956 nominees for Best Writing (Motion Picture Story) on the official Oscar website, you'll see this blurb alongside the accidental nomination:

NOTE: THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL NOMINATION. Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman, the authors of this Bowery Boys quickie, respectfully withdrew their own names and the nomination, aware that voters had probably mistaken their film with a 1956 MGM release with the same title written by John Patrick and starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. (Even so, MGM's High Society would only have been eligible for adapted screenplay.)

The last line of that paragraph shows the magnitude of the error: the 1956 High Society was not an original work. It was based, of course, on Philip Barry's stage play The Philadelphia Story, which was adapted for the screen in 1940.

Frankly, 1956 was an embarrassing year for the Oscars, especially in the Best Writing (Motion Picture Story) category. The winner was a mysterious screenwriter named Robert Rich for The Brave One. Never heard of him? Well, the Oscar website clears up his identity with this note:

NOTE: The name of the writer credited with authorship, Robert Rich, turned out to be an alias. Two decades later, the mystery was officially solved and the Academy statuette went (on May 2, 1975, presented by then Academy president Walter Mirisch) to its rightful owner, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted in 1956 by the industry for political affiliations. Robert Rich (who had nothing to do with the film industry) is a nephew of the King Brothers, producers of the film. They chose his name to be the alias for Dalton Trumbo on the screenplay. 

This was the script that
was nominated.
For the record, the Bowery Boys' High Society was one of the last films in the series, but it is also considered to be among their best. The plot has Sach (Huntz Hall) learning that he's the heir to a family fortune--although he and Slip discover a young boy is the rightful recipient.

As for writers Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman, they were never nominated for an Oscar again. Still, Bernds, who also directed, became a favorite among science fiction fans for penning 1950s cult classics World Without End (1956), Return of the Fly (1958), and Queen of Outer Space (1959). He was even interviewed in Tom Weaver's entertaining book Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers.

Bernds teamed frequently with Ullman, with their best known collaboration being the Elvis Presley musical Tickle Me (1965). Still, Ullman is best known as a writer for The Three Stooges. Wouldn't it have been cool if they had shown up to support him at the Oscar ceremony?


Robert Lopresti said...

That is hilarious. Thanks.

Stark said...

The Bowery Boys will live forever.