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Classic Hollywood: When the Oscar show had to go on

This is Susan King, a 26-year veteran of the Los Angeles Times and guardian of the Golden Age of Hollywood galaxy. Every Friday in my Classic Hollywood newsletter, I write about notable birthdays and deaths, movie and TV milestones, fun events around town and the latest in DVDs.

This Sunday marks the 88th Academy Awards. And as is the norm, the stars will make their way down the red carpet in their latest designer gowns, suits and expensive jewelry into the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood and Highland. (You can follow all our coverage here.)

The atmosphere was far different at the Academy Awards that took place on this date in 1942. It was just two months after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States had entered World War II. Initially, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it was canceling the awards that year. The academy's new president, Bette Davis, thought the awards should be held, but moved from a banquet hall to a large auditorium so the public could buy tickets with monies being donated to the Red Cross.

According to Robert Osborne's "85 Years of the Oscar," the academy nixed Davis' idea but agreed the show must go on. The participants wore business attire and instead of being a banquet, the ceremony was a dinner. Because of the war, searchlights were canceled above the Biltmore Hotel, where the Oscars took place.

The winners that year?

"How Green Was My Valley" won five awards, including film, director (John Ford) and supporting actor (Donald Crisp)Gary Cooper earned lead actor for "Sgt. York" and Joan Fontaine received lead actress for "Suspicion." Mary Astor was named supporting actress for "The Great Lie."

"Churchill's Island" won the first documentary award and Walt Disney received the Irving G. Thalberg Award. 

Don't Touch That Dial

GetTV continues its Monday evening lineup of episodes from "The Merv Griffin Show" and "The Judy Garland Show," as well as a vintage TV special. This Monday's offering is "The Dionne Warwick Special: Souled Out," featuring Burt Bacharach, Glen Campbell, Creedence Clearwater Revival and comedian George Kirby.

DVD Vault

The boutique DVD/Blu-ray DVD company Twilight Time, which releases only 3,000 copies per title, has just come out with some terrific film noirs and underrated westerns.

Six years after they made "Laura," director Otto Preminger and stars Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews reunited for "Where the Sidewalk Ends," a taut thriller about a cop who accidentally kills a man and tries to cover up the crime. Equally compelling is Fritz Lang's brutal 1953 noir classic "The Big Heat," starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and a vicious Lee Marvin.

For western fans, check out the rarely seen 1958 charmer "Cowboy," starring Ford and Jack Lemmon, and the very funny 1969 comedy "Support Your Local Sheriff," with James Garner, Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan and Jack Elam. Included on the disc is the disappointing 1971 sequel, "Support Your Local Gunfighter."

Sneak Peek

In this Sunday's Classic Hollywood, I chat with veteran production designer Jack Fisk, who met his wife, Oscar-winning Sissy Spacek, when he was art director on Terrence Malick's 1973 classic "Badlands." He has been the production designer on all of Malick's movies and has worked with his good friend David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson and now Alejandro G. Iñárritu on "The Revenant." Fisk, who received the Art Directors Guild Award for "The Revenant," is also up for an Oscar.

From the Hollywood Star Walk

Notable birthdays this week include Johnny Cash (Feb. 26); Fats Domino (Feb. 26); William Frawley (Feb. 26); Jackie Gleason (Feb. 26); Betty Hutton (Feb. 26); Joan Bennett (Feb. 27); William Demarest (Feb. 27); Elizabeth Taylor (Feb. 27); Franchot Tone (Feb. 27); Joanne Woodward (Feb. 27); Charles Durning (Feb. 28); Vincente Minnelli (Feb. 28); Bernadette Peters (Feb. 28); Jimmy Dorsey (Feb. 29); Javier Bardem (March 1); Harry Belafonte (March 1); Ron Howard (March 1); Glenn Miller (March 1); David Niven (March 1); Dinah Shore (March 1); Desi Arnaz (March 2); Jennifer Jones (March 2); and Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel (March 2).

The Actress

This Saturday marks the 23rd anniversary of the death of legendary actress Lillian Gish at age 99. Gish came to fame with her sister during the silent era, when she starred in several films with director D.W. Griffith, including 1915's "The Birth of a Nation"; 1919's "Broken Blossoms"; 1920's "Way Down East" and 1921's "Orphans of the Storm." She also starred at MGM in 1926's "The Scarlet Letter" and 1928's "The Wind."

Gish earned a supporting actress Oscar nomination for 1946's "Duel in the Sun" and also starred in the classic 1955 thriller "Night of the Hunter." She received an honorary Oscar in 1971 and the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award in 1984. She made her final film, "The Whales of August," in 1987.

Here is the L.A. Times obit as it appeared in the paper on March 1, 1993.

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