Steven Spielberg scored a bit of revenge Hollywood style Saturday night when the Directors Guild of America named him best director of 1985 for "The Color Purple." Spielberg, who wasn't nominated in the Academy's best director category, told the audience, "I am floored by this. If some of you are making a statement, thank God, and I love you for it."
The DGA awards have traditionally been a harbinger of Oscar to come: Only twice before in the last 40 years has the winner been different than the Academy honoree.
Until he won the award, the young director had virtually refused to comment publicly about the Oscar snub. Clutching the plaque, Spielberg said, "I'm a movie maker and not a bellyacher. . . . Certainly anyone's feelings would have been hurt, but with all of the support I've received from people the last few weeks, I started to feel like Jimmy Stewart in 'It's a Wonderful Life.' "
Unlike the Academy procedure, in which only 231 members of the directors branch vote for the Oscar for best direction, the entire guild membership of about 8,000 (many of whom are not directors) voted in the DGA competition. Since guild members did not vote until after the Oscar nominations were announced, insiders interpreted the vote as a direct slap at the Academy.
Ever the diplomat, Spielberg, who has been nominated three times but never won the coveted Oscar prize, said: "I have no bone to pick with the Academy. I was a supporter before the nominations were announced and I'm a big supporter today."
Spielberg beat out some strong competition, including Sydney Pollack for "Out of Africa," Peter Weir for "Witness," John Huston for "Prizzi's Honor" and Ron Howard, who was a surprise nominee, for "Cocoon."
Howard, who just completed "Gung Ho" for Paramount, admitted he voted to nominate Spielberg for an Oscar and added the split in opinion only helped the evening. "It creates a little drama and after all, that's what we're all here for."
Unfortunately, the drama unfolded a little early. Because the guild has a dual ceremony in New York, in years past the best director award was announced earlier in Manhattan. Because of the interest in this year's competition, the guild decided to announce the top award first so that word would not leak back to Los Angeles before the prize was given.
This is, of course, Hollywood's annual awards season and of all the black-tie affairs the directors guild's night is the most subdued. There is no television broadcast, there aren't a lot of stars in the crowd and speeches are generally shorter. "This is really a family affair," said Gil Cates, president of the DGA. "Of course, it's quieter," said David Kirkpatrick, a senior vice president of production for Paramount, "It's the director that is supposed to be a calming influence on the set."
The guild also honored two of its members with special awards. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who won back-to-back best director Oscars for "A Letter to Three Wives" and "All About Eve" in 1949 and 1950, was given the D.W. Griffith award for career achievement.
The 77-year-old director was presented the award by Elia Kazan at the New York end of the ceremonies.
The Robert Aldrich award for guild service went to director George Sidney.
Other winners included:
Best direction, comedy show: Jay Sandrich (for the pilot film of "Golden Girls").
Best direction, dramatic nighttime show: Will Mackenzie (for "My Fair David," an episode of "Moonlighting").
Best direction, daytime dramatic show: Craig Sandy Tung (for "The Day the Senior Class Got Married," a "Schoolbreak Special").
Best direction, musical/variety show: Don Mischer ("Motown Returns to the Apollo").
Best direction, sports: Andy J. Kindle, David Michaels ("Tour De France" CBS Sports Sunday).
Best direction, commercial/actuality: Harry Rasky ("Homage to Chagall: The Colours of Love").
Best direction, dramatic specials, one hour or longer: John Erman ("An Early Frost").
Best TV, commercial direction: Edward Bianchi.