In an evening marked by top honors to veteran troupers Don Ameche and Geraldine Page but none for Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple," the 58th annual Academy Awards show was dominated Monday by seven Oscars for "Out of Africa," including best picture.
But other films garnered other major Oscars--the best actor award going to William Hurt, the imprisoned transvestite of "Kiss of the Spider Woman," the best original screenplay award to "Witness" and the best actress award to Page for "The Trip to Bountiful."
It was the first victory in seven tries for the veteran actress, who played a widow searching for her roots in her Texas hometown. She triumphed over the stars of two rival pictures, Meryl Streep of "Out of Africa" and newcomer Whoopi Goldberg of "The Color Purple."
Page, 61, was a sentimental favorite to win, as was Ameche, 77, who won his first Oscar, as a supporting actor, in "Cocoon," a fantasy comedy about visitors from outer space who provide what proves to be a fountain of youth for a group of retirees.
The night also was a family affair for Anjelica Huston, who took home the supporting actress Oscar as the vengeful Mafia princess of "Prizzi's Honor," a rollicking black-humored comedy directed by her father, John Huston, a two-time Oscar winner.
"This means a lot to me since it comes for a role in which I was directed by my father, and I know it means a lot to him," she told the black-tie audience of 2,800 at the Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
But her joy was dimmed somewhat when her father--he won two Oscars in 1948 for writing and directing "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" in which his father, Walter, also won a supporting actor Oscar--failed to take home the best director statuette.
That went to Sydney Pollack for his work on "Out of Africa," a lushly romantic adaptation of Danish author Isak Dinesen's reminiscences of running a coffee plantation in Kenya and her bittersweet affair with a free-willed hunter played in the film by Robert Redford.
The film also won Oscars for Karl Luedtke's screenplay adaptation, John Barry's score, David Watkin's cinematography, for the art direction by Stephen Grimes and Josie MacAvin, and the sound by Chris Jenkins, Gary Alexander, Larry Stensvoid and Peter Handford.
Like "Africa," "The Color Purple," based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about an oppressed black woman in the Depression-era rural South, had been nominated for 11 Oscars.
Its nominations came amid con troversy over the failure of the Motion Picture Academy's directing judges to put Spielberg, famed for such hits as "Jaws," "E.T." and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," in the running for a best-director award.
The failure of Spielberg's film to win even one award marked a stunning rejection by Oscar voters. For many observers, this proved the major surprise in a smoothly produced evening co-hosted by Robin Williams, Jane Fonda and Alan Alda.
But it was the best of all nights for Page, who finally won after a losing streak that began with her first nomination for her work in "Hondo" in 1953.
It was a visibly emotional moment for the actress, who, breathless and seemingly searching for words after a standing ovation, took her statuette in hand and said, "I want to thank you for this for all of us in the (movie) company," and, referring to writer Horton Foote, cheerfully insisted that "mainly it's Horton's fault for all of this."
Goldberg later showed no disappointment for losing out to Page when she took to the stage as a presenter. But when announcing a film-editing Oscar for an absent Thom Noble for "Witness," she said he would have wanted to thank his mother. Then she paused, and added, " . . . as some of us might have wanted to thank our mothers." The audience roared. She grinned and exclaimed: "I had to do it! I had to do it!"
"Witness" also won a second Oscar, for original screenplay by William Kelley, Pamela Wallace and Earl W. Wallace.
In accepting his Oscar for "Cocoon," Ameche, a veteran of 50 years in film, was outwardly calm. Speaking in a deep, rich baritone, he told the audience, "I hope I have earned your respect . . . I am deeply grateful."
With Jack Nicholson up for best-actor honors as the dim but street-smart hit man of "Prizzi's Honor," Oscar night could well have turned into even more of a family affair than it did. The actor, a two-time Oscar winner, is the long-time beau of Anjelica Huston, who in "Honor" played an old flame seeking to reignite his ardor.
But it was also William Hurt's night as the New York-based stage and film actor, competing with Nicholson and three others, won his first Oscar. Referring to Raul Julia, his co-star in "Kiss of the Spider Woman," he said, "I share this with Raul." Then, appearing flustered, he added:
"It's incredible. I didn't expect to be here. So I don't know what to say . . . I am proud to be an actor. Thank you very much."
Special Oscars were given six-time nominee Paul Newman, who addressed the audience via satellite from Chicago, where he is making a film, and veteran film composer Alex North (his latest was "Prizzi's Honor"), a 15-time nominee. Neither ever has won an Oscar.
Buddy Rogers Honored
In addition, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was presented to veteran actor Buddy Rogers, who appeared in the first best picture winner, "Wings," in 1927. He is the widower of actress Mary Pickford, an academy founder.
Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me," from "White Nights," was named best original song, while "The Official Story," a film from Argentina, won as best foreign-language film.
"Mask," the story of a horribly deformed youth and his mother, won the Oscar for makeup, while "Ran," the epic directed by Akiro Kurosawa, won for costume design. "Back to the Future" won for sound effects and "Cocoon" for visual effects.
Monday's other Oscar winners in various categories were: short documentary, "Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements," David Goodman; feature documentary, "Broken Rainbow," Maria Florio and Victoria Mudd; animated short film, "Anna & Bella," Cilia Van Dijk, and live-action short film, "Molly's Pilgrim," Bob Rogers.
National ratings for Oscar night's two previous years have been declining, even though last year, in an effort to keep viewers interested, the program's producers put a 45-second limit on speeches and installed a red light to let winners know their time was up.
On Monday night, there was neither a time limit nor a warning light. The program's producers hoped to add emotion and sparks to an effort many critics last year called boring, even though by Oscar-night standards it moved crisply and ended after only three hours and seven minutes.
Surprisingly, all the speeches were short and to the point, and, despite lavish production numbers that included a tribute to the old MGM musical extravaganzas, Monday's ceremonies also moved quickly and ran only four minutes longer than last year's Oscar show.
John M. Wilson contributed to this story.
Complete Academy Award coverage in Calendar, Part V.