Geena Davis won best the supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of a wacky, sweetly aggressive dog-trainer in “The Accidental Tourist” as the 61st Academy Awards ceremonies got under way Wednesday evening at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
The 29-year-old actress, a former model who made her screen debut in the 1982 hit “Tootsie,” was a first-time nominee.
Her Oscar brought the evening’s first distinction to a film that enjoyed four other nominations, including best picture. The movie was based on a best-selling novel by Anne Tyler.
Meanwhile, Warner Brothers’ “Bird” won an Oscar for sound, the only category in which the Clint Eastwood-directed film about jazz great Charlie Parker was nominated.
Disney’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” also won an early evening award for sound editing. “Roger Rabbit,” a huge box office hit, did not receive nominations in any major category.
The evening’s heavy favorite remained MGM/UA’s “Rain Man.” The film, about the adventures of an autistic savant and his car-salesman brother, led the pack with eight nominations, including best-picture and a best-actor nomination for screen veteran Dustin Hoffman.
The 51-year-old Los Angeles-born actor has been nominated as best actor six times and won an Oscar in 1980 for his performance in “Kramer vs. Kramer.”
Other nominees for best actor included Gene Hackman for “Mississippi Burning,” Tom Hanks for “Big,” Max von Sydow for “Pelle the Conqueror” and Edward James Olmos for “Stand and Deliver.”
By the time the stars began to arrive, the crowd out front waiting to greet them was estimated at 2,000.
Alan Carr, the ABC telecast’s producer, opened the show with a tribute to the Cocoanut Grove, which had been an early Oscar venue.
In one signal change, celebrity presenters were instructed to say, “And the Oscar goes to . . . ,” rather than the customary “And the winner is. . . .” The new formula was supposed to lesson the sense of competition among the stars.
The show was being aired live throughout the world, including in the Soviet Union for the first time.
A triumph by “Rain Man” would be particularly sweet for Lee Rich, Tony Thomopoulos and other deposed executives of MGM/UA Communications Co., who left the studio last year amid differences with Kirk Kerkorian, the studio’s principal owner.
The film itself had a tumultuous production history. It evolved from a much rewritten screenplay originally conceived by Barry Morrow, ricocheted from one director to another before landing with Barry Levinson, and grew from a small, arty film into a big-budget star vehicle backed by the powerful Creative Artists Agency, which represents its co-stars Hoffman and Tom Cruise.
Last year, “The Last Emperor,” distributed by Columbia Pictures, swept nine Oscars, including the best picture award. This year Columbia, under a new studio administration, had no nominations.
Best Picture Nominees
Other best picture nominees this year included 20th Century Fox’s “Working Girl,” Warner Bros.’ “The Accidental Tourist” and “Dangerous Liaisons,” and Orion’s “Mississippi Burning.”
“Dangerous Liaisons,” about the immoral doings of 18th-Century French aristocrats, and “Mississippi Burning,” a reality-based film about the murder of three civil rights workers in the 1960s, were close behind “Rain Man” with seven nominations each.
Any recognition for “Mississippi Burning” could trigger controversy, since the film, while well received, has been excoriated by Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and various black groups for downplaying the role of blacks in the ‘60s civil rights struggle.
The bellwether pre-Oscar awards pointed in several directions this year. While the Directors Guild of America honored director Barry Levinson for his work on “Rain Man,” the Writers Guild of America bypassed the film to honor screenwriter Ron Shelton for Orion’s “Bull Durham,” a baseball picture that received no other nominations.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., meanwhile, gave its Golden Globe Award for best movie to “Rain Man,” but presented a best-director award to Eastwood for “Bird.”
The best actress category did not appear to be dominated by any heavy favorite in the pre-Oscar handicapping.
Nominees included Glenn Close for “Dangerous Liaisons;” Jodie Foster for “The Accused;” Melanie Griffith for “Working Girl;” Meryl Streep for “A Cry in the Dark,” and Sigourney Weaver for “Gorillas in the Mist.”
All but Griffith had previous Oscar nominations, and Weaver enjoyed the rare distinction of a second nomination this year as best supporting actress in “Working Girl.”
If Neilsen ratings for the three hour-plus show have dipped over the years, Hollywood appears more enamored of its annual celebration than ever.
According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which sponsors the awards, a record 87 screen stars were expected to attend this year’s black-tie ceremony.
Among the best-picture nominees, “Rain Man” was clearly the box office favorite, with more than $120 million in ticket sales so far. “The Last Emperor,” last year’s winner, grossed only about $43 million at the U.S. box office.
According to Entertainment Data Inc., a box office consulting firm, Sigourney Weaver and Tom Hanks are clearly the biggest grossing stars among this year’s nominees. Films starring Weaver have grossed $401 million since 1982, while films starring Hanks have taken in $415 million for the same period.
As the show opened, Oscar officials scouted for guests carrying any of 40 tickets that had been picked up by a man claiming to be a 20th Century Fox publicity official. The academy said it would press charges if it could prove that any guest knowingly tried to use a stolen ticket.
It could not immediately be learned if any guest had been stopped for carrying a stolen ticket. No arrests had been made in the theft of the tickets.
Despite tight control by the academy, scalped tickets sold from $500 for balcony seats to $2,000 for the best seats.
This year the academy chose not to present its Irving Thalberg Award, an Oscar that is periodically given for sustained excellence in film making.
Last year, the award was given to Austrian-born writer and director Billy Wilder.