In a press release (via Awards Daily), the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced who would be receiving the honorary Oscars at next year’s awards ceremony, for both the Governors Awards and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. On the Governors Awards side of things, Hal Needham, the legendary stunt performer, coordinator and director; documentarian D.A. Pennebaker; and George Stevens Jr., founding director of the American Film Institute, are set to pick up prizes, while executive and philanthropist Jeffrey Katzenberg will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Needham has one of those filmographies that we’re pretty sure Quentin Tarantino could rattle off from memory – he was a stunt double for actor Richard Boone on the TV show “Have Gun, Will Travel,” before training under John Wayne‘s stunt double and becoming one of the go-to stuntmen of the sixties, appearing in or coordinating the stunts for everything from “How the West Was Won” and “Our Man Flint” to “Chinatown” and “The French Connection II.” Needham eventually started directing second unit stuff, and brought his script for “Smokey and the Bandit” to friend Burt Reynolds, who loved it. The two would do go on to do “Hooper” (about a stuntman, but not quite as good as “The Stunt Man“), “Smokey and the Bandit II,” “The Cannonball Run,” “Megaforce,” “Stroker Ace,” and “Cannonball Run II” together. Needham also went on to do extreme sports cult classic “Rad.” That’s right – the director of VHS favorite “Rad” is about to have an Oscar, and you can genuinely say it was “long overdue.”
D.A. Pennebaker is a name well known by lovers of documentaries, music, and music documentaries, having helmed the influential music documentaries “Don’t Look Back” (about Bob Dylan), “Eat the Document” (again: Dylan), “Monterey Pop” (which covered the music festival, packaged lavishly not too long ago by Criterion), “Sweet Toronto” (Plastic Ono Band), “Alice Cooper” (duh), “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (David Bowie’s alter ego), and the more recent “Down from the Mountain” (about the country artists that inspired the music for the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?“) Pennebaker also directed political documentaries “Primary” (about the 1960 Wisconsin Primary election between JFK and Hubert Humphrey) and “The War Room” (about Clinton‘s campaign for the White House). Many of today’s top documentarians were either inspired by him or worked alongside him (like the Maysles, who were responsible for the brilliant cult doc “Grey Gardens“).
Stevens, in addition to founding the American Film Institute, is an winning film and television producer who has seemingly been around since the dawn of time (and working every minute since). His productions are too voluminous to mention one by one, but he really has done it all – he produces the “Kennedy Center Honors” every year, had a hand in Terrence Malick‘s “The Thin Red Line,” wrote the Tony-nominated play “Thurgood” for Broadway, and directed two episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” That is an incredibly truncated bio but it does well to show you the scope of what he’s been a part of. He’s won eleven Emmys, two Peabody Awards, and eight Writers Guild of America Awards. What have you done today?
Jeffrey Katzenberger is probably the most familiar name of the four: a former Paramount executive (he was tasked with reviving the “Star Trek” franchise in the 1970s as the well-received “Star Trek: The Motion Picture“) who gained fame and notoriety as the CEO of Disney. His time there was punctuated by intense battles with studio head Michael Eisner, a relationship that grew even more heated once president Frank Wells died (this relationship is chronicled brilliantly in the book “Disney Wars” and the feature-length documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty“). Of course, under Kaztenberg, Disney’s prized Feature Animation department once again grew to prominence and prestige (as part of the so-called “Second Renaissance of Disney Animation”) but once Eisner refused to install him in a higher position, Kaztenberg split, starting DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. While that company has mutated and changed since its inception (and, in fact, its films are now distributed by Disney), Katzenberg has chosen to focus on DreamWorks Animation, which is now its own autonomous entity. But Katzenberg’s Oscar isn’t for his film work but rather for his philanthropic work, which includes serving on the boards for AIDS Project Los Angeles, American Museum of the Moving Image, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and the Simon Wisenthal Center.
While the honorary awards are given off at a special ceremony outside of the main awards show, we will at least hopefully get some footage from it when the telecast airs on February 24th.