Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hollywood's Oscar® Moments—Oscar® By The Numbers

Even though Hollywood is a real place (a neighborhood that is part of the city of Los Angeles), that piece of real estate has attained almost mythical proportions world-wide. It conjures up images of make believe and magic. Or, to be more specific, it represents the home of the film industry even though Disney Studios, Warner Bros., Universal Studios, Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, and some of the television broadcast networks as well many other major film production companies are not physically in Hollywood. In fact, Disney Studios, Warner Bros., MGM, and NBC aren't even in the city of Los Angeles. MGM is in Culver City (south of Los Angeles). Disney Studios, Warner Bros., and NBC are all in the city of Burbank.

For those of us old enough to remember Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, they burst that all of show business is centered in Hollywood bubble by letting everyone know they were coming to you from Beautiful Downtown Burbank rather than legendary Hollywood.

The Oscar®—Hollywood's annual award for achievement in the film industry. The statuettes for the 87th annual awards show are handed out Sunday, February 22, 2015 for this year's ceremonies. So, this seemed like a good time to review some statistics connected to the American film industry's highest award.

The first awards ceremony was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929 to honor films released in 1927 and 1928. The first Best Picture award went to the 1927 film Wings. It was the only silent film to receive the honor as the talking picture age was ushered in with the release of Warner Bros. The Jazz Singer in 1927, the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences.

As the award tradition continued, the ceremony settled into a pattern that has stayed relatively consistent to this day. The following statistics were in an article I read that covered the first 85 years of the award ceremonies.

ZERO is the
Number of competitive Oscars® won by a long list of high-profile legendary actors, actresses, and filmmakers. These include Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Richard Burton, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford among many others. Alfred Hitchcock did finally receive an honorary Oscar® in 1968 and Cary Grant received an honorary Oscar® in 1970, both for their body of work over the span of their careers.

ONE is the
Number of dollars for which a winner or his estate must offer to sell his statuette back to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences before attempting to sell the statuette anywhere else. Statuettes awarded after 1950 are bound by this agreement as they are considered property of the Academy unless it specifically waives ownership. Orson Welles' 1941 Oscar (therefore not subject to the 1950 agreement) for Citizen Kane was sold at a 2011 auction for over $800,000.

TWO is the
Number of words in the shortest acceptance speech ever, delivered by Patty Duke in 1963 after winning the Best Supporting Actress statuette for The Miracle Worker. Her speech was a simple, "Thank you."  [note: I read somewhere else that the same 'thank you' is attributed to Alfred Hitchcock and William Holden.]

THREE is the
Number of films that have won all of the big five awards (picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay). They are: It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and The Silence Of The Lambs (1991).

THREE is the
Number of animated features that have been nominated for Best Picture. 1991's Beauty And The Beast was the first to earn this distinction, followed later by Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010).

FOUR is the
Most acting statuettes won by a single individual, a record held by Katharine Hepburn. She won Best Actress statuettes for: Morning Glory (1933), Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1982).

FOUR is the
The most Best Director wins by one person, a record held by John Ford since 1953, when he won his fourth statuette for The Quiet Man.

Length in minutes of the longest acceptance speech, a distinction held by Greer Garson, who won Best Actress in 1943 for Mrs. Miniver.

EIGHT is the
Highest number of acting nominations without a win, a record held by the late Peter O'Toole. He did finally receive an honorary Oscar® in 2002 for the body of his work over the span of his career.

TEN is the
Number of musicals that have won Best Picture, the most recent being 2002's Chicago, which ended a 34-year drought. 1968's Oliver! preceded Chicago's win. The Academy took a hard turn away from song-and-dance features with its 1969 Best Picture award to Midnight Cowboy which remains the only X-rated film to claim the biggest prize [and I believe Midnight Cowboy would not receive an X-rating if released today].

ELEVEN is the
Highest number of statuettes won by a single film. Three movies are tied for this distinction: Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic (1997), and The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003). Return of the King won all 11 awards for which it was nominated, another Academy record.

ELEVEN is the
Highest number of nominations for a film that did not win any Oscars®. Two films share that dubious distinction: The Turning Point (1977) and The Color Purple (1985).

TWELVE is the
Highest number of Best Director nominations received by one person, William Wyler, with three of those nominations becoming wins.

FIFTEEN is the
Length in minutes of the first, and to this day the shortest, Academy Awards ceremony, held on May 16, 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. Awards (the nickname Oscar® didn't come into being for several years) were handed out in 12 categories with the winners having been announced in advance. Today, statuettes are awarded in 24 categories, and ceremonies typically run three hours on average with some running much longer.

Highest number of hosts for one Oscars® telecast. For several years, the Academy used a gimmick dubbed Friends of Oscar® that featured a roster of rotating hosts for each ceremony. The broadcast with the most Friends took place on April 7, 1970, and included stars like Bob Hope, John Wayne, Barbra Streisand, Fred Astaire, Clint Eastwood, James Earl Jones, and Elizabeth Taylor. Packing in so much star power paid off for the Academy: the broadcast was the Awards' highest-rated telecast of all time.

Highest number of acting nominations for a single person, a record held by Meryl Streep. She broke the previous record of 12, set by Katharine Hepburn. Jack Nicholson is the most nominated male actor, currently tied with Hepburn's 12.

Highest number of Oscar ceremonies hosted by one person. Bob Hope holds that title which includes the first televised ceremony in 1953. Billy Crystal is second with nine hosting gigs.

Number of times that the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars® have gone to different films. The most recent split came in 2013, when Ang Lee won Best Director for Life Of Pi and Argo (directed by Ben Affleck who was not nominated) took Best Picture.

Total number of Oscars® won by Walt Disney, the most ever for a single person. He was also awarded an additional four honorary statuettes, and holds the record for most wins in one year by a single person (four).

Highest number of nominations earned by a woman in any category belongs to costume designer Edith Head. She won eight statuettes throughout her career.

Maximum number of seconds that Academy rules stipulate for acceptance speeches, a rule established in 2010 and broken multiple times every year.

Highest number of nominations for a single person in any category. Over-achiever Walt Disney holds that title, too. Composer John Williams is the most-nominated living person, with 49 nominations to his credit.

Length in minutes of the shortest Best Picture winner ever, Marty (1955). Brevity seems to be a theme for this classic film. The 1956 ceremony where the prize was awarded is the second-shortest Oscar® ceremony, lasting just 90 minutes.

Length in minutes (3 hours 44 minutes) of the longest Best Picture winners ever: a tie between Ben-Hur (1959) and Gone With the Wind (1939). But GWTW has a slight edge when you add in the overture, intermission music, and exit music which takes it to 238 minutes (3 hours 58 minutes).

And there you have it—Oscar® by the numbers.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Crazy Things Confiscated By Customs Inspectors

These days just getting on an airplane is a cause for nervous tension due to full body scanners, intrusive pat-downs, long lines at security check points, and what seems to be a constantly changing list of what you can and can't take on the plane.  All-in-all, flying is not the fun experience it used to be.

And that's just on domestic flights.  You add to that the need to clear passport control and customs on international flights, both entering a foreign country and coming home, and it's enough to make your head spin.

There's certainly been enough written about what seems to be the ever changing TSA restrictions and requirements, so I won't dwell on those.  But I did find an interesting list of contraband seized by Customs inspectors around the world…a bit more than trying to sneak in an extra bottle of wine hidden in your suitcase.

And here is that list.

10)  Shoes Stuffed With Heroin:  Smugglers might be a scheming lot, but that doesn't mean they always use their brains.  In October 2010, a 32 year old US citizen and her younger brother disembarked from a Caribbean cruise and were tagged by Customs for a secondary screening process.  When they opened the woman's luggage they found 15 pairs of 1980s style men's shoes…definitely suspicious items for a woman to be bringing back from the Caribbean.  They discovered over 6 kilos of heroin duct taped inside the shoes.

9)  Human Skulls:  Not the creepy Halloween decorations.  In September 2010, two American tourists had 6 human skulls confiscated from their luggage at the Athens International Airport in Greece.  They had purchased the 6 skulls at a souvenir shop on the island of Mykonos and thought they were fake.  They were charged with desecrating the dead.

8)  Tiger Cub:  The 3 month old tiger cub was found sedated and hidden among stuffed animal tigers inside a woman's luggage at Bangkok International Airport when the oversize suitcase went through an X-ray machine.  The woman was headed to Iran where the tiger cub could have brought in more than $3,000 on the black market.  The cub was sent to a wildlife conservation center and the woman faced wildlife smuggling charges and fines.

7)  Fake $100,000 Bills:  In 2009, agents confiscated two $100,000 counterfeit bills from a passenger arriving at New York's JFK Airport from Seoul.  In 1934, rare $100,000 bills were printed to be circulated between the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve Banks.  The bills were never put into general circulation.  The man claimed to have found the bills in an old book belonging to his father.  The bills were turned over to the Secret Service.

6)  Cocaine Cast:  A leg in a cast can garner some sympathy, but it didn't work for a Chilean passenger arriving at the Barcelona, Spain, airport from Santiago.  Customs agents decided to spray the cast with a chemical that turns bright blue when it comes in contact with cocaine.  And it did.

5)  Bear Paws:  And I'm not talking about the pastry, either.  In October 2010, a dozen genuine furry bear paws were confiscated from a Vietnam man's luggage in Ho Chi Minh City Airport upon his return from Hong Kong.  Bear paw soup is considered a delicacy.

4)  Snakes and Lizards:  You're familiar with the movie, Snakes On A Plane?  Well, in 2009 a would be smuggler taped 14 snakes and 10 lizards onto his body in an attempt to sneak them into Norway.  Oddly enough, it was a tarantula spotted in his luggage that led to a full body search.

3)  Bonytongue Fish:  Having an airline lose your luggage is an inconvenience.  However, it's even worse when you're smuggling fish in your suitcases.  In 2009 a man returning from Malaysia to his home in Queens, New York City, unfortunately did not have his luggage arrive on the same flight.  The next day a Customs agent doing random checks on lost luggage discovered 16 fish packed in individual plastic bags and cushioned with Styrofoam.  Considered good luck charms in Asian cultures, they sell for $5,000 to $10,000 apiece.

2)  Rhinoceros Horns:  Ireland is not where you'd expect to find pieces of safari animals.  Over a period of time in late 2009 and 2010, three Irish passengers were busted at Shannon Airport for smuggling 10 rhinoceros horns valued at approximately 500,000 Euros, which at today's exchange rate (today being Dec. 4) is $670,700.  Rhino horns are often ground down and used as a prized ingredient in Chinese medicine.

1)  Snake Wine:  A glass of snake wine might not have the same appeal as a nice Merlot.  But in Southeast Asian countries, a whole snake soaking in alcohol is a specialty.  In May 2009 a routine Customs inspection in Miami revealed a cobra and other poisonous snakes packed into a jar of liquid in an express mail package from Thailand.

It makes that additional bottle of Merlot wrapped inside the sweater and stuffed into the corner of a suitcase not seem as bad.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Chocolate—The Food Of Love

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, the day the chocolate industry happily counts its profits.  Certainly other items also come to mind such as flowers, cards and jewelry.  But chocolate reigns supreme for the holiday.

The history of chocolate goes back more than two thousand years.  Cocoa has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  It's a concept that goes back to the Aztecs, with archaeological records indicating that before them the Mayans were consuming cocoa as long ago as 600 B.C. and possibly even earlier than that.

The Aztecs believed it was a source of spiritual wisdom, energy, and sexual power.  It was widely served at wedding ceremonies.  The ancient civilizations of Central and South America did not know chocolate as we do today.  They consumed cocoa as a drink, its naturally bitter taste possibly altered by adding chili peppers to the water and cocoa.

When the Spanish explorers first brought cocoa home with them in 1585, they experimented by mixing it with sugar and vanilla to make a sweeter tasting drink.  The result was a type of hot chocolate popular among the upper classes who were the only ones who could afford it.  Cocoa was also added to baked goods to give them added flavor.  By the first half of the eighteenth century cocoa production had increased and the price fallen so that it became affordable to the general population of Europe and also the European colonies in the New World.

By the nineteenth century things were moving along nicely for those involved in the manufacture of chocolate.  In 1828, Conrad van Houton of Holland invented a process to make a refined cocoa powder which increased the output of the usable powder from a given crop of cocoa beans which further lowered the price.

The first chocolate candies as we know them today were invented in the 1860s by Cadbury, a British candy maker, who was also the first to sell them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine's Day.

Another big advance came in 1878 when a Swiss chocolate seller, Daniel Peter, invented a process for making candy out of milk chocolate—a process picked up by Nestle.  In 1913 Jules Sechaud, a Swiss chocolate maker, created the first chocolate candy with cream and other fillings and the modern soft centered chocolate candies were born.

And thus chocolate candies joined the ranks of flowers and jewelry in the courtship ritual.

Chocolate, including chocolate candy, is liked by most people, but women tend to have a somewhat greater affinity for it than men.  Chocolate is more than food.  It not only fills your stomach, it also makes you feel good.  Many people believe that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.  While it is true that chocolate does contain organic substances which have a physical feel good affect on the body, the amounts are not that great.

Critics claim the benefits of eating chocolate are small compared to the sugar and fat contained in a chocolate bar.  However, the best chocolate—dark chocolate with high cocoa butter content rather than milk chocolate—has no added fat with a high percentage of cocoa solids and correspondingly less sugar.  Chocolate will never be considered a health food based on its nutritional value, but it is still good for you.  It's good for your heart, relieves stress, and makes you feel good.  What more could you want?

Chocolate has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  This association goes all the way back to the Aztecs.  Valentine's Day is a celebration of romance.  Chocolate is both an everyday pleasure and a token of love.  Valentine's Day and chocolate make a perfect match.  Men have long known in dealing with women that chocolate is always a safe gift. Chocolate is given as a token of love and is equally viable as a peace offering when he has done something to anger his love.

Chocolate—the all purpose taste treat that's good any time of the year.