Chapter 134: The 1979 Academy Awards, through the eyes of William Shatner and Robert Wise
And now, one of the moments we've been waiting for. The 51st Academy Awards are here! On April 9, 1979, Hollywood gathered for its most prestigious ceremony at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was one of the leading contenders, having secured eight nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Original Score. First, a recollection from Robert Wise, the director of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and a nominee for Best Director. Wise won Best Director in 1961 for West Side Story and in 1966 for The Sound of Music.
Unlike most of the rest of the nominees for Star Trek, I had gone through the pressure of being favored to win an Academy Award for my work, and later being honored twice, for two of the greatest films of all time, West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Star Trek was a notch below those two epics, but it had a tremendous heart, and I was proud to accept another nomination for my work. I wanted Star Trek to win all eight awards it was nominated for, but that rarely happens in this business, and it didn't happen this time. I really wanted Bill Shatner to win most of all, because he put everything he had into his performance, and it was the finest bit of thespian work I had the pleasure of directing since his good friend Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music. Johnny Carson was a tremendous host, and was extremely complimentary of all the nominees, including Star Trek. I believed our movie would win at least one Academy Award, but I was surprised by how successful Star Trek was on the night.
Shirley Jones and a child actor, Ricky Schroder, presented the Academy Award for art direction. Star Trek was considered a favorite to win this award according to the critics, and I think Schroder had that excitement that a child brings to the stage which was so refreshing to all the jaded actors and actresses in the audience. It was wonderful seeing him given a chance at that young an age to present an award. Schroder and Jones read out the nominees: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, California Suite, Heaven Can Wait, The Interiors, and The Wiz. Jones read the card: Harold Michelson, Joe Jennings, Leon Harris, John Vallone, Linda DeScenna for Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry pumped his fist in celebration. We had our first win of the night. Schroder was jumping up and down on the podium, because it was the only movie of the five nominated for Art Direction he had seen. He told Michelson before he accepted the award that he loved the red uniforms and wanted one of his own. Michelson promised him that he would make a special officer's uniform for Schroder, and a few weeks later, after Michelson passed the message along to Robert Fletcher, our costume designer, Schroder was seen in a picture in one of the teen magazines wearing a boy's size Admiral Kirk uniform and holding a model of the refitted starship Enterprise.
Speaking of Fletcher, the Academy Award for costume design was presented immediately afterwards. Robert Fletcher was beloved by Star Trek fans for the red uniforms. Although Gene Roddenberry wasn't a fan of them, he was proud of Fletcher for securing a nomination. Critics split on this award before the show. Some believed that Star Trek would win; others believed that The Wiz, a wonderful Broadway show adapted for the big screen, would prevail. This was a close call, and Fletcher was extremely nervous. "This will make or break my career," he told me. Well it made his career. Ray Bolger and Jack Haley, the scarecrow and Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, presented this award. Despite some late chatter that Death of the Nile would swoop in and win, Fletcher would jump out of his seat in jubilant celebration when they called out: "Robert Fletcher, Star Trek: The Motion Picture." Fletcher was one of the most grateful Oscar winners I've ever seen. He credited William Ware Theiss, the costume designer for the television series, for being an inspiration. Star Trek had bagged a second award. We were two for two.
About 45 minutes later, Star Trek would hear its fate for the third award of the night it was nominated for, that for Best Cinematography. Richard Kline was as good as there was in the business in cinematography. He should have won for King Kong in 1976, and I felt that he was undoubtedly the best nominee this year. Kline was a revolutionary in the field. We were favored to win this award by all the critics when Superman was surprisingly passed over for a nomination, one that they definitely deserved. However, without Superman as our main rival for the award, this went as predicted. Kline earned his Oscar, was his understated self on stage. Gene Roddenberry then told me, "we could go eight for eight." I had my doubts. Science fiction rarely won awards outside the technical fields, and our awards were in the technical fields. But I couldn't doubt him, we won all three awards so far, by some miracle, why couldn't we sweep the board?
Dean Martin, of the famous Rat Pack, and Raquel Welch presented the music awards. There was a tremendous amount of competition for this award, with Star Trek, Superman, and Midnight Express all in the hunt. This award could go in any direction. Jerry Goldsmith had his problems with the Academy in the past due to not receiving credit for work he had done in previous movies. This time, he was facing two of the great composers of all time, Giorgio Moroder and John Williams. Moroder's resume spoke for itself, and Williams won the Academy Award last year for Star Wars. Goldsmith was nominated twice, as a matter of fact, for Boys of Brazil in addition to his work for Star Trek. However, Goldsmith pulled out a very close vote over Moroder and WIlliams, who composed a remarkable score for Superman and was hard done by. There were three Academy Award worthy scores this year, and it was a shame that they all couldn't win, but I was glad we earned another one. William Shatner said, "I can't wait to win my Academy Award, the way this is going." He would unfortunately have to wait a number of years for his next chance.
I felt that David Gerrold and Alan Dean Foster wrote a remarkable screenplay, but they fell short to Oliver Stone and Midnight Express. Shatner, for all of his wonderful exploits, lost out to Jon Voight, and was crestfallen, telling me, "I don't know if I'll ever get another shot at this." I told him that he would, and in six years, he got another shot with The Search for Spock. Then it came time for Best Director. Usually, the winner of Best Director would carry the Best Picture honor as well. I thought that Hal Ashby and Michael Cimino, the directors for Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, were favored, because those two movies were the favorites for Best Picture. I had an acceptance speech written, but I wasn't planning on needing it, because Star Trek: The Motion Picture was not favored to win Best Picture. Francis Ford Coppola and Ali MacGraw announced the names: Cimino, Ashby, Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait, Alan Parker for Midnight Express, and myself for Star Trek. MacGraw passed the envelope to Coppola. "Robert Wise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture," said Coppola. I was stunned. Not for myself, but for the likelihood that Star Trek would win Best Picture, since the Best Director usually won Best Picture. I thanked everyone on the cast. The actors deserved the award more than I did because they directed me just as much as I directed them. I was the newcomer to Star Trek, and they were the old hands. So I invited the cast on stage to accept the Academy Award, because without them it would not be possible. I had already won two of these, and aside from Shatner and Nimoy, none of them had come close to the famous statue. That was a very emotional moment on stage. Nichelle Nichols was crying tears of joy. Gene Roddenberry told me, "we're going to win Best Picture for sure now." Unfortunately, Roddenberry was wrong. Coming Home won Best Picture, and I was extremely happy for Hal Ashby, a very humble gentleman.
I had high hopes coming into the night. Although Jon Voight won the Golden Globe for his performance as Luke Martin in Coming Home, he told me before the Academy Awards that I was his greatest competition for the award. He thought my performance was better than Robert De Niro's in The Deer Hunter, and I thought De Niro was great. As a matter of fact, I thought De Niro would win the Golden Globe, but it went Voight's way. I also had high hopes for the movie. Usually, a movie that gets nominated for eight Academy Awards will win several. We won five. All five honorees were highly deserving. Robert Fletcher was incredibly emotional after winning for Best Costume Design. He made me and the rest of the cast look sharp in those powerful red uniforms. Fletcher was one of the most popular people in the Star Trek universe after his win, because he validated all of the fans who wore the uniforms to the conventions. They became an even greater fashion statement than before.
Richard Kline won for cinematography. I never saw his hands shake once when filming us. If Superman was the Man of Steel, Kline was like the man of steel behind a camera. Unlike Fletcher, Kline expected to win. He had come close twice in his illustrious career, and Star Trek validated all his excellent work that came before. Jerry Goldsmith gave the movie soul with his musical score. Superman and Midnight Express had wonderful scores, but I have never met a composer outside of John Williams as talented as Goldsmith. He was a marvel and gave our movie a remarkable character. Harold Michelson designed the Enterprise bridge, and the art directors stayed true to Matt Jefferies' vision of the television series, while refining the bridge and sets to near perfection. They are still the finest sets I've ever worked on in any film.
The best moment of the night, without a doubt, was Robert Wise winning for Best Director. Nobody expected him to win, and the Academy gave him a third Best Director honor. When Wise invited the entire main cast on stage, it felt like we all won an Academy Award. Nichelle Nichols was crying on stage. She never believed she would make it to the main event of an Academy Award show, let alone on the stage for an honor. It tempered some of the ill feeling I had near the end of the night when I lost out on Best Actor to Jon Voight. Leonard Nimoy came over to me and said, "You'll get another chance, if we keep on making great movies." I did, for Star Trek III. I'll tell you all about that some other time.
RUNDOWN OF THE 1979 (51st) ACADEMY AWARDS:
STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE WINS FIVE ACADEMY AWARDS:
Best Director: Robert Wise
Best Original Score: Jerry Goldsmith
Best Costume Design: Robert Fletcher
Best Cinematography: Richard Kline
Best Art Direction: Harold Michelson, Joe Jennings, Leon Harris, John Vallone, Linda DeScenna
Other notable winners:
Best Picture: Coming Home, Jerome Hellman, producer, and Hal Ashby, director
Best Actor: Jon Voight, Coming Home
Best Actress: Jane Fonda, Coming Home
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter
Best Supporting Actress: Maggie Smith, Heaven Can Wait
Best Original Screenplay: Coming Home, Nancy Dowd, Waldo Salt and Robert C. Jones
Best Adapted Screenplay: Midnight Express, Oliver Stone
Best Sound: The Deer Hunter
Best Film Editing: Superman
Special Award for Visual Effects: Superman