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And the Oscar for ethical dilemmas goes to. . .

Posted by Mark Feeney  March 7, 2010 03:09 PM

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            The greatest ethical dilemma I’ve faced as a journalist involved a pair of Oscars. More specifically, it was William Goldman’s pair of Oscars. Goldman, of course, is one of the legendary Hollywood screenwriters. He’d won those Oscars for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) and “All the President’s Men” (!976).

            The site of my dilemma was Goldman’s truly fabulous apartment atop the Carlyle on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This was ten years ago. He’d just published his second Hollywood memoir, “Which Lie Did I Tell?” – wonderful title, though the book is nowhere as good as its predecessor, “Adventures in the Screen Trade.”  I was there to interview Goldman about the book.

goldman_w.jpgAt one point he was called away to take a phone call. The fabulousness of the apartment being what it was, this meant he was well out of earshot several rooms away. So there I sat in his living room, practically within arm's reach of the handsome bookcase on one of whose shelves sat the two statuettes. He’s gone, there’s no else around, and (this is where the dilemma comes in) there are two Oscars in close proximity to me crying out to be hefted!

I ask you, fellow citizen of Movie Nation, what would you have done? On the one hand, I’m there as a reader surrogate; and what reader of a profile of William Goldman wouldn’t want to know what it feels like to heft an Oscar, let alone two? On the other hand, if Goldman comes back and finds my sweaty little hands around his Oscars he’d have had every right to snatch them back and boot me out the door, and where would that leave my readers (not to mention my sense of amour-propre)?

Well, not knowing how long the call would last – and, I would like to think, not being the sort of guest who paws his host’s most prized possessions – I just sat there and that was that.

Except there’s a happy postscript in which my virtue (or was it  my meekness?) found its reward.

Three years ago Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s favorite film editor, thelma.jpgwas a couple of weeks away from being presented with the 2007 Coolidge Award. A photographer and I sat in her editing room at Scorsese’s Sikelia Productions, a few doors from Carnegie Hall. I was there to interview Schoonmaker, a truly lovely person (Goldman, in his own way, is a real charmer, too). How lovely? This  is where the reward comes in.

Four days earlier, Thelma had won her third Oscar, for “The Departed.” There it sat on a windowsill, next to a congratulatory bouquet Peter Gabriel had sent (they’d become friends during the filming of “The Last Temptation of Christ,” edited by Schoonmaker and for which Gabriel had written the Grammy-winning score). She asked the photographer and me if we’d like to hold it. You bet we did, so she graciously handed it over to each of us in turn.

I can report that the statuette, as you might imagine, is quite bottom-heavy; and, whether intentionally or not, the tapering nature of Cedric Gibbons’ design insures that the Oscar rests easily within a closed hand. I can only assume it rests that much more easily in the hand when the statuette came to be there by other than furtive means.


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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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