Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Academy mascot found dead in Hollywood

Coroner's officials remove body of Hollywood icon from his home.
Hollywood, CA - Oscar, the ageless icon of the American movie industry, was found dead in his Hollywood apartment Wednesday morning.  He was 87.

The cause of death is still under investigation, but foul play “has been ruled out” said county coroner investigative officer Ramon Navarro.  “He was beloved but, still, we have to check out every angle,” Navarro said. “Not everyone was happy with him.”

“We’re still in shock at today’s news,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “Oscar was pure gold—a loyal, straight up guy in a business not known for those traits. He’ll be sorely missed.”

“I’m devastated,” said Academy Award winner Meryl Streep. “He was a mensch. We all thought he’d be around forever. He never seemed to age.”

“I just saw him two weeks ago and he seemed tired—like ‘fed up’ tired,” said longtime friend Jodie Foster. “He said a few things about the movies and lawyers and cable TV that I didn’t quite get. He was especially bitter about digital. It was just the usual ‘cranky Oscar’ stuff, you know? I gave him a ride home and didn’t think anything of it.”

Oscar was born in Chicago in 1928 to Charles Shumway, an Illinois foundry owner.  As a young man, he came to the west coast with family friend Cedric Gibbons (a younger brother, Tony, found his own destiny in New York City in the 1940s).  A producer who saw him in the showers at the Hollywood Athletic Club brought Oscar to MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, who is credited with having discovered him. Mayer saw in the young man a sturdy blandness that suited his new endeavor to honor the creative talent in films.

Oscar became a mainstay during Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” often seen in the company of luminaries with names such as Gable, Huston, Cagney, Bogart, Ford, Peck, and Poitier  as well as more contemporary stars like Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino.

In the early 1970s, he head-butted George C. Scott who, after a night of drinking, called Oscar “washed up, a tin god,” said Ed Maven, a longtime bartender at the Formosa CafĂ© in West Hollywood, once a popular watering hole for Hollywood’s elite. “If he could’ve raised one of those arms, he would’ve put George in Cedars,” Maven said.

Oscar at after-partywith activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who
accepted Best Actor award for Marlon Brando, 1973.
Oscar was also irresistible to the ladies, often on the arm of Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Grace Kelly, or lighting cigarettes for Bette Davis. “He had some stories,” said Lily Tigner, who worked as hostess at the Wilshire Blvd. Brown Derby in the 1950’s and 60’s.  “He spent a whole weekend at the Hollywood Roosevelt with Sacheen Littlefeather,” she said with a wink, “but he was discreet.”

A changing Hollywood put the kibosh on Oscar’s mood for socializing. In a 2011 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he railed about a “lack of class” and actors showing up at premiers “dressed like their ten-year-old sons.”

“He’d been down for a long time," said director Steven Spielberg. "He said people would stop him on the street and ask him if he’d ‘had work done’ because he always looked so buff and smooth. Or they’d call him ‘C3PO’ and asking him to say things in that voice. It pissed him off at first, but he started to internalize it. Even Oscar had his pride.”

Oscar awaits his entrance at the 83rd Academy Awards
show in 2011, Kodak Theatre, Hollywood [Getty Images]
Friends and associates from the Academy say that Oscar had been struggling with depression for the past few years and had been isolating himself.  “He used to be here three times a week,” said Maven, “Then he stopped. I haven’t seen him in ages. He was a good tipper, and always good for Hollywood stories and a round for the house on Tuesday afternoons. I heard he switched to the bar at Olive Garden because of all the posers who’ve been coming here. He couldn’t relate.”

“Dad was always so proud of his position in Hollywood,” his daughter Annie said in a phone interview.  “But he was frustrated that no one saw him for himself.  He used to love to say, ‘Always a bridesmaid,’ but we didn’t know how his lack of recognition as a person really affected him.”

Services are pending, though a memorial at The Ivy is being organized by close friends.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Red Lights: The Choice to Stop Should be YOURS

By Taffy Santangelo

I have a friend who knows someone who stopped at a red light and was hit from behind by a speeding motorist and seriously injured.  It has been on my mind a lot, and it’s pretty clear that there is a definite correlation between designated stops and serious injuries. And for that reason I have made my choice as a citizen to protect my children and myself and urge others to say "no" to red lights and stop signs.

I am not a lawbreaker. All my life, I have dutifully stopped where it was indicated and pulled over for fire engines and police. I use my turn indicator and click my seatbelt and monitor my tire pressure. But after reading the statistics (did you know that 20% of people involved in rear-end collisions ended up with whiplash and phone laceration injuries?) regarding accidents at red lights or stop signs, the first choice for safety is to glance both ways and drive through without slowing.

So last Thursday I made a decision and did just that, and I can’t believe that a cop pulled me over and wrote me a $575 ticket.   The whole time that he was checking for outstanding warrants, I wondered if this officer had children himself, and if they were as pretty and worth protecting as my own. I wondered if this policeman has ever had to roll up on a rear end collision at a red light and witness first hand the carnage of someone who was minding his own business, checking e-mails or reorganizing his wallet and in a split second--WHAM! his spine looks like an L-wrench. It is a travesty for the city to be paying these officers for what amounts to government sanctioned extortion and is, I believe, unconstitutional.

How many children must be injured or killed before citizens understand that they should have the right to stand up to power and choose whether to stop at a red light or not.  The Founding Fathers never had this in mind when they defined freedom as the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and there were no stop lights on Paul Revere's ride, thank you very much.

Had I stopped, I could easily have been hit from behind and my children injured. I exercised my best judgment and made a choice not to “obey” the light because it is my duty to protect my family (both my toddlers were in the car).  Now I am being punished by the state for exercising my right to choose not to jeopardize my family by stopping at a light where it has been widely reported that three people had been hit there in just the last four years. I was actually told that if I didn’t stop where it was "designated by light or sign," they would take away my license first and then my car! What kind of a police state do we live in?

Simply put, the government needs to keep out of my life and allow me the right to my own choices. The manufacturers of these stop signs and red lights are clearly profiting from this oppressive law, and their products have little to do with real safety.  I wonder: how many of them are paying off lawmakers to keep this ridiculous and frivolous system in place?

I urge that this punitive and Orwellian law requiring stopping at red lights and stop signs be repealed immediately. I know many other parents feel the same way.  Rise up. Take to the streets.  Think of the children.

Taffy Santangelo is a candidate for president of the Sausalito Homeowners Association and a community activist.