The great writer/director/bon vivant wit Hal Kanter died on Sunday at the ripe old age of 92. And it got me to remembering, and I decided to share the thoughts with you.
Many of you will recognize the name of the creator of Julia, many Bob Hope films, and as a writer of so many Academy Award telecasts.
I have personal memories, though, and thought I'd expound on a few. In particular when I was on the Writers Guild of America West Board of Directors with Hal for two years in the early 90s, and he sat next to me for one of those years. He often pinch hit for me when I wanted a point made and I was on the minority side, as I knew Hal had more gravitas. So, I would whisper something in his ear and he then made the suggestion to the Board as a whole.
Also, when I was lobbying to get Myrna Loy and Deborah Kerr Oscars, Hal gave me a heads up, because he was a member of the Academy Board of Governors. After Sophia Loren was announced the year we were trying so hard to get it for Myrna (who'd never even been nominated, whereas Sophia was much younger and had won an Oscar for Two Women), I called Hal and told him I had a splitting headache about the news. He said "I'm going to tell you something," and I thought he was going to say something like, "Well, it's not your business." Instead, he reminded me that we had been sitting next to one another at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium regarding a Writers Guild proposal to extend our contract without traditional negotiations. Very controversial.
Turns out that was the night the Governors were deciding the Special Oscar. I said, "But you must have heard something about what went on. Did they even discuss Myrna?" Then he said in a hushed voice (even though it was on the phone), "Yes, but you can't tell anyone." I said I wouldn't, and he said, "She's going to get one, too."
It seems that someone on the Governors (we think it was Alan Bergman, the composer) said "What have we done?" and they reconvened the vote, and after discussion decided to award two Special Oscars that night. Myrna, 85 and quite ill, wasn't able to come, so they did a live feed from her apartment in NYC. But it was great that they'd finally honored this great star, who, in her day, was arguably bigger than Sophia Loren ever was.
Regarding Deborah Kerr, I campaigned for her the next year, but they gave it to an Indian director, which Hal told me about in advance. Then the next year it was given to Federico Fellini.
During all this I was introduced to Roddy McDowall, who had previously written me a lovely letter in support of my Myrna Loy campaign and had written a great one to the Academy. He was amazed that they gave it to her, though, as it had been so long since she was a star. Anyway, writer Larry Gelbart introduced us and I told him about my campaign for Deborah Kerr. However, he was pushing for his friend Vincent Price (Good luck on that one, I thought to myself). Every so often I would run into Roddy and remind him about our dual campaigns, and the next year I saw him and said the same thing. He looked at me a bit odd, and then later that night I saw on the news that Vincent Price had died. Obviously Roddy knew.
Which brings me back to Hal Kanter. I went off on a South American trip in January 1994, and when I got back I read in the LA Times that Deborah Kerr would be getting an Oscar. I immediately called Hal, and he said, "I knew you were going to call! And you can thank Roddy McDowall." Roddy had since become an Academy Governor as well, and I'm sure that, having given up on honoring Vincent Price and with my repeated chatting about it (not to mention the oodles of letters I had caused to be mailed to the Governors from the likes of Robert Anderson and Elia Kazan (Tea and Sympathy), director Jack Clayton (The Innocents), director Delbert Mann (Separate Tables) and director Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity and The Sundowners), just to name a few, that Roddy made the pitch. There was no one else nominated and Deborah, at 72, made it out on stage to the longest standing ovation of the night and finally got her Oscar, after SIX nominations without the prize (a record actually, as she has the most nominations for Best Actress, never having won).
Anyway, some memories of me and Hal Kanter. He was sharp as a tack until the end.