Anjelica Huston, the daughter of veteran film director John Huston, won the Oscar for best supporting actress Monday night as the Mafia princess of "Prizzi's Honor," a rollicking black-humor Mafia comedy that her father directed.
Her award was the first of the evening at the 58th annual Academy Awards ceremonies. Beaming, the actress told the black-tie audience that the award meant a lot to her because her father directed her, "and I know it means a lot to him."
The elder Huston, 79, a two-time Oscar winner, was considered a strong contender for best director honors later in the evening. If he wins, it would make the second time in Oscar history that a director and a relative won for the same movie. He first did it in 1948 with his acting father, Walter, for "Treasure of Sierra Madre." Huston won for screen writing and direction, and the elder Huston for supporting actor.
Anjelica Huston triumphed over two co-stars of Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple," Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey, Meg Tilly of "Agnes of God" and Amy Madigan of "Twice in a Lifetime."
As Hollywood's nationally televised night began at the Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, speculation abounded whether "The Color Purple" or "Out of Africa"--each nominated for 11 Oscars--would dominate, or whether the top awards would be split.
Spielberg was not nominated in the best director category.
Don Ameche, 77, whose film career began 50 years ago, was considered a sentimental favorite in the supporting-actor category for his work in "Cocoon." But he had strong competition from Austria's Klaus Maria Brandauer of "Out of Africa" and William Hickey of "Prizzi's Honor." Robert Loggia of "Jagged Edge" and Eric Roberts of "Runway Train" also were contenders.
"Purple," "Out of Africa" and "Prizzi's Honor" were the leading contenders for an Oscar in the prestigious Best Picture category, with "Witness" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman" the other nominees.
Huston's competitors in the directing category this year were Hector Babenco for "Kiss of the Spider Woman," Sydney Pollack for "Out of Africa," Akiro Kurosawa for "Ran" and Peter Weir for "Witness."
The failure of Academy voters to nominate Spielberg for his direction of "The Color Purple' stirred controversy when the nominations were announced Feb. 5. Many Spielberg fans considered the snub an indication of sour grapes, perhaps because of envy over such big hits of his as "Jaws," "E.T.--The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Spielberg has refused to express bitterness and on March 8 won a Directors Guild award for "The Color Purple."
But it remained to be seen if this would translate into Oscar ballots for his movie, adapted from Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the hardships and emotional growth of an oppressed black woman--played in the film by Whoopi Goldberg--in the rural Depression-era South.
Goldberg, a comedienne-actress making her film debut in "Purple," was competing for best-actress honors with Geraldine Page, a Broadway and film veteran who has been nominated eight times for an Oscar but never has won, and Meryl Streep, a two-time winner.
Page starred in "The Trip to Bountiful," adapted from Horton Foote's 1953 teleplay about an old woman who runs away from her son's contentious house to return to her childhood home town in Bountiful, Tex.
Streep, winner of Oscars for "Sophie's Choice" and "Kramer vs. Kramer," starred in "Out of Africa," a lushly filmed adaptation of Danish author Isak Dinesen's reminiscences of running a coffee plantation in Kenya and her bittersweet affair with a free-willed hunter (played in the movie by Robert Redford).
The other best-actress hopefuls were Anne Bancroft, the rigid Mother Superior of "Agnes of God," and Jessica Lange, who played the late country singer Patsy Kline in "Sweet Dreams."
With Jack Nicholson up for best-actor honors as the dim but street-smart hit man of "Prizzi's Honor," Oscar night could well have turned into a family affair. The actor, a two-time Oscar winner, is the long-time beau of Anjelica Huston, who in "Honor" played an old flame seeking to re-ignite his ardor.
But Nicholson faced two well-regarded competitors--William Hurt, the tormented transvestite of "Kiss of the Spider Woman," and Harrison Ford, the gruff Philadelphia cop who follows a murder investigation into Amish country in "Witness."
The others nominated for the award were James Garner, the grouchy, widowed pharmacist of "Murphy's Romance," and Jon Voight of "Runaway Train."
During Monday's black-tie ceremonies, co-hosted by Robin Williams, Jane Fonda and Alan Alda, special Oscars were given six-time nominee Paul Newman and veteran film composer Alex North (his latest was "Prizzi's Honor"). Neither ever has won an Oscar.
In addition, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was presented to veteran actor Buddy Rogers.
Monday's ceremonies, broadcast by ABC-TV, were aired live in the United States and 13 foreign countries, with another 71 nations--including Britain--opting to air the proceedings on a tape-delay basis, an ABC spokesman in New York said.
National ratings for the show have declined in the past two years, even though last year, in an effort to keep viewers interested, the program's producers put a 45-second limit on victory speeches and installed a red light to let winners know their time was up.
On Monday night, the limit was gone, as was the warning light. The program's producers hoped to remove constraints and thus add emotion and sparks to an effort many critics last year called boring, even though by Oscar-night standards it moved crisply and ended after only three hours and seven minutes.
John M. Wilson contributed to this story.