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They Had Glamour Then: On Academy Awards Past : PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE

March 23, 1997|Ilene Beckerman | Ilene Beckerman is the author of "Love, Loss and What I Wore" (Algonquin Press)

BERNARDSVILLE, N.J. — I like movies, not films or flicks. I look forward to watching the Academy Awards on TV every year, the same way I look forward to watching the Miss America Pageant. I like to see what everybody's wearing, how they do their hair and make-up. I just love it when movie stars look awful.

When I was growing up, movie stars always looked glamorous. And whichever movie star won the best actress award that year, was the person I wanted to look like. Unless, of course, it was someone like Shirley Booth, who won Best Actress award in 1952 for "Come Back, Little Sheba." Shirley was a really great actress, and who didn't love her on TV as "Hazel," but she certainly was no Audrey Hepburn.

I cut my hair just like Audrey's once. It was 1953, the year Audrey got the Oscar for best actress in "Roman Holiday." I remember because that was the year I got the dance lead in my high-school senior play. Audrey got to dance with Gregory Peck in the movie. I got to dance with Evelyn Morgenstern in our senior play. I went to an all-girls high school.

I'd been interested in dance ever since I saw Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly in "An American in Paris." That movie won the Academy Award in 1951. Nobody dances in movies anymore. Leslie Caron, Ginger Rogers and Ann Miller would probably be aerobics teachers today.

I wanted to be a nun when I was eight because I thought Jennifer Jones looked so beautiful in "The Song of Bernadette," even though she wasn't wearing make-up in the movie. She won the Oscar that year, 1943. I never became a nun.

Joan Crawford always scared me. Men were always slapping her in the face in the movies. Sometimes, she even slapped them back. That never happened to anyone I knew. She won an Oscar for "Mildred Pierce" in 1945. I liked the other nominees: Ingrid Bergman, who played a nun in "The Bells of St. Marys," (I was still into nuns), and Jennifer Jones who didn't play a nun in "Love Letters." Gene Tierney was also up. I wouldn't have minded if she won. She had an overbite like me.

I wanted Judy Garland to win Best Actress award in 1954, for "A Star Is Born" but Grace Kelly won for "The Country Girl."

I was so jealous of Grace. She was perfect and she was rich. I never even tried to look like her. I wouldn't have known where to start. I was still working on my Audrey Hepburn look, anyway. Audrey was up for an another award for "Sabrina" that year.

I don't remember the awards show during the next few years. I was in college and we didn't go to the movies a lot. In the '50s, boys were expected to pay for everything on dates. They seldom had enough money for movies and dinner. Given the choice, I wanted to eat. After dinner, I usually went back to my date's dorm, listened to Sinatra LPs and necked. Girls that didn't have dates on Friday or Saturdays nights didn't go out. No girl ever wanted to be seen at a movie dateless.

I was seven months pregnant when Elizabeth Taylor was voted best actress in 1960 for "Butterfield 8." I remember that because I couldn't believe how small her waist was and how big mine was. Nobody I knew had an 18-inch waist. Nobody worked out in those days. If you lifted weights, you'd have to get new friends. The word cellulite wasn't invented then--so we just didn't have it.

The following year, I watched the Academy Awards while I was nursing my baby daughter. Sophia Loren won for "Two Women." Sophia and I had something in common that year--I could have fitted into her bra.

My children wanted to stay up to see "Mary Poppins" when it was up for Best Picture in 1964. Though I told them Julie Andrews would be there, not Mary Poppins, they were crying when I sent them to bed at 9:30. The show went on forever in those days. Julie Andrews beat Audrey Hepburn for best actress. I'd given up wearing my hair like Audrey, anyway. I was into Jacqueline Kennedy bouffants.

Who could forget the outfit Barbra Streisand wore when she tied with Katharine Hepburn for best actress in 1969? When I saw Barbra walk up to accept her award, I couldn't believe my eyes. I called my sister (we hadn't talked in six months because we each thought the other extremely insensitive and inaccurate in recalling certain things that had happened when we were younger). "Did you see what I saw?" I said. My sister, who is even more near-sighted than me, saw.

My sister and I don't always agree. When I was six and she was 11, we had a big fight over the best actress award. Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland, who were also sisters, were both nominated. I wanted Joan to win. I thought she was prettier. My sister wanted Olivia. She liked her in "Gone With the Wind." I thought Olivia was a goody goody. My sister thought I wasn't a nice person.

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