Oprah Winfrey is to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in November. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
James Earl Jones, Oprah Winfrey and pioneering makeup artist Dick Smith will be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in November with Governors Awards. Jones and Smith will receive Honorary Awards, while Winfrey will be presented with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
The Honorary Award is presented for "extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the academy." The Humanitarian Award, named after the Danish-born actor who helped form the Motion Picture Relief Fund in 1939, is given to an individual "whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry."
The awards, which were decided upon Tuesday evening, will be handed out Nov. 12 at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland. Until 2008, the Governors Awards were presented during the televised Oscar ceremony, but several years ago the board of governors decided to shake things up and give the honorees their own evening.
Jones, 80, made his Broadway debut in 1957; his first film was Stanley Kubrick's 1964 classic "Dr. Strangelove." He won two Tony Awards for lead actor in a drama (for 1969's "The Great White Hope" and for 1987's "Fences"). He became the second African American to earn a best actor Oscar nomination — after Sidney Poitier — for the 1970 film "The Great White Hope."
Besides lending his booming baritone as the voice and the force of Darth Vader in the "Star Wars" movies, Jones has appeared in such films as "Claudine," "Coming to America," "Field of Dreams" and the original "Conan the Barbarian." He was on Broadway this season with Vanessa Redgrave in "Driving Miss Daisy."
Tom Sherak, who was reelected president of the academy on Tuesday, got to deliver the news to Jones. "I got to speak to James Earl Jones," Sherak said. "I, Tom Sherak … got to speak to Darth Vader, and I made him happy."
Perhaps the most unexpected honoree is Winfrey. Though the 57-year-old talk show host and philanthropist is one of the most influential women in the world, she has acted in only three feature films and has produced or executive produced three others.
However, she is no stranger to the Academy Awards. Winfrey did earn a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her film debut in Steven Spielberg's 1985 drama "The Color Purple." And there was chatter this summer that she was going to host the Academy Awards in 2012; camera crews from her show were granted special backstage access at this year's show.
Besides her 25 years hosting her own show and now operating the OWN television network, Winfrey has multiple philanthropic endeavors, including Oprah's Angel Network, which is focused on education and human rights; the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, which supports "the inspiration, empowerment and education of women, children, and families around the world"; and Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a girls' boarding school in South Africa.
Sherak said that despite Winfrey's lack of movie credits, "she is a member of the academy. Oprah has produced movies and has been nominated for an Academy Award. It has nothing to do with how many movie credits she has. It has to do with the fact that she is one of us, she is a member and … she was one of the 50 most generous philanthropists in Business Week; as an individual performer she has given over $500 million of her own money to charity."
The 89-year-old Smith is known as "the godfather of makeup" and started his career in 1945 as NBC's first makeup artist. Among his classic films are 1972's "The Godfather," 1973's "The Exorcist" and 1976's "Taxi Driver." He won an Oscar for 1984's "Amadeus." Smith also trained such contemporary makeup artists as Rick Baker, Carl Fullerton and Greg Cannom.
"Dick Smith is a living legend," Sherak said. "And a below-the-line living legend. The general public might not know who he is, but we know who Dick Smith is and the bottom line is that is what this is about — this is about honoring people whose achievements have been incredible in their career."