Old pro wins Best supporting actor, hands down is Palance

Ruehl, supporting actress

March 31, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Old pro Jack Palance won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Mercedes Ruehl was named Best Supporting Actress last night at the 64th Annual Academy Awards.

Palance, who had been nominated twice before, played Curly, the leathery head wrangler in the hit comedy "City Slickers."

Palance chided host Billy Crystal, who starred in "City Slickers," "I crap better than him." Then, in one of the strangest acceptance performances of all time, the 72-year old actor performed a brace of one-handed push-ups on stage to show that he was still strong; compared push-ups to sex and then told a story about a producer who had predicted he would win an Oscar -- 42 years ago.

Miss Ruehl won for her role as Jeff Bridges' tough, working-class lover in "The Fisher King."

Miss Ruehl performed no one-handed push-ups but pointed out that the doleful memories of her struggle to become an actress had been magically transformed into charming anecdotes. She also thanked, among others, the late New York producer Joseph Papp, for "nudging her into the light."

"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" won the best make-up award.

The evening got off to a pleasant start, in contrast to the scene outside the Los Angeles Music Center, where dozens demonstrated against what they said was Hollywood's stereotypical portrayal of homosexuals. Police in riot gear kept them from interfering with arriving celebrities and at least 11 people were arrested.

Precisely on schedule, Karl Malden, the academy's president, opened the proceedings with a heartfelt (and ironic, in view of the anticipated protests) evocation of the pleasures of the movies. "The maps of the world have changed," said Malden, "but at least one thing remains the same: the pure joy of movies."

This was a wonderful introduction to a film montage by Chuck Workman called "Joy to the World" -- an evocation of great movie moments, beginning and ending with Charlie Chaplin and including Mae West, W. C. Fields, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and countless others.

Then host Crystal, dressed as Hannibal Lecter from "Silence of the Lambs," was wheeled out; he joshed with the star of "Silence," Anthony Hopkins, before delivering a monologue and then a spirited one-man musical evocation of each Best Picture nominee.

Two songs from "Beauty and the Beast," the first animated film evernominated for Best Picture, were performed in the first part of the presentation. The songs, "Belle" and "Be Our Guest," which were among the nominees for Best Original Song, were co-written by the late Howard Ashman, a Baltimore native.

Barry Levinson's gangster epic "Bugsy" had the most nominations with 10, but the races for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress were considered to be a toss-up.

Three of last night's winners were announced in advance of the televised broadcast that began at 9 p.m. on ABC, Channel 13.

Satyajit Ray, director of such Indian classics as "Pather Panchali" and "The World of Apu," was voted the Lifetime Achievement Oscar. He was too ill to attend the program and accepted on videotape.

George Lucas, whose "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" blockbusters won no Oscars as best picture, was honored with the Irving G. Thalberg award for consistently high standards of film production.

The board of governors also voted the Gordon E. Sawyer award for technical achievement to special effects guru Ray Harryhausen, creator of a whole bestiary for films such as "Clash of the Titans," "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad," "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" and "Jason and the Argonauts."

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