Book Review: 50 Oscar Nights: Iconic Stars & Filmmakers on Their Career-Defining Wins by Dave Karger

TCM host and entertainment journalist Dave Karger assembles a series of interviews with a who’s who (or for those that don’t follow the Oscars or Hollywood closely, a who’s that) of 50 Oscar winners talking about this momentous night in their show-business careers. The participants go as far back as 1962 with Rita Moreno who won Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story to 2019 with Olivia Colman who won Best Actress for The Favourite (with an explanation of how it was decided she would compete in that category when some thought her part was a supporting role).

Buy 50 Oscar Nights: Iconic Stars & Filmmakers on Their Career-Defining Wins book

The interviews are very personal. It feels like the interviewees are speaking directly to the reader with Karger only appearing in the Introduction, explaining he “wanted to create a book where the Oscar winners themselves tell the stories of the night they won their trophies.” So rather than reading him repeatedly posing the same questions, there are subject headings, such as “The Look,” “The Speech,” and “The Celebration.” While the subjects covered vary slightly, the interviews all end with “Where Oscar Lives Now.”

Naturally, many still feel great pride for the recognition they received from their industry peers, but not everyone solely has fond memories of the night. Both Sally Field (Best Actress for Norma Rae) and Marlee Matlin (Best Actress for Children of a Lesser God) were treated atrociously by their respective boyfriends Burt Reynolds and Will Hurt. Composer Alan Menken, who won Best Score and Best Original Song, the latter shared with lyricist Howard Ashman, for The Little Mermaid (1990), has “wildly conflicting emotions” because once they returned to New York after the ceremony, Ashman revealed he had AIDS. They would win again for Best Original Song two years later for “Beauty and the Beast” from film of the same name, but Ashman was awarded posthumously, dying before the film’s release.

The book features some of the biggest names in the industry, such as producer/director Steven Spielberg (for Schindler’s List), actress Meryl Streep (for Sophie’s Choice), and 8 of the 13 living EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winners, including Mel Brooks (Best Original Screenplay for The Producers). And yet, I could have used more entries from lesser-knowns, such as Sound Mixer Kevin O’Connell, who didn’t win until his 21st nomination in 2017 for Hacksaw Ridge and has stories just as interesting as those whose names appear above the title. For example, I didn’t know that, like Sofia Coppola (Best Original Screenplay for Lost in Translation), he followed a parent into the business. I understand celebrities sell more books and I enjoyed reading their chapters so it’s only a mild critique.

50 Oscar Nights is such a great idea for a book that it’s hard to believe someone hasn’t done it before (as far as I know), and it’s so well executed readers will be left wanting another 50 nights, if not more. Hopefully, Karger is already at work on the sequel.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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