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Women Presidents at Academy: Cheryl Boone Isaacs Is Third

Women Presidents Cheryl Boone Isaacs Angelina JolieWomen presidents at the Academy: Cheryl Boone Isaacs is only the third one (photo: Angelina Jolie, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Brad Pitt)

(See previous post: "Honorary Award Non-Winners: Too Late for Gloria Swanson, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich.") Wrapping up this four-part "Honorary Oscars Bypass Women" article, let it be noted that in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 85-year history there have been only two women presidents: two-time Oscar-winning actress Bette Davis (for two months in 1941, before the Dangerous and Jezebel star was forced to resign) and screenwriter Fay Kanin (1979-1983), whose best-known screen credit is the 1958 Doris Day-Clark Gable comedy Teacher's Pet.

Additionally, following some top-level restructuring in April 2011, the Academy created the positions of Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer, with the CEO post currently held by a woman, former Film Independent executive director and sometime actress Dawn Hudson. The COO post is held by longtime Academy insider Ric Robertson.

Oscar 2014-2015 update: Founded on May 11, 1927, the Academy's history now spans 87 years. Ric Robertson stepped down as COO in September 2013, but Dawn Hudson remains the Academy's CEO.

In July 2013, Public Relations Branch member Cheryl Boone Isaacs — also a Board of Governors member for more than two decades — became the Academy's third woman president. Boone Isaacs, whose credits include the promotion of two eventual Best Picture Oscar winners, Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump and Mel Gibson's Braveheart, also happens to be AMPAS' first black president. (See also "Honorary Oscars 2014 addendum.")

Besides women presidents Bette Davis and Fay Kanin, past Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presidents include actor, producer, and United Artists co-founder Douglas Fairbanks; actors Conrad Nagel, Jean Hersholt, Wendell Corey, Gregory Peck, and Karl Malden; directors William C. de Mille, Frank Capra, Frank Lloyd, George Stevens, George Seaton, Robert Wise, and Arthur Hiller; screenwriters Daniel Taradash and Valentine Davies; screenwriter-director Frank Pierson; screenwriter-producer Charles Brackett; art director Gene Allen; producer and studio executive Sid Ganis; executive producer Tom Sherak; and producers Walter Wanger (two separate terms), Arthur Freed, Walter Mirisch, Howard W. Koch, and Robert Rehme (two separate terms).

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Board of Governors

In the 2011-2012 period, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 43-member Board of Governors includes included six women: actress Annette Bening, director Kathryn Bigelow, editor Anne V. Coates, art director Rosemary Brandenburg, producer Gale Anne Hurd, and publicist Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Additionally, AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson is [and remains] a Board of Governors Officer.

Oscar 2014-2015 update: There are currently 51 members in the Academy's Board of Governors, including 14 women — in addition to Board of Governors Officer Dawn Hudson. The female members, representing various Academy branches, are the following:

  • Documentary filmmaker Kate Amend (The Queen of Versailles)
  • Actress Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
  • Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
  • Hair stylist Kathryn Blondell (Django Unchained)
  • Publicist (and Academy president) Cheryl Boone Isaacs
  • Producer Kathleen Kennedy (The Color Purple)
  • Casting director Lora Kennedy (Man of Steel)
  • Film editor Lynzee Klingman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
  • Costume designer Judianna Makovsky (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
  • Costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Sony Pictures executive Amy Pascal
  • Set decorator Jan Pascale (Argo)
  • Screenwriter Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
  • Fox Searchlight Pictures co-president and Public Relations Branch member Nancy Utley

'Honorary Oscars Bypass Women' appendix

* Needless to say, excluded from the count were the Special Awards or Honorary Oscars given to agencies, companies, and organizations such as Warner Bros. (for the production of the 1927 part-talkie The Jazz Singer), the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Film Board of Canada, and the Eastman Kodak Company; or to specific films, among them Mervyn LeRoy's 1945 short The House I Live In, starring Frank Sinatra, and non-English-language productions such as Shoeshine, Monsieur Vincent, The Walls of Malapaga, Forbidden Games, and Samurai.

Also left out were Honorary Award winners for specific achievements. These include Charles Chaplin "for acting, writing, directing and producing" The Circus; William Cameron Menzies for "the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood" in Gone with the Wind; Walt Disney for the creation of Mickey Mouse and, several years later, for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia; and the Academy's Juvenile Award winners.

Although not necessarily labeled as such, miniature "Juvenile Oscars" — briefly mentioned in part one of this Honorary Oscars article — were handed out for specific achievements in a particular year. For instance, Shirley Temple was a 1934 recipient (at the 1935 ceremony), the year she became a star after being featured in Little Miss Marker and Now and Forever, among others. Deanna Durbin was a 1938 co-winner (along with Mickey Rooney), the year she had two major hits, Mad About Music and That Certain Age. And Judy Garland won hers for 1939, the year she was seen in The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Arms. And so on.

And finally, also excluded from my count were those who received Honorary Oscars in recognition of their "services to the Academy." After all, those were "Thank You," not career achievement awards, going to the likes of Jean Hersholt, Charles Brackett, and Arthur Freed, among others.

Note: Excepting the handful of female child and adolescent Juvenile Oscar winners, only one (adult) woman took home the Academy's Honorary Award in any of the "categories" mentioned above. That was Onna White, who received her Oscar statuette for her choreography in Carol Reed's 1968 Best Picture Academy Award winner Oliver!.

** Several of those 41 Honorary Oscar-winning actors — e.g., Robert Redford, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Laurence Olivier, Sidney Poitier — also performed other cinematic duties such as directing, writing, and/or producing films. But their Honorary Oscars were undeniably a direct result of their activities in front of the camera.

For instance, Robert Redford was nominated for two Best Director Academy Awards: Ordinary People (1980) and Quiz Show (1994), eventually winning for the former. Redford, however, is much better known for his star vehicles, among them the Best Picture Oscar winner The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Great Gatsby, Three Days of the Condor, All the President's Men, Brubaker, The Natural, and Indecent Proposal.

Academy membership: overwhelmingly white, older (and wealthy) male residents on Los Angeles' Westside

According to a widely discussed July 2012 Los Angeles Times piece, out of 5,100 "confirmed" members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 6,000-strong membership, 94 percent are white (admittedly, what's considered "white" may be debatable) and 77 percent are male (a considerably less debatable label). Their median age is 62 years old. Unfortunately, the article, which is supposed to show that the Academy's "demographics are much less diverse than the moviegoing public," doesn't feature any information about one crucial detail: the median income of Academy members.

Also of note, most of the tallied AMPAS members — though percentage figures were also unavailable in the paper — live on Los Angeles' Westside. Using the term loosely to include the western section of the San Fernando Valley, that's an area stretching from the Hollywood Hills to Malibu, including Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Calabasas, Thousand Oaks, and Woodland Hills in the Valley; in addition to Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Brentwood, Bel Air, Westwood, West Los Angeles, Holmby Hills, Century City, Marina del Rey, Santa Monica, and Pacific Palisades on the Westside proper. There's also a large contingent of Academy members in the eastern section of the Hollywood Hills and in adjacent Los Feliz.

Photo of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' third woman president, standing between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the 2014 Governor's Ball. The post-Oscar ceremony celebration took place on March 2. Credit: Todd Wawrychuk / © Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences / AMPAS.

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