Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: William Wyler had a rather interesting excuse for not being there to accept his Best Director Academy Award in 1943.
Throughout the history of the Academy Awards, people have had some rather…interesting reasons for not being able to be at the ceremony to accept their award (not counting folks like George C. Scott who refused the award).
Like Horton Foote missing out on accepting his Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird in 1963 because he was sure he would not win.
Or, infamously, Michael Caine missing out on accepting his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Hannah and Her Sisters in 1987…
because he was busy filming Jaws: The Revenge in the Bahamas.
But one of the most striking examples of a winner not being there to accept his or her award was director William Wyler, who could not make the 1943 Oscars ceremony because he was in the middle of a bombing mission!!
William Wyler was born in 1902 in France. He came to Los Angeles in the 1920s, and soon worked his way up to becoming one of the most popular directors in the industry, directing such major films as 1938’s Jezebel, 1939’s Wuthering Heights and 1941’s Little Foxes (two of those three films starred Bette Davis).
In 1942, Wyler directed the acclaimed war film, Mrs. Miniver, depicting the perseverance of the British people in the face of the bombing raids of the Nazis.
The film was designed to push Americans away from isolationist views and to embrace their English allies, and indeed, a speech given at the end of the film by an English vicar was more or less used wholesale in propaganda pamphlets dropped into enemy and occupied territory during the war.
Mrs. Miniver was a surprise hit at the box office and cleaned up at the 1943 Academy Awards, winning six awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay and, of course, Best Director for Wyler.
Wyler, however, was not able to accept the award at the ceremony in early 1943 (or be contacted for the ceremony) because he was in the middle of a bombing mission in Europe!
You see, Mrs. Miniver was only one part of Wyler’s personal efforts to help with the war cause. Wyler was Jewish, so he had a particular dislike for the Nazis, and after doing Mrs. Miniver, Wyler served as a Major in the United States Army Air Forces for three years.
During 1943, he began filming a documentary aboard the “flying fortress,” the bomber Memphis Belle.
The released film, The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, in 1944, was an acclaimed documentary.
So he was on a bombing mission aboard the plane when the Awards were being given out.
After the war, Wyler continued his association with the war effort through the acclaimed Post-War drama, The Best Years of our Lives, which Wyler based on the real life struggles of some of the men he served with during the war.
Wyler would win an Academy Award for Best Director for that film, too (in 1947), as well as for Ben-Hur in 1959. He would be able to be there to accept those Oscars. He is currently one of only three directors to have won three Best Director Oscars (Steven Spielberg has a chance at being the fourth some day, as he is currently sitting on two).
The legend is…
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.