Academy Awards Acceptance Speeches | Margaret Herrick Library | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

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Year: 2012 (85th) Academy Awards

Category: Honorary Award

Winner: To George Stevens, Jr., a tireless champion of the arts in America and especially that most American of arts: the Hollywood film.

Presenter: Annette Bening, Sidney Poitier

Date & Venue: December 1, 2012; The Governors Awards (Ray Dolby Ballroom, Hollywood & Highland Center)

GEORGE STEVENS, JR.:
Thank you so much. And thank you, dear Sidney, and wonderful Annette. Sitting out here with all of you enjoying this wonderful evening, it made me think back to the first time I saw one of these. It was a long time ago. It was in, it was on March 15, 1944. I was eleven years old. My father was away at war, preparing for D-Day. He'd been nominated for directing for a movie called "The More the Merrier." And I was planning on going to a twi-night double-header between the Hollywood Stars and the San Francisco Seals down at Gilmore Field over there on Beverly. And my mother told me that instead we were going to Grauman's Chinese and that if my father won this award I was going to accept it. I remember putting on an itchy suit and going to the Chinese with my mother and my grandmother. And my mother saying that, how gracious the stars sitting around us were – Jean Arthur, Jennifer Jones, Ingrid Bergman – when the other's picture would win for art direction or sound, and they would applaud, and it was so nice. And then a fine director of the day, Mark Sandrich, came on the stage to present the award for best director. And I was ready. But you should understand this. I knew the batting averages of every player in the Hollywood Stars' lineup, but I had never heard of "Casablanca." Mark Sandrich read the names, opened the envelope, and he said: Michael Curtiz, "Casablanca." And unlike the gracious ladies sitting around me – my mother said that I had a deep and rather resonant voice for a boy my age – I said, "We wuz robbed!"

Well you see, I mean, I didn't grow up to come here. I wanted to be a sportswriter. My heroes were Grantland Rice and Red Smith. And maybe it was partly a little thing of self-preservation, that I didn't want to devote my life to becoming the second-best film director in my family. But, it a... you know, I had this legacy. My grandmother, Georgia Woodthorpe, was the great actress of the age in San Francisco. She played "Ophelia" to Edwin Booth's "Hamlet." And her daughter, Georgie Cooper, married Landers Stevens. They were both actor and actress matinee idols in San Francisco, and Landers was a director. And when the movies ruined the theater they moved to Hollywood. The next time you see "Swing Time," that handsome, grey-haired man who plays the father of the girl that Fred Astaire stands up at her wedding, that's Landers Stevens. And my other grandmother, Alice Howell, she came here and starred in the first six films that Charlie Chaplin made and went on to make a hundred more. And my mother, she was a Mack Sennett bathing beauty until she retired to raise me. So, it's sort of in our blood. And my daughter Caroline is here; she's a documentary filmmaker. My son Michael is a writer-producer-director. He's in Washington tonight, producing the Kennedy Center Honors. Probably making me irrelevant. And so they are fifth generation in show business. Which makes Liz and me especially proud of our son David, with his doctoral degree from Harvard and his company called Symphony Learning, he is teaching children to learn. And at long last he has proven that a Stevens can make a living in the real world. David.

I went back to the Oscars years later, this time with my father, and I sat next to him the night he won for "A Place in the Sun." And riding home that night, he was driving the car – it was different in those days – and the Oscar was on the seat between us. And I was pretty excited. And I think he thought I was a little too excited. He leaned over, smiled, and he said something that shaped my life. He said, we'll have a better idea what kind of a film this is in about twenty-five years. He was talking about the test of time. And it was the test of time that was the underlying idea and the ethic of the American Film Institute and later the Kennedy Center Honors. So I thank Dad for that and for opening the door for me to a creative life that has been so rich and gifted me with so many wonderful friends in our profession. And the test of time, I've seen a couple of pictures this fall that I am confident will stand the test of time. And I think it is so important that there are filmmakers among us who will swim into the currents, who will challenge the industrialization of moviemaking to make films that are filled with passion and glory and pity and sacrifice, and reached to the depths of our humanity. And so thinking of that I thank the Academy, I thank the Board of Governors. And this means a great deal to me because of our shared values about the importance and the value of film. So tonight I say, here's to the great films of the future. And I should add, tonight I wasn't robbed. Thanks so much.

[Ed. note: In 1944, the Academy Awards ceremony took place on March 2.]

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[Note: All winners are present except where noted; NOT all winners may have spoken.]