The envelope, please: SMU’s role in preserving Oscar history

1942 Oscar ceremony photoWhile Hollywood prepares to celebrate the 82nd annual Academy Awards March 7, 2010, North Texas can look to SMU to find priceless pieces of Oscar history.

SMU library collections include almost 70 years of Academy Award history, such as Greer Garson‘s 1942 Oscar for “Mrs. Miniver,” four 1951 Academy Award envelopes (complete with red seals and winners’ names), and Horton Foote‘s original screenplay and dialogue notes for his 1983 Oscar-winning screenplay, “Tender Mercies.”

“I’ll never forget that when Mr. Foote came to SMU in 2003 to receive an honorary degree, we had displayed some of the early manuscripts of his play, The Trip to Bountiful,” says Russell Martin, DeGolyer Library director.” He looked at the pages on view in the exhibit case and said, ‘I think I’ll change that. I think I can make it better.’ And so it goes: Literary manuscripts are tangible links to the writer and the creative process. When researchers study such materials at SMU, they help advance our understanding and appreciation of literary works.”

The ephemera from past Oscar ceremonies represent aspects of the physical culture of the Hollywood industry – one of the most influential facets of American society and global culture in the 20th century, says Rick Worland, professor of cinema-television in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts.

“Everyone knows the catch-phrase, ‘The envelope, please.’ To actually have several of the envelopes from the 1951 ceremony, literally fished out of a trash can, might seem cultish or just dumb,” Worland adds. “But being able to see ephemeral objects such as this can help bring the bit of cultural history alive for people from now on.”

(Above, Greer Garson – left center – at the 1942 Academy Awards with, left to right, Van Heflin, Teresa Wright and James Cagney.)

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