Screenwriter Earl W. Wallace said the above after Witness, which he co-wrote along with Pamela Wallace and William Kelley, won for Best Original Screenplay. It happened 32 years ago, during the 58th Academy Awards telecast in ’86. For some reason I’ve never forgotten that confessional moment, and the laughter that followed. Wallace says it at 4:33.
What an awful realization or suspicion that everything you do from here on, no matter how hard you try, will never match this one shining moment of triumph. A couple of years later Wallace (who is still with us) hit the jackpot again with his script for the epic miniseries War and Remembrance, and he wrote several TV movies throughout the ’90s. But he was, by the currency of esteem, correct. It never got any better than winning for Witness.
Who among the major nominees for the 2017 Oscars might be nurturing this same concern, if and when they wind up standing at the lecturn tonight with all the world applauding? Answer: They all could be thinking this. Tomorrow is promised to no one. There is only the great and immediate now.
Posted on 8.7.13: If Gregory Peck had been clairvoyant and under the influence of a truth drug on the night he won the Best Actor Oscar for To Kill A Mockingbird in March 1963, he might have said, “Well, this is it…the peak moment.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play starring roles for the finest producers, directors and writers in the business for the last 18 years…Spellbound, Duel In The Sun, Gentleman’s Agreement, The Paradine Case, Twelve O’Clock High, Roman Holiday, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Moby Dick, The Bravados, The Big Country, Pork Chop Hill, On The Beach, The Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear…and it’s been wonderful.
“I’m saying this because for the next 40 years it’s going to be all downhill. Oh, I’ll make a few interesting films over the next couple of decades but my charmed career period is over and I know it. Some actors only get lucky for five or ten years or so. I nearly had 20. And for that I’m very grateful to the industry and especially to the public. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
From someone who was there: “Of the three winners for Best Original Screenplay for Witness, Earl Wallace and his wife Pamela were in the middle of an acrimonious divorce — the conflict had begun with a fight over her sharing ‘written by’ credit — and were not speaking. The third partner, William Kelly, wasn’t speaking to either of them. He did, however, thank the studio Paramount, not knowing that a few days earlier they had fired him off another solo project. Someone had requested that his agents not tell him until after the ceremony, for obvious reasons. Enough to make the Marquis de Sade cry.”
Larry Gelbart’s 1986 introduction: “The successful screenwriter, one who is the author of more than a set of clever license plates, is a poet pragmatist, ready at the drop of a [hat] to change the script so that the part of Mother Theresa can be played by Goldie or Dusty or Whoopie. And if the writer is ready and willing but considered unable, perhaps the problem of water on the brain that the director has no trouble walking across, the writer is either re-written or partnered with one or more collaborators, often unknown to each other until their hands meet over the same award. Here are this year’s triumphant survivors of a system that would have made the Marquis de Sade cry uncle.”