The Jazz.com Blog
October 12, 2008 · 30 comments
Where is the outrage?
Several weeks ago, Marc Myers published an amazing and unsettling story in his JazzWax blog. The esteemed composer and arranger Russ Garcia had been denied an Oscar due to a case of mistaken identity. Myers did some superior sleuthing, and put together the facts in a first class exposé.
Garcia is now 92-years-old. It would be great to rectify this wrong while he is still alive. Yet the silence is deadening.
I thought this story would be covered by the mainstream media, and discussed by other jazz writers. I kept waiting for this newsworthy tale to be picked up by The New York Times or The New Yorker or the Associated Press—or somebody. Yet I am still waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting. Is jazz coverage in the media so dead that a story of this proportions can come to light and then be left untouched?
Apparently it is.
The facts, as Myers brought them out, showed that Garcia had written orchestrations of Charlie Chaplin’s music for the Oscar-winning score of Limelight. Garcia also composed incidental music for the movie, and participated in the recording of the score. Yet the Oscar was given—probably due to confusion over names—to Larry Russell, who apparently had no involvement with the score.
How could this happen? The problem arose because twenty years had elapsed between the production of the Limelight (which was first premiered in London in 1953) and its US released (in 1972). Chaplin’s supposed “subversive tendencies” and investigation by the Justice Department had created an environment in which this film was kept out of U.S. theaters for two decades. When this movie finally was eligible for an Oscar, many of the people who had been involved in its production were dead, including co-arranger Ray Rasch. It seems that the Academy officials asked Rasch's widow to identify the other people involved in the project, and she must have responded “someone named Russell”—setting in motion the eventual awarding of a posthumous Oscar to Larry Russell.
If these facts are true—and I am convinced by the case Myers has made—then Garcia deserves an Oscar. The Academy seems content to ignore this matter—largely (I believe) because not a single newspaper has covered this story. Russ Garcia, for his part, is a very unassuming individual and won't pursue the matter himself. His comment to Myers is revealing: “I’m a Baha'i. It’s part of my faith never to be the source of grief to anyone. I didn't want Larry's widow or family or anyone to feel bad. I still don't. I've won plenty of awards.”
But no one is suggesting that Larry Russell’s award be taken away. Yet the Academy owes one to Russ Garcia. And should act while he is still around to receive the honor.
On a separate note, I would like to dwell on the poor showing by the print media on this matter. I hear constantly how bloggers are “not real journalists” and “don’t break real stories.” Yet the Garcia saga is just one more example of the opposite phenomenon. I check out the jazz coverage in a wide range of media outlets on a daily basis. I can assure you that the top ten jazz bloggers on the web are providing better coverage of the art form than all of the U.S. newspapers combined. Then again, that’s not hard to achieve after decades of declining jazz coverage in the press.
We may not be able to reverse that trend. But if we stir things up a bit, we might be able to get Russ Garcia his Oscar. One place to start is by putting some pressure on Sid Ganis, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy accepts questions and inquiries from the public at http://www.oscars.org/contact/general.html.
This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.