Art Carney was a pioneer in the early days of television, practically inventing the sit-com “wacky neighbor” and playing the dimwitted but loyal sidekick to Jackie Gleason in the groundbreaking 1950s show The Honeymooners.
He is also, according Joe Horton at Gelf Magazine, the guy who completely ruined the Academy Awards.
Here is why:
In 1974, Carney was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Harry and Tonto, a movie about a guy driving around with a cat or something. He was up against some stiff competition — Al Pacino for The Godfather II, Jack Nicholson for Chinatown, Dustin Hoffman for Lenny, and Albert Finney for Murder on the Orient Express — so nobody expected Carney to take home the prize.
But he did:
As the winner is announced—back when presenters said “and the winner is…”, before that was deemed too emotionally damaging for insecure actors to hear that they were losers and was changed to “and the Oscar goes to…,”—an audible gasp runs through the Chandler crowd when Carney’s name is called and he literally jumps and skips up to the stage to accept his prize.
According to Horton, Carney’s surprise win sparked a daisy chain of “make-up” awards that has yet to abate. Nicholson was given the award the next year for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, beating out Pacino’s performance in Dog Day Afternoon. Hoffman was awarded in 1979 for Kramer vs. Kramer, also at the expense of Pacino. Eventually the academy had to give Pacino something, so in 1992 he won for Scent of a Woman — one of the most ridiculous on-screen performances ever.
To give Pacino his long-overdue award that year, the academy had to ignore Denzel Washington in Malcolm X and Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin — both of which could easily have won.
You can see where this is going, right?
So Washington and Downey, Jr., go home robbed, and a string of strange consequences ensue. Washington comes up for consideration seven years later with The Hurricane, loses, and returns in 2001 for his turn as crooked cop Alonzo Harris in Training Day. Oddsmakers had him behind Russell Crowe’s widely-praised career performance in A Beautiful Mind, his third of three consecutive nominations. But the Carney Consequence—with assists from Crowe’s highly-publicized awards temper tantrums and affinity for brawling in the months leading up to the ceremony—claims another victim.
Crowe is leapfrogged by the “overdue” Washington on a night when the Academy goes all-out to make amends for its shameful historical paucity of winners of color. After recognizing barrier-shattering Sidney Poitier with an honorary Oscar, a hysterical Halle Berry stuns the audience with a Best Actress victory that left some, including Angela Bassett and Time critic Richard Corliss, scratching their heads. In her wake, Berry left Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger empty-handed, who would each—surprise, surprise—score Carney Consequence carryover wins in the next two years.
There’s plenty more, including the theory that Carney’s surprise win doomed comedian-turned-serious actors. Sure, Robin Williams won a supporting actor Oscar for Good Will Hunting, but plenty more have been overlooked. Consider Jim Carrey’s tremendous performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which didn’t even merit a nomination.
Basically, Art Carney ruined everything by shifting the focus of Academy voters away from the actual performances and toward what it means for a particular person to win the award. And for that he should be hanged. Wait — according to Wikipedia he’s already dead. I guess we’ll just have to burn his body then.
As a side note, see if you can guess who wrote Art Carney’s Wikipedia entry:
Carney was succeeded in show business by his grandson, Devin Richardson Carney, star of Old Saybrook theatre productions, including a stint as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and a commanding performance as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. Today, Devin Richardson Carney limits his theatrical work to performing in the Ardmore Road Rock Band in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he plays backup guitar for Nick Bombace.
Give up? I’ll give you a hint — it rhymes with Bevin Krichardson Blarney.