For all the talk of triviality that annually accompanies Oscar season, sometimes there really is much ado about nothing… or rather, no one. With this year’s nomination of Roderick Jaynes for best editing of the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” the Academy added to an exclusive but enduring club of nominees who exist only on the celluloid on which their names. Here’s a brief history of the nominees least likely to ever attend the Oscar ceremony (well, besides Marlon Brando):
Robert Rich (Dalton Trumbo)
“The Brave One”
Dalton Trumbo had been nominated for an Oscar in 1941 for his script for “Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman.” It’d be the only time Trumbo would be recognized by the Academy under his real name until shortly before his death in 1976. Thanks to the blacklist, Trumbo would win two Oscars by proxy — the first in 1953, when screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter, who did rewrites only, was the lone recipient of the trophy for “Roman Holiday.” In 1957, when Trumbo wrote “The Brave One,” the story of a boy and his bull, the King brothers, who produced the film, paid Trumbo a measly $1,500 (out of a promised $10,000) and gave the screenwriting credit to their nephew. However, when the Academy bestowed the best screenplay Oscar to Rich, Writers Guild member Jesse Lasky, Jr. picked up the award and claimed Rich was at the hospital where his wife was giving birth. As for the King brothers, they got their due for taking advantage of Trumbo’s blacklisted status — five people claimed that Robert Rich had plagiarized their story idea for “The Brave One” and sued. With no real Rich to testify, the first suit alone cost the Kings $750,000 two weeks after the Oscars. Meanwhile, Trumbo emerged from the blacklist in 1960 to earn a credit for “Spartacus.”
Nathan E. Douglas (Nedrick Young)
“The Defiant Ones,” “Inherit the Wind”
Like Roderick Jaynes, Douglas is the only other Oscar alias to be nominated twice, earning a best screenplay nomination for his work on 1960’s “Inherit the Wind” following his win for “The Defiant Ones” in 1958. While the Sidney Poitier-Tony Curtis prison escape drama caused its share of controversy when it was released, it paled in comparison to the full blown brouhaha caused by a New York Times article that revealed Douglas to be the pseudonym for blacklisted screenwriter Nedrick Young, which was followed by the Academy reversing their rule that blacklisted scribes could not be allowed to be nominated for Oscars, calling it “impractical to enforce.” Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wrote at the time, “Since our Academy now makes it legal for Commie writers to receive Oscars, some past winners, who are as bitter about this as I, tell me they’ll return theirs.” They didn’t, but Young still was nominated as Douglas and wouldn’t receive proper credit until 1993, long after his death in 1968.
P.H. Vazak (Robert Towne)
“Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan”
Robert Towne had done plenty of uncredited rewrites on Oscar nominated films, including “The Godfather” and “Bonnie and Clyde,” but when his own screenplay for “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan” was trimmed and reshaped by Michael Austin after he had been denied the directorial reins, Towne changed his credit to the name of his late Hungarian sheepdog, P.H. Vazak, probably thinking the end result would turn out like the last time he used a nom de plume, Edward Wain, on the Roger Corman production “The Last Woman on Earth.” Instead, P.H. Vazak became the first canine to be nominated for an Academy Award, and when Peter Shaffer won the best adapted screenplay for “Amadeus,” it’s quite possible that Vazak rolled over in his grave.
Donald Kaufman (Charlie Kaufman)
The Academy had an easy out if “Adaptation” actually won the award for best original screenplay in 2003. Not only would Charlie Kaufman be on hand to accept the award on behalf of himself and his brother, but, according to the end credits of “Adaptation,” Donald had died during preproduction of the film. It was likely because of this that Charlie refused to answer questions about the dearly departed when asked at the Writers Guild Awards that year — even more distraught were agents who saw Donald’s name attached to the hot script before production and couldn’t reach him. As far as the Oscars were concerned, none of this mattered when Ronald Harwood won for “The Pianist.” If Nicolas Cage’s gregarious portrayal of Donald was any indication, Donald could have, like Cage, cashed in on his Oscar nod with some work for Jerry Bruckheimer.
Roderick Jaynes (The Coen brothers)
“No Country for Old Men,” “Fargo”
The Coen brothers have always been fond of creating characters not just on screen, but off. For the restoration of their first film “Blood Simple,” the Coens went to the trouble of including an introduction from Mortimer Young, a dapper (and completely fake) older gentleman whose company Forever Young Films was credited with the newly struck print of the 1985 thriller. “Blood Simple” also marked the introduction of Jaynes, one of the most respected film editors in the business, if one of the most elusive. In addition to penning introductions to the published versions of the Coens’ screenplays for “Barton Fink,” “Miller’s Crossing” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” Jaynes was celebrated as one of Entertainment Weekly‘s 50 Smartest People in Hollywood last year and had been previously nominated for an Oscar for “Fargo” in 1997. However, when Variety checked whether Jaynes was a member of the American Cinema Editors organization, they heard crickets. Don’t fear the same awkward silence on Oscar night if “No Country for Old Men” wins best editing; when asked in 1997 what would occur if Jaynes won for “Fargo,” Academy executive director Bruce Davis responded, “The Oscar will simply be accepted on behalf of the Academy by the presenters.”
[Photos: “Roderick Jaynes” on the set of “No Country for Old Men,” Miramax, 2007; “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,” Warner Bros. Pictures, 1984]