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Rod Lurie is a prolific writer-director perhaps best known for the film The Contender and the TV series Commander in Chief.
I was an Oscarologist since I was, maybe, 10 years old. Oscar was everything to me. I followed the race the same way my peers would follow the Yankees. It drove my parents crazy but, then again, year after year, I’d enter prognostication contests and win. So when I got my own radio show on KABC, you can imagine that I was talking Oscars all year long. And because of that obsession, my show became an almost ritual stopover for Oscar hopefuls.
Marty Landau came on my show to promote Ed Wood. He was basking in what were easily the best reviews of his life, even after twice being nominated before. I told him that his turn as Bela Lugosi would not just be nominated for the Oscar, but that he’d win. Nothing comes remotely close, I told him. “No no,” he said. “Sam Jackson for Pulp Fiction.” “Okay,” I said. “In any other year, it’d be Sam. But this year it’s you. Because of your body of work and because you gave a great performance playing a real actor. And not only that,” I told him. “You deserve it. You know it. I know it.” Marty waved off what I said. “Look,” I said. “I’ll make you a bet. If you don’t win then I’ll devote an hour to the injustice on my show.” He rubbed his chin suspiciously. “And what if I do somehow get lucky and win?” “Well, um, if you do win you need to thank me in your acceptance speech.” He didn’t give it a moment’s hesitation. “You’re on.”
There it was. A joke between us. A fun radio moment. Schtick. Not meant to be taken seriously. So, imagine my surprise when Landau won the Golden Globe and he began a very, very long acceptance speech. First he thanked Tim Burton and then David Hoberman and then a whole buncha folks and then… “members of the press… like Rod Lurie.” I almost fell out of my chair. I think my 3-year-old son did indeed fall out of his chair.
When I reached out to thank his publicist, I was told that Marty was upset because he hadn’t had enough time to get in his daughter. “Oh, shit,” I thought. “Well, there goes the thank you at the Oscars. Revenge for getting his daughter excluded.” But you know what? Nobody can say that Marty doesn’t pay his gambling debts. Marty did indeed win the Oscar and, halfway through his speech, in an effusive tone he declared, “I want to thank the members of the press, especially Rod Lurie.”
That was so cool. And that was all callers wanted to talk about on my show. Maybe I was on to an annual radio schtick? Getting people to thank me at the Oscars!
My next opportunity came when Mel Gibson promoted Braveheart in the spring of 1995. The critics had not yet weighed in and there was no Oscar talk surrounding it, especially given it’s early release date. It was a big entertaining epic, that’s all. But I saw something in it right away: an impeccably calibrated historical epic with just enough emotion to get Oscar voters crying. And so I told Mel, “You know that you’re going to win the Oscar.” I purposely presented it as a statement and not a question. This forced him into humility. “Nah,” he said. He wasn’t an Oscar guy. He was Mad Max. He was “the Lethal Weapon Guy.” He was People‘s Sexiest Man Alive. I made him the same bet that I had with Landau. He accepted. Then, the following February, I watched on my TV as Mel entered the auditorium with his long time publicist Alan Nierob by his side. I called Alan to remind him of the bet. Before I could say anything he said, “Mel’s got your back.” Sure enough, Mel won best director — and thanked me.
The next person that came through for me was James Cameron. He actually came on my show the opening weekend of Titanic and stayed for two full hours. Judging by the calls, he may have been the most popular guest I ever had on. In any case, toward the end, I said to him, “Jim, I’ll make you a bet…” He cut me off. “I was told to expect this. You have yourself a bet.”
On Oscar night, I held a massive Oscar party — 500 guests who all waited to see of Cameron would keep his word. He did. When I arrived at another Oscar party later on, Cameron waved me over. “I paid off my debt!” Indeed he had. (A side note: Cameron later was one of my three signatories when I applied for membership to the Academy.)
That was the last of it. I had to quit my radio show when I started making my film The Contender.
For the record, the only person who didn’t keep their end of the bargain was Billy Bob Thornton who was, when I predicted his win, an extreme long-shot to even be nominated. When he won, he waltzed through his speech without thanking me. Bastard! To his credit, he called to ask forgiveness. A couple of years later, when he was nominated for A Simple Plan, he assured me he’d make it up to me — but we all knew that James Coburn would win for Affliction that year. Too bad we never got him on the show!
You must be wondering: did I ever lose a bet? Yes, once, when Jennifer Jason Leigh was in the running for Georgia. She should have won, but in the end she wasn’t even nominated. She got her hour of love on my show. Maybe she will win this year for The Hateful Eight. A big part of me is rooting for her.
Those were fun days, I must say. And before any of you chime in, let me make the joke for you: now that I am in the Academy, I can probably never expect to hear my name ever again!
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