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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will bestow honorary awards this year on actress Gena Rowlands and writer-director Spike Lee and will present its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Debbie Reynolds.
The awards were voted on Tuesday night at a meeting of the Academy’s board of governors and will be presented at the seventh annual Governors Awards, scheduled to take place Nov. 14 at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland.
Honorary awards are given each year for lifetime achievements, exceptional contributions to motion picture arts and sciences, and outstanding service to the Academy.
Rowlands has been nominated twice for best actress in a leading role — for 1974’s A Woman Under the Influence and 1980’s Gloria, both of which were directed by her late husband John Cassavetes. Having begun her career on the New York stage and in live TV in the 1950s, she has appeared in more than 40 feature films that have included Minnie and Moskowitz, Hope Floats and The Notebook.
Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who called each of the recipients to break the news before it was publicly announced, reached Rowlands first and reports, “I think she was a little surprise and very thrilled and honored. She said I made her day. I think she’s fabulous.”
Lee, who has received two Oscar nominations — an original screenplay nom for 1989’s Do the Right Thing and a documentary feature nom for 1997’s 4 Little Girls — began his career as one of the original voices that ushered in the independent film wave of the ‘80s. His directing credits range from She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze and Do the Right Thing to such features as He Got Game, 25th Hour and Miracle at St. Anna. He currently serves as artistic director of the graduate film program at New York University.
Lee was “really jazzed and very honored,” Boone Isaacs said, “I wanted to make it clear to him that his impact on the indie world has been remarkable and it has been steadfast over all these decades. That kept him alive and vibrant for all that time, and the impact he’s had on young filmmakers can’t be denied. He’s had a great career and made some iconic films at full volume.”
While Reynolds has had a prolific film career — she starred in the classic Singin‘ in the Rain and has earned one Oscar nom as best actress for 1964’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown — the Academy is honoring her for her philanthropic activities. She was a founding member of the Thalians, a charitable organization created by Hollywood entertainers to promote the awareness and treatment of mental illness and was that group’s president almost continuously from 1957 to 2011. Over the years, the Thalians‘ fundraising efforts contributed millions to the mental health center at Cedars-Sinai and to UCLA’s Operation Mend, which helps military veterans.
“Debbie is such a world-famous icon. When you go around the world and say you’re from Hollywood, she’s one of the names that always comes up,” observed Boone Isaacs. “And yet she devoted so much of her time and energy to help others, especially those with issues of mental health problems. And that’s why we have the Jean Hersholt.”
The Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which is awarded periodically, is given to an “individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.” The last recipient was Harry Belafonte, who was honored at last year’s Governors Awards.
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