rambling reporter

Oscar hopefuls enjoy their face time; 'Sheba' returns

Congratulations to today's new Academy Award nominees. It is a rare honor to receive such recognition — just consider the legions of moviemakers in the past 79 years who never got an iota of Oscar attention. The new nominees also have the distinction of spending their time in the sun during an Oscar year that no one is likely to forget considering the nail-biting, down-to-the-wire scenario that has been unfolding. … Many of those celebrating today turned out for last week's star-studded National Board of Review awards gala, sponsored by Bulgari, at New York's elegant Cipriani 42nd. Not only were 99% of the big winners on hand (George Clooney, Julie Christie, Tim Burton, Ellen Page, Emile Hirsch, Casey Affleck, the Coen brothers), but there also was an impressive, marquee-heavy contingent on hand to present the awards, among them Stephen Sondheim, Kate Winslet, Lauren Bacall, Glenn Close, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Garner, Tilda Swinton, Mike Wallace and Michael Murphy, along with all three of the acting heavyweights from "No Country for Old Men" (Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin), who won a joint prize for best acting by an ensemble. Also on hand were Michael Douglas, who was acknowledged for career achievement, and Phil Donahue, for co-producing the documentary the NBR selected as the year's finest, "Body of War." Also getting some face time was Denzel Washington, who accepted the Bulgari-NBR Freedom of Expression award for "The Great Debaters," which co-won with "Persepolis." Flashbulbs were popping before the show, with everyone grabbing photo ops to help fill in those magazine and newspaper spaces left empty by the lack of star gatherings so far in this awards season. … The final Broadway opening of the month takes place Thursday: The Manhattan Theatre Club's revival of William Inge's 1950 bellringer "Come Back, Little Sheba," which won a best actress Tony and an Oscar for the great Shirley Booth, debuts at the Biltmore, directed by Michael Pressman with S. Epatha Merkerson in the Booth role and Kevin Anderson in the part created onstage by Sidney Blackmer. An interesting note about the casting: When "Sheba" was turned into a film in 1952, the producer, Hal Wallis — with an eye to the boxoffice potential of the picture — felt it was essential, in the sensibility of that era, to cast a major movie name in one of the two leading roles. If Bette Davis had accepted his offer to play the female lead, Wallis was going to ask Blackmer to re-create his stage role. Davis, however, rejected the offer because, she said, "No one will ever believe me as someone who would spend their life mourning for a dog who'd run away." With that, Wallis went to Plan B, casting boxoffice heavyweight Burt Lancaster in the male lead and giving the female lead to Booth, who went on to collect most of the best actress prizes that year, including an Oscar in the Academy's 25th year. Today, that Oscar stands behind glass in the lobby of the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Mass., a gift to the theater from Booth, who appeared there often, lived nearby and left it to the house in her will. … Great news: The play of the year, "August: Osage County," is extending its Broadway run at the Imperial to April 13. … More encouraging news: The revival of "Cyrano de Bergerac" with Kevin Kline, which closed this month, recouped its investment in the eighth week of its 91/2-week engagement at the Richard Rodgers.