Dexter Gordon and the Academy Award Nomination
It was thirty years ago this year that the film Round Midnight was released. The exact date in the U.S. was October 3, 1986. On March 24, 1987, we were in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards. Yes, it’s a true story about a jazz musician who made a film and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The other nominees that year were William Hurt for Children of a Lesser God, Bob Hoskins for Mona Lisa, James Woods for Salvador, and Paul Newman for The Color of Money. You probably know that Paul Newman won the Oscar that year. But Herbie Hancock did win the Oscar for Best Musical Score for Round Midnight, the first African American to receive that honor.
Today, when no Black actors, directors, or films have been nominated for Oscars and amidst much discussion about Hollywood and its lack of “diversity,” the nomination of Dexter Gordon brings back many memories. He was only the fifth Black actor ever nominated in that category. Before his nomination, Paul Winfield was nominated as was James Earl Jones and Sidney Poitier twice. In the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role, Sidney Poitier won the Oscar in 1963 for Lilies of the Field and then it wasn't until 1999 that Denzel Washington won for Training Day.
The road to the Oscars began on the set of Round Midnight when Martin Scorsese said to me, “Pack your bags, you’re going to the Oscars.” They hadn’t even finished the film when he made that remark. We were watching a scene and I stood next to Scorsese because I liked to see what he was seeing and because he always said something unexpected. He said that Dexter’s performance was like Robert De Niro’s in Raging Bull and that Bertrand Tavernier would have to cut all the scenes that Dexter didn’t appear in because Dexter was carrying the movie in the same way De Niro carried Raging Bull. I asked Scorsese not to mention the idea of the Oscar nomination to Dexter because I didn’t want him to get his hopes up and be disappointed but Martin did tell him what he told me. Dexter laughed and said, “That would be nice.”
Before we left for Cuernavaca, Mexico early in 1987, Dexter went to see his designer/tailor Arthur McGee to discuss what he would wear to the Oscars. I kept saying that it was ridiculous because, after all, it was his first film, he was a jazz musician and Sidney Poitier was the only Black actor to ever get the award. He just laughed and said that I had better think about what I was going to wear to the Oscars. We argued about it and he was adamant that he was going to get a nomination. His outfit was ready which included a large satin bow tie that he created with Arthur and new shoes and the cashmere socks he had become accustomed to wearing after he got a pair at Lanvin in Paris.
We were living in Cuernavaca on the morning that the nominations were announced by Bryant Gumbel on The Today Show. We had a satellite dish on the roof so Dexter could watch baseball games from the States and he was having breakfast when the show came on. He yelled for me to come and watch but I kept insisting that he was fantasizing about getting nominated and I went out into the garden. All of a sudden, I heard yelling and stomping and cheering from the house. They had announced the nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role and they said “Dexter Gordon for Round Midnight.” Dexter was laughing and cheering and when I ran into the house, he said: “I told you we were going to the Oscars.”
The phone started ringing and life was never the same. Dexter said, “It’s a great day for jazz and all the musicians who should have had this chance.” Later that day he started writing his acceptance speech.
Watch Video: Round Midnight Trailer
Watch Video: The 1987 Academy Awards announcement for Best Actor.
We were truly so happy for Paul Newman. A true legend of film.
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