Will Oscar Crown New Member of Elite EGOT Club?

Editor addition: Pictured above Robert Lopez, the last (and youngest) EGOT winner. He co-wrote “Let it Go” from “Frozen” with his wife & writing partner, Kristen Anderson-Lopez.  

Guest Perspectives: Bobby Rivers, Former VH1 celebrity talk show host, ABC News film critic & entertainment reporter,  syndicated game show host and a Food Network host. Bobby Rivers is a SAG-AFTRA union member available for professional entertainment work and you can see examples of his on-camera skills at this link.

Lisa Cortes, a producer of the Oscar-winning film “Precious” said “Diversity is being asked to the prom.  Inclusion is being asked to dance and becoming class president.”  Can I get an “Amen” on that?  With her accurate statement in mind, let’s look at EGOTs this Oscar season.  EGOT is an acronym for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony and EGOTs are those who pulled off the Grand Slam of Show Biz and took home each trophy.  Three of those EGOT recipients — and it’s a small select winners circle — underscore why the current topic of Hollywood diversity and inclusion deservedly has been a red button issue for a couple of years.

I worked with an EGOT.  Every week for two years in New York City, I sat next to and worked with Whoopi Goldberg.  She had her own national weekday morning show from 2006 to 2008.  The airtime got her tapped to join ABC’s “The View.”  For almost 20 years, Whoopi Goldberg was the black actress with the most Oscar nominations to her credit.  She had two.  She was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for “The Color Purple” (1985) and she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Ghost” (1990).  When 2011’s “The Help” brought Viola Davis her second Oscar nomination, she and Whoopi were tied.

Whoopi came to national attention thanks to director Mike Nichols.  He saw her and spotlighted her remarkable talents in a one-woman Broadway show that became one of the hottest tickets in town.  He discovered her.  He was her mentor.  This 1984 show used to be on VHS.  If you can find it somewhere, you must see it.  Her unique, extraordinary talents will make you gasp and howl with laughter.  She made history with her second Oscar nomination that came for a 1990 comedy.  Think about it.  Glenn Close got her first Oscar nomination for a 1982 movie.  By the time Whoopi won her Oscar, Glenn had racked up a total of five Oscar nominations.  Jessica Lange also got her first Oscar nominations for work in 1982 films.  By the time Whoopi won her Oscar, Jessica had also racked up a total of five Oscar nominations.  Why was Whoopi Goldberg doing a morning radio show?  Because she’s a black actress and Hollywood had no scripts for her.  She did radio and TV.

With amazing talent that impressed the legendary Mike Nichols enough to present her on Broadway, Hollywood still wasn’t seeing the big picture.  It was too focused on race.  And its focus was limited.  Whoopi and I talked about it work.  Even after her Best Actress Oscar nomination, her mailbox was not exactly stuffed with new script offers.  She took scripts that had another actress’ fingerprints on them.  Cher turned down 1994’s “Black Beauty.”  Whoopi did it.  Bette Midler passed on 1992’s “Sister Act.”  Whoopi did that.  Whoopi told me how hurt and humiliated she was that she could not get an audition for “Ghost,” the comedy hit that brought her the Oscar.  She said that the producers would not see her.  They saw just about every other black actress in town.  Things didn’t change until Patrick Swayze, the star of the film, heard about Whoopi’s frustration and told the producers that if they did not let her audition, he was pulling out of the project.  The rest is box office and Oscar history.

Rita Moreno is an EGOT champ.  She won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “West Side Story,” Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1961.  Then Rita Moreno could not get more Hollywood work for another seven years.  As my mother would say, “That’s just a sin and a shame.”  The Puerto Rican actress went to TV (“The Electric Company”) and to Broadway.  She played teacher Annie Sullivan in a revival of “The Miracle Worker” and she won a Tony for playing the ditzy and lovably untalented Puerto Rican performer, Googie Gomez.  Googie sings in a New York City gay men’s bathhouse.  To Googie, this is star billing.  Rita Moreno recreated the role in a 1976 film version of “The Ritz.”  Her hilarious performance proves that Hollywood really dropped the ball on utilizing her comedy chops after her Oscar win for the musical drama “West Side Story.”

(Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images for AFI)

James Earl Jones is at EGOT winner too.  I saw him on Broadway in the late 80s as the father in the original Broadway cast of “Fences.”  What a magnificent performance.  I’m sure the cheers during the standing ovation he got at curtain call could be heard outside the theater.  I thought that packed audience was going to leap onstage and joyfully carry him aloft down Broadway like he was Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra.  But we didn’t get to see him in a film version.  We didn’t see a film version for over 20 years.  Why?  Because the African American Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, August Wilson, wanted the film to be helmed by an African American director.  It took Hollywood quite some time to get it together — unlike for film adaptations of plays by Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller or Edward Albee.  The film version of “Fences” has made Viola Davis the most Oscar-nominated black actress in film history.  It brought Davis her third nomination.

James Earl Jones won a Tony for his lead role work in “The Great White Hope” co-starring Jane Alexander.  He recreated the role for 20th Century Fox and became one of the few black men nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.  The film “The Great White Hope” came out in 1970.  James Earl Jones commands the screen.  He deserved that Oscar nomination, the only one he got in his film career.  He deserved more leading man roles.  But didn’t get the amount of lead role film opportunities that other actors such as Jon Voight, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman and Burt Reynolds got back then. He followed his 1970 onscreen success in “The Great White Hope” with an outstanding lead role performance in 1972’s “The Man.”  In that intelligent, provocative and surprising drama, he played the first black President of the United States.  The script was based on a best-selling novel of the same name.  But Hollywood didn’t give this project enough of a dignified budget as a theatrical release.  It wound up as 90-minute presentation on the ABC’s Movie of the Week.  The budget was so minimal that some exterior long shots of The Forum in Inglewood, California were passed off as being Washington, DC sites.  Jones was brilliant in that role and I feel his project made Hollywood studios nervous because a black man was running the country.  And it was not a comedy.  “The Man” had a strong cast and some social grit in the story, grit that is still relevant today.  The actor went on to more TV and more Broadway.  James Earl Jones, who famously was the voice of Darth Vader in “Star Wars” adventures, received a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2011.

Other EGOT honorees include Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Mel Brooks, Audrey Hepburn, Helen Hayes, British actor John Gielgud, Mike Nichols, Marvin Hamlisch, Robert Lopez and film producer Scott Rudin.

I want to cheer out loud and proud on Oscar night when Lin-Manuel Miranda becomes the 13th EGOT winner in history.  His Broadway musical blockbuster, “Hamilton” brought him the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Awards. His “In the Heights” took top Tony Awards.  He’s won Grammys and an Emmy.  His “How Far I’ll Go” in Disney’s animated feature, “Moana,” put him in the Best Song Oscar category.  This actor, composer, writer is one of the warmest, most wonderful, most talented gentlemen to hit the industry in years.  If he wins the Oscar — and I am lighting novena candles at church and praying that he does — he will have become a EGOT champ in only nine years.  Wow.  And the New York Puerto Rican has got a Pulitzer Prize on top of that!  He’ll perform his Best Song nominee from Disney’s “Moana” on the Oscars telecast.

I feel Lin-Manuel Miranda will bring some needed fresh air into Hollywood casting and opportunities.  He’s been invited to the prom.  He may be asked to dance and have a shot at becoming class president.  Hollywood did not have plenty of opportunities for fabulously talented people of color in the past who became EGOT recipients.  If Lin-Manuel becomes one this month, he could benefit from a welcomed and much-needed change in Hollywood.

By the way, the term EGOT was coined back in the 80s by Philip Michael Thomas when he was hot TV actor on “Miami Vice.”  It was the very popular cop series that proved a man can fight crime while wearing pastels and while not wearing socks with his loafers.  Thomas co-starred with Don Johnson.  In an interview, Philip Michael Thomas verbally laid out the plan for his career.  His goal was to do work that could bring him an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. “EGOT,” he said.  Ironically, he was only nominated for a Golden Globe — in 1986 for “Miami Vice.”

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