Chapter 19: Oscar Comes Calling
Out of the blue came a telegram, not from Snyder but from Bobe Cannon. Then another came from my mother, and from friends and other relatives: We had won! We had actually won the Oscar! Bill Snyder's cable drifted in several days later. Then came letters from Hollywood colleagues telling us that Snyder had accepted the award with the following remarks: "Thanks to Gene, Jules, and Al." Gene who? Jules who? Al who?
It was Jules Feiffer of course, who wrote the great story, and it was Al Kouzel, from my staff at GDA, Inc. who drew the key poses and layout sketches for the film. Later, when we saw a film of the Oscar ceremony, we realized that Snyder had entered Munro under his own name!
The project had of course been created within my New York studio, before Snyder even appeared on the scene. The story adaptation, dialogue soundtrack and graphic preparation had all been done under my direction, at my company, and the film rights had been contracted to me. Snyder didn't even pay me for my direction of the film. I was to get a percentage of the "net profits" (There were none; even Forrest Gump made no net profits!). All Snyder paid for, (and that was a pittance), was for the animation production at Zdenka's studio.
His one and only venture into the creative aspect of the film was an attempt to castrate one of the strongest lines of Feiffer's dialogue: An army officer is addressing a group of new recruits:
"I want to welcome you men to the Army. This is a time of great struggle. I will explain the issues: Our side is in favor of God. The other side isn't. Any questions?"
Snyder was terrified that we were making a satirical reference to God in a cartoon. He was pressuring me to add another o: "Our side is in favor of good. The other side isn't." Even if I would have acquiesced to such a cop-out, which I was not prepared to do, I knew that Jules would have considered it a breach of my promise to be completely faithful to his story. Snyder insisted that we at least record the alternate line. (Howard Morris performed all the voices except the voice of 4-year-old Munro, which was my 3-year-old son Seth, and the voice of a little girl and Munro's mother, performed by my former wife Marie.) I am proud to say that the film retained the original line. Big deal.
So, for putting up a few bucks Snyder got to leap onto the stage at the Oscar ceremony, and in front of the watching world, pick up an Oscar with his name engraved on it. The original Oscar resided on his night table for the rest of his life, while I must be satisfied with a copy.
Of course, as a member of the Academy I later wrote them and registered my protest of the awarding the statuette to the wrong person. The unfairness was acknowledged, but it was within the letter of the rules of that time to award a Short Film Oscar to the "producer" of the film, but the understanding was that the "producer" was the person who actually made the film. Anyway, the deed was done, and it was Academy policy never to retract an award, nor ever to issue a duplicate statuette. So I was S.O.L., as the saying goes. But my raising the issue — and I'm sure that I was not the only one - had its effect. The Rules are now crystal clear, to wit: "The recipient of the statuette will be the individual person most directly responsible for the concept and the creative execution of the film."
But what did it matter then? I knew whose Oscar it really was; (so, for that matter, did the Academy. They wrote me that under the rules at that time, they had no choice but to accept the name of whoever entered the film.) In those days I was too preoccupied to even think about it, or to take seriously our chances of actually winning. I always knew it was Julie Feiffer's story and drawings that were the key ingredients. To Zdenka and me, the real meaning of the Oscar was that it virtually guaranteed we would be together.