©A.M.P.A.S. ® may, at its discretion, vote additional awards, and it began doing so from the Academy's inception. These special awards are initiated at a designated meeting of the Board of Governors. The board itself nominates or accepts nominations for special awards from area committees, for example, the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee. The Board of Governors votes on conferring special awards through a secret ballot.
For the first Academy Awards ® in 1927–1928, the Board created a special award for Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) for The Circus , which he produced, wrote, starred in, and directed. An Honorary Award went to Warner Bros. for the studio's groundbreaking work on sound technology, exemplified by The Jazz Singer . In 1978 Garrett Brown received an Award of Merit for the invention and development of Steadicam technology. Though the Board of Governors has created a variety of special awards over the decades, it now regularly bestows several established awards. Recipients of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, and the Special Achievement Award all receive Oscar ® statuettes. A special award may be presented as an Oscar ® statuette, or it may take another form; for example, Scientific and Engineering Award recipients are given a plaque, and the Technical Achievement Award winners receive a certificate. The special awards include the following.
Established in 1956, this award is named in honor of the silent-era actor Jean Hersholt (1886–1956), who was famous for his philanthropic work. It is awarded to an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry." At a special meeting, after nominations, the first ballot narrows the field to the candidate with the highest number of votes. On a second secret ballot, this individual must tally two-thirds approval by the Governors in attendance to receive the award. Past winners of this award include Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993), Bob Hope (1903–2003), Quincy Jones (b. 1933), Paul Newman (b. 1925), Gregory Peck (1916–2003), and Elizabeth Taylor (b. 1932).
Given most years, the Honorary Award is voted to individuals showing "extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy." This award may also honor an individual for whom no annual Academy Award ® category fits; for example, honorary awards went to choreographer Michael Kidd in 1996 and animator Chuck Jones in 1995. An Honorary Award may also be voted to an organization or a company. In 1988 the National Film Board of Canada received this award in the organization category and Eastman Kodak in the company category. Also, though not often, two Honorary Awards may be given in the same year; for example, in 1995 Kirk Douglas and Chuck Jones both received Honorary Award Oscars ® , as did Sophia Loren and Myrna Loy in 1990. Though not labeled a lifetime achievement award, it is often given for a life's work in filmmaking, as it was in 1998 to American director Elia Kazan and in 1999 to Polish director Andzrej Wajda.
The Honorary Award may take the shape of the familiar Oscar ® statuette, in which case it is presented during the yearly telecast, or it may be conferred as life membership in the Academy, a scroll, a medal, a certificate, or any other form chosen by the Board. The Medal of Commendation, established in 1977, is another version of the Honorary Award voted for "outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy." The Scientific and Technical Awards Committee forwards nominees for this award to the Governors. After 1997 this award, a bronze medallion, has carried the name of legendary sound engineer John A. Bonner, a 1994 recipient who died in 1996. Except for the Oscar ® statuette, these Honorary Awards are usually presented at the annual dinner ceremony for Scientific and Technical Awards.
Named for the head of the sound department at Samuel Goldwyn Studios, who was a member of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee from 1936 to 1977, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award (an Oscar ® statuette) aims to honor "an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry." The Scientific and Technical Awards Committee usually recommends candidates for this award to the Board.
Given when the Board designates a deserving recipient, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award goes to "a creative producer who has been responsible for a consistently high quality of motion picture production." It is named for Irving Grant Thalberg (1899–1936), who produced films from the early 1920s until his death in 1936. At twenty years of age, he became production head at Universal Film Manufacturing and, three years later, vice president and supervisor of production for Louis B. Mayer. The following year Mayer affiliated as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where Thalberg continued his production responsibilities for eight years, until his untimely death from pneumonia at age thirty-seven. In 1937 the Academy inaugurated the Thalberg Memorial Award by honoring producer Darryl F. Zanuck (1902–1979). Instead of an Oscar ® statuette, the awardee receives a solid bronze head of Thalberg on a black marble base. Two earlier versions were superseded in 1961 by the sculpture designed in 1957 by Gualberto Rocchi, weighing 10 ¾ pounds and standing 9 inches tall.
After receiving recommendations from outstanding technicians and scientists in the cinema field, the Governors evaluate potential recipients. In contrast to the Special Achievement Award that may be given for an exceptional contribution to one film, the Scientific and Technical Awards are conferred on individuals who have initiated proven, long-standing innovations. These awards are given during a special dinner, separate from, and in advance of, the annual Oscar ® telecast, during which these awards are usually acknowledged.
Instituted in 1972, the Special Achievement Award, an Oscar ® statuette, is voted when an achievement makes an exceptional contribution to the motion picture for which it was created, but for which there is no annual award category. In contrast to the Honorary Award, the Special Achievement Award can be conferred only for achievements in films that qualify for that year's eligibility requirements. In most instances (13 of 17 times before 2005), visual or sound effects have been singled out as exemplary achievements deserving acknowledgment. Its four other honorees were: Benjamin Burtt Jr. for the alien, creature, and robot voices in Star Wars (1977); Alan Splet for sound editing of The Black Stallion (1979); animation director Richard Williams for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988); and John Lasseter "for his inspired leadership of the Pixar Toy Story team, resulting in the first feature-length computer-animated film" (1995).
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