Picks and Pans Review: Inside Oscar

updated 03/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona

Rarely does a book of statistics yield such a delicious dish. Sure, Oscar historians can pore over the impressively detailed list of nominees and winners from 1927 to the present in the back of the book, but the bulk of this irreverent 850-page tome exposes the tarnished heart under Oscar's gold armor. The authors (Wiley is co-author of The Official Preppy Handbook) met as Columbia students in 1974, and their presentation exhibits the youthful, if sometimes sophomoric, joy of sticking it to the big guns. We are reminded of that April night in 1961 when Elizabeth Taylor played her tracheotomy scar for all its worth and won her first Oscar more for surviving pneumonia than for her trashy role in Butterfield 8. "Hell, I even voted for her," said Debbie Reynolds. Topping the shameful episodes must be that ceremony in 1939 when Hattie (Gone With the Wind) McDaniel became the first black to win an Oscar. McDaniel, also the first black ever to attend the awards banquet, was seated at a table in the rear of the Coconut Grove. Off-the-cuff grumblings don't escape the authors' scrutiny either. Take last year, when Prince won the Best Song Score Oscar for Purple Rain and admitted, "This is very unbelievable." At agent Swifty Lazar's Spago party, Beverly Sills yelled back, "I can't believe it either."

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