THERE ARE 4,924 MEMBERS OF THE ACADEMY OF MOTION Picture Arts and Sciences. Rodney Dangerfield, stand-up schlemiel, will not be member No. 4,925. It isn’t that he hasn’t done enough movie work: Only three major roles are required before an actor can try to get into the Academy, and Dangerfield, star of Caddyshack, Easy Money and Back to School, has eight. But Dangerfield, 74, whose bid for membership was submitted last November, has been nixed, according to his rejection letter, for failing to execute “enough of the kinds of roles that allow a performer to demonstrate the mastery of his craft.” The letter was signed by Roddy McDowall, 66, chairman of the Academy’s actors’ branch and star of everything from How Green Was My Valley to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.
Officially, the Academy’s internal workings are secret, as is its roster. Some names are known, including such high achievers as Clint Eastwood, Barbra Streisand and even Marlon Brando, who rejected his 1972 Oscar for The Godfather. Yet the Academy, in its inscrutable wisdom, has also opened its arms to Don Rickles (Innocent Blood), comic Red Skelton (Public Pigeon No. 1) and restaurateur-actor Nicky Blair (Viva Las Vegas). Why not Rodney?
True, indignation over who gets admitted is a permanent part of the Hollywood scene. The admission process usually begins, says Hollywood publicist Edward Lozzi, “with an actor saying, ‘What’s that jerk doing in the Academy? I want the prestige.’ ” Yet, says Variety editor (and member) Peter Bart, “I got calls from very prominent people, many of them in the Academy, outraged” by the snub. One of them, he notes, was Oscar-winning director William Friedkin (The French Connection). Maybe the Academy was scared off by Dangerfield’s intense, often ugly humor. “They don’t go for cutting-edge stuff,” says Oliver Stone, who cast him as a psychopathic papa in Natural Bom Killers. “They’re always about 20 years behind the times.”
The Academy won’t explain its decision, except to note that of 140 wannabes last year, a mere 36 were accepted. Which is no consolation to Dangerfield. “I’m locked into an image,” he complained with customary aggrieved desperation. “The nobody.”
DANELLE MORTON in Los Angeles