Put on Your Trivia Hat … it’s Time for the Academy Awards

A rare six-sheet poster for The Grapes of Wrath (20th Century Fox, 1940), measuring 81 by 81 inches, sold for $35,850 at a July 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The 89th Academy Awards are set for Sunday:

►Three films won 11 Oscars: Ben Hur (1959), Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

►Three films had 14 nominations: All About Eve (1950), Titanic and La La Land (2016).

►Cabaret (1972) won eight Oscars … but not Best Picture.

►Katharine Hepburn has the most Best Actress Oscars … four (yes, more than Meryl Streep).

►Henry Fonda is the oldest actor (76) to win an Oscar for Lead Role in On Golden Pond (1981).

►John Ford won four Oscars for Best Director … The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Quiet Man (1952).

►Peter Finch won Best Actor posthumously for Network (1976).

►Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor posthumously for The Dark Knight (2008).

►Peter O’Toole was nominated for Best Actor and lost eight times.

►Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland are the only sisters to each win an Academy Award for Best Actress.

►Walt Disney won 22 competitive Oscars and four Honorary.

►Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Oscar, for her Supporting Role in Gone With the Wind (1939).

►Midnight Cowboy (1969) is the only X-rated movie to win Best Picture.

►Gone With the Wind (1939) is the first color movie to win Best Picture.

►Cate Blanchett won an Oscar playing real-life Oscar-winner Kate Hepburn in Aviator (2004).

►Laurence Olivier is the only person to direct himself in winning an acting Oscar, for Hamlet (1948).

►Barry Fitzgerald was nominated twice for the same role in Going My Way (1944) … Best Actor and Best Supporting (won). The rules were changed to avoid this in the future.

►The most nominations (11) with zero Oscars … The Turning Point (1977) and The Color Purple (1985).

►Halle Berry is the only African-American to win Best Actress, for Monster’s Ball (2001).

Tatum O’Neal and Ryan O’Neal in 1973’s Paper Moon.

►George Bernard Shaw is the first person to win an Oscar and a Nobel Prize (Bob Dylan matched this feat last year).

►Timothy Hutton is the youngest (20) to win Supporting Actor, for Ordinary People (1980).

►Tatum O’Neal is the youngest (10) Supporting Actress, for Paper Moon (1973).

Best of luck to the nominees.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Penicillin Changed Medicine — But Deadly Enemies Lurk

alexander-fleming-signed-photograph
A photograph signed by Nobel Prize winner Alexander Fleming sold for $1,250 at an April 2016 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In the fifth century B.C., Herodotus noted in his “History” that every Babylonian was an amateur physician, since the sick were laid out in the street so that any passerby could offer advice for a cure. For the next 2,400 years, that was as good an approach as any to curing infections; doctors’ remedies were universally useless.

Until the middle of the 20th century, people routinely died from infections. Children were killed by scarlet fever, measles and even tonsillitis. Mothers systematically died from infections following childbirth and many who survived were taken later by pneumonia or meningitis.

Soldiers most commonly died from infections such as gangrene or septicemia, not from war injuries. Even a small cut could lead to a fatal infection. Bandaging a wound simply sealed in the infectious killers to carry out their deadly missions. Of the 10 million killed in World War I, 5 million died of infections.

There were few antidotes to infections … vaccination against smallpox with cowpox vaccine (Edward Jenner in 1796), introduction of antiseptics (Joseph Lister in 1865), and the advent of sulfa drugs in 1935. But there was no known cure for a stunning number of other deadly threats: typhoid fever, cholera, plague, typhus, scarlet fever, tuberculosis. The list seemed endless and most of these ended in death.

All of this changed in 1940.

Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin while examining a stray mold in his London lab in 1928, and its eventual development by a team at Oxford University, led to the discovery of antibiotics. This was the most important family of drugs in the modern era. Before World War II ended, penicillin had saved the lives of hundreds of thousands and offered a viable cure for major bacterial scourges such as pneumonia, blood poisoning, scarlet fever, diphtheria and syphilis/gonorrhea.

The credit usually goes to Fleming, but the team of Howard Florey, Ernst Chain, Norman Heatley and a handful of others on the Oxford team deserve a major share. The efficacy and eventual use of the drug required them to perform their laboratory magic.

Neither Fleming nor Florey made a cent from their achievements, although Florey, Fleming and Chain did share a Nobel Prize. British pharmaceutical companies remarkably failed to grasp the significance of the discovery, so American companies – Merck, Abbott, Pfizer – quickly grabbed all the patents and proceeded to make enormous profits from the royalties.

The development of antibiotics is one of the most successful stories in the history of medicine, but it is unclear whether its ending will be a completely happy one. Fleming prophetically warned in his 1945 Nobel lecture that the improper use of penicillin would lead to it becoming ineffective. The danger was not in taking too much, but in taking too little to kill the bacteria and “[educating] them on how to resist it in the future.” Penicillin and the antibiotics that followed were prescribed too freely for ailments they could cure, and for other viral infections they had no effect on. The result is strains of bacteria that are now unfazed by antibiotics.

Today, we face a relentless and deadly enemy that has demonstrated the ability to mutate at increasingly fast rates – and these “super bugs” are capable of developing resistance. We must be sure to “keep a few steps ahead.”

Hear any footsteps?

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

The Blunder Before the Genius

This inscribed photograph of Albert Einstein, taken during his first visit to America, realized $26,290 at a February 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Albert Einstein called it “the greatest blunder of my life.”

Since he was not a cosmologist, he had accepted the prevailing wisdom that the universe was both fixed and eternal. As a result, when he was formulating his general theory, he dropped into his equations something called the “cosmological constant.” It was designed to arbitrarily counter the effects of gravity.

Typically, history books tend to forgive Einstein for this lapse but in reality, it was a terrible piece of scientific work … and he knew it.

Fortunately, Vesto Slipher at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona was taking spectrographic readings of distant stars and noticed a Doppler shift. That proved, beyond any doubt, that the universe was NOT static. The stars were moving away from Earth, which implied an expansionary condition. This was simply astounding and reversed all conventional thinking about a fixed universe.

Unfortunately, Edwin Hubble took all the credit for this remarkable discovery. It is what propelled him into becoming the most outstanding astronomer of the 20th century. (Maybe more on him later since he had such an inflated view of his importance.)

Now, however, flash back to a young Einstein and we find he was a mere assistant clerk in the Swiss patent office. He had no university affiliations, no access to a lab and only a modest library at the patent office.

He had been rejected for an assistant teaching position and was passed over for promotion until “he learned more about machine technology.”

He had a lot of spare time, which he used to gaze out his window and just think.

Then in 1905, he published a series of five scientific papers, of which three, according to C.P. Snow, “were among the greatest in the history of physics.”

The first would earn Einstein a Nobel Prize. The second provided proof that atoms DID exist – a fact that had been in dispute.

The third simply changed the world.

To learn more, read “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson (2007).

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].