Anonymous Oscars

Pierre Boulle won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Bridge on the River Kwai. He did not write the screenplay, did not accept the award in person, and in fact did not even speak English.

Bridge on the River Kwai
English: “Copyright © 1958 Columbia Pictures Corporation.” / Public domain

Okay, Pierre Boulle was not some kind of bizarre impostor, and he wasn’t a pseudonym per se. He wrote the book Bridge over the River Kwai on which the movie was based, but he wrote that book in his native French. The screenplay for the famous 1957 film was actually written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson (working separately), but neither of them could have their names in the credits: both were on the Hollywood blacklist.

The blacklist, if you haven’t heard of it, was an informal collection of actors, writers, directors, and other film industry professionals who supposedly had ties with communism or socialism. In the mid-20th century United States, to be on the blacklist meant that no major studios would work with you… officially. Many of the studios still hired people on the blacklist, but only if everyone kept it a secret and the blacklisted people received no credit for their work. I’m guessing they were paid a lot less too, but that’s just me.

Carl Foreman wrote the first draft of the script: he was on the blacklist for refusing to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Foreman had a falling-out with the director and the script was passed to Michael Wilson, who was also on the blacklist for refusing to name names. Wilson would go on to co-write the screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia (also uncredited) and an adaptation of another of Pierre Boulle’s novels, Planet of the Apes.

Pierre Boulle got the credit for the screenplay, despite not having written a word of the screenplay, and when it was nominated for an Academy Award it was his name on the nomination. And it won.

Boulle wasn’t at the ceremony: Kim Novak (of Vertigo fame) accepted it on his behalf / on their behalf. You can see a video of it below. Incredibly, right before that award was given the host Bob Hope makes what I believe is only the second recorded example of the “Russian reversal” joke:

They have a TV in every room, only it watches you.

Foreman and Wilson would eventually be awarded Oscars for their work on this film, posthumously in 1984. Better late than never, I guess.


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