Even as the Oscars hangover subsides, some film fans are still worked up about one particular snub — and this time it’s not a nominee. Rather, it’s the fact that the annual ‘In Memoriam’ montage reel failed to include Joan Rivers. The late legend’s exclusion from the reel led to angry reactions, full of the indignation that Rivers herself so often used to comedic effect.
An Academy spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter that yes, Rivers was one of the many people who must be left out in any given year, but that she was included in a remembrance gallery on the Oscars website. However, Rivers (like Elaine Stritch, another comedian who was missed by many viewers) is also absent from the official Academy list of members who died in 2014. Though Rivers, who was better known for her TV work than for film roles, had plenty of big-screen credits, from Space Balls to The Smurfs, Academy membership is not automatic, so it’s entirely possible that she was not part of the group; there is no official, public list of members.
Still, an in-depth 2013 investigation by the New York Times into what goes into the making of the Oscars memorial reel — which has been a feature of the telecast since 1994 — revealed that inclusion or exclusion from the montage is not so simple as “members in, non-members out.”
For one thing, non-members are eligible for inclusion, though positive involvement with the organization always helps. (Some conspiracy theorists guessed that Rivers’ acid tongue on the red carpet might have tipped the scales against her.) For another, it’s clear that, though the committee that makes the calls is anonymous, even death isn’t the end of the Hollywood publicity race. Attempting to get a client onto that list can be the last act of PR goodwill for many a publicist.
In fact, that publicity race suggests one possible reason for the exclusion of a major name like Rivers or Stritch. The family and friends of a lesser-known Academy member may push hard to get their loved one on the memorial list, but those who speak for the most famous of the dead are less likely to think a campaign is necessary. It’s only on Oscars night that they learn the extra push might have helped.