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Leggo My EGOT: In Hollywood, awards aren’t always popularity contests

John Legend became an EGOT this week — receiving an Emmy for being a producer on NBC’s live version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” to complete the E-portion for entry into this acronymically select club of award exclusivity.

Legend already has 10 Grammy awards to his name, an Oscar for writing the song “Glory,” from the film “Selma,” and a Tony for being a producer of the play “Jitney.” (For those keeping score at home, that’s the G, O and T.)

The superstar can add another Emmy on Sunday … when the remainder of the zillion or so trophies is handed out … as he’s nominated for his performance as Jesus.

If the notion of EGOTs — other recipients include Rita Moreno, Mel Brooks, Whoopi Goldberg and Robert Lopez — seems trivial, consider the words of wisdom Ellen Burstyn once received from Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

Burstyn had received an Academy Award for her performance as the title character in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” but was appearing on Broadway in “Same Time, Next Year” and couldn’t be at the Oscar ceremony.

A few days later, Lemmon and Matthau brought the little gold-plated man backstage when they were in New York to see the play, prompting Burstyn to ask the two Oscar winners what the prize sitting on the floor of her dressing room actually meant.

“Let me put it to you this way, Burstyn,” Matthau responded. “When you die, they’re going to say ... “Ellen Burstyn, the Academy Award-winning actress, died today’.”

Which brings us to Burt Reynolds.

Reynolds, who died this past week at the age of 82, was an E — having won an Emmy as lead actor in a comedy series for his show “Evening Shade.”

Yet the angle in most media obituaries and career retrospectives was how Reynolds’ stardom was based more on popularity than artistic merit — that for every title such as “Deliverance,” “Breaking In” or “Starting Over” on his resume, there seemed to be an abundance of lesser films like “Hooper,” “Cannonball Run 45” or “Cop And A Half.”

The Emmy “win” was buried deep into these stories — which seemed fixated on how the actor turned down roles (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Terms of Endearment”) that led to awards for Jack Nicholson … while Reynolds’ lone Oscar nomination, for “Boogie Nights,” famously lost out to the performance in “Good Will Hunting” by the late Academy Award-winning actor Robin Williams.

Reynolds’ compensation for not being the sort who gets the gold figurine was to top the list of those who made gold at the box office. He topped those charts from 1978-1982 — just as the blockbuster film era began with sharks and wookies — the only star other than Bing Crosby in the mid-1940s to hold that ranking five consecutive years.

In that way, Reynolds might well have been the link between the time when just the name John Wayne (who died in 1979) was enough to bring millions to the theater and the action-star brigade of Sylvester-Arnold-Bruce-Vin-The Rock dominated the box office … if not awards season.

A lesser-noticed event slipped through the entertainment wire at the same time as Reynolds’ death, when the folks behind the Academy Awards rescinded their plans to add a category that would recognize “Achievement in Popular Film.”

That decision followed an onslaught of criticism and mockery for even considering such an Oscar category. The naysayers pounced on the notion that calling such movies “Popular” implied that the Best Picture winners — you know, like the one that won last year and that other one that won the year before — were somehow, well … not popular.

And how would a “Popular Film” category be designated — by box office receipts, through fresh ratings on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, by (egads!) suggestions from the public?

After all what does the public know about what makes a movie popular?

There will be no category for “Popular Film,” just as there is no Oscar for Best Comedy, or Best Action Film — in part because the Academy seems reluctant to open the Pandora’s box that would follow.

Would installing those categories require separate awards for the actors, directors, film editors, sound effects artists, et al who work in those genres? Why, that would make the Oscars just another run-of-the-mill awards ceremony …

… you know, like the Emmys.

Television’s big prizes are separated into so many categories, honoring so many crafts, that by the time the show begins on Sunday night, two other ceremonies will have been held to help weed through the backlog.

There used to be the Cable ACE Awards for shows that appeared on those newfangled outlets such as HBO or Showtime — keeping the Emmys free to be delivered to shows from the Big Three networks and, later, Fox.

This year, the nominations are led by Netflix — and platforms such as Hulu, Prime Video and Apple are all represented. Only one Drama series (“This Is Us”) and one Comedy (“black-ish”) from the broadcast networks are among the nominees in those categories.

I’m reminded of a scene early in a great comedy film called “Soapdish.” A soap diva played by Sally Field garners an Emmy award and gives an overwrought, tear-filled speech — only to next be shown entering her apartment and dumping the prize into the pile of similar gold-plated statuettes on her grand piano.

What does her character really want? She’s got the awards, but she wants to be popular — so she goes incognito to a shopping mall and is swarmed by her fans.

She wants us to like her, to really, really like her.

Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin, who can be reached at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com, once had a joke accepted by the game show “Letters to Laugh-In.” He didn’t get an Emmy.

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