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A night with Oscar: The Albany Institute of History and Art hosts remembrance of screenwriter Edwin Burke

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By ANALUCIA ZEPEDA

2/23/16

“Welcome, ladies.”

Diane Shewchuk, the resident curator of the Albany Institute of History and Art, beckoned our attention. On Wednesday, Feb. 10, a group of about eight women, one of whom was accompanied by her husband, sat around a conference table. The reason? The Institute’s special Academy Awards-themed event, “A Night with Oscar.”

(Source: albanyinstitute.org)  The museum owns this actual Oscar award from 1932.
(Source: albanyinstitute.org)
The museum owns this actual Oscar award from 1932.

Several minutes later, she finally brought out what we were all waiting to see: an Oscar statuette. The award, we learned, was awarded to writer Edwin Burke for his contribution to the 1931 film adaptation of the 1928 novel “Bad Girl” by Viña Delmar.

The movie, whose title and poster insinuated a theme more scandalous than was true, centered around a couple who desired to live a comfortable life in New York City but became troubled by the realization that they will soon become parents.

The film, now 85 years old, still withstands the test of time. The jokes and wits force a laugh as well as a cringe with their misogynistic overtones while the protagonist resiliently promoted her independence at the same time. An ironic paradox of themes, “Bad Girl” attempted to redefine the meanings of feminism and domesticity, and still does.

Back at the conference room, we got an opportunity to hold the Oscar. The signature gold shell was absent and the Oscar appeared in a muddy bronze color with an iridescent sheen.

“He’s been cleaned to death,” joked Shewchuk.

The recipient of the award, Edwin Burke, won the Oscar back at the 5th Academy Awards held in 1932. Burke was born in 1889 in Albany, eventually moving to New York City to pursue his career as a screenwriter. Burke worked closely on writing many screenplays that starred America’s child star sweetheart, Shirley Temple, including “Bright Eyes,” “Now I’ll Tell,” and “The Littlest Rebel.”

In addition to his work in writing more than 30 screenplays for film between the years of 1928 and 1936, Burke was also a successful playwright. He wrote the play that inspired the 1940 film “This Thing Called Love,” a racy romantic comedy about newlyweds who agree not to sleep together for a trial period, a topic considered risqué at the time of its release.

After a long and successful career, Burke passed away in 1944 at the age of 55 in his home in New York City.

Now, nearly 84 years after Burke won his Best Adapted Screenplay award for “Bad Girls” at the 5th Academy Awards, the 88th Academy Awards will be held this upcoming Sunday, Feb. 28.

Although Burke’s films are long in the past, his work has been marked in motion picture history, and the Albany Institute of History and Art has the Oscar to prove it.

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