Another Announcement: Gena Rowlands’ Lifetime Achievement Oscar


It’s Announcement City on my site these days.

On November 14, the Oscars hold their separate ceremony for the Lifetime Achievement Award people (this year it’s Gena Rowlands, Spike Lee, and Debbie Reynolds), as well as the Humanitarian Award. Gena Rowlands is my favorite living actress and it was such a tremendous honor – so tremendous it made me feel quiet and gratefulhumbled – when Criterion asked me to write a video-essay about Rowlands’ acting for their release of Love Streams. Rowlands’ work is all wrapped up in my own life, as is true of many great performers and artists – but there’s something unique about Gena Rowlands/John Cassavetes fanatics. Their collaboration means something to people BEYOND the films they made together.

John Cassavetes (1929-1989), acteur, réalisateur et écrivain américain et Gena Rowlands (née en 1930), actrice américaine. Los Angeles, 1974. Photographie de Sam Shaw / Shaw Family Archives.

Their collaboration seems to give hope that true and pure and personal art is possible in America, that “it” can be done and on a GRAND scale, that you can make the kind of art you want to make. Capitalism exists, the market exists, but Cassavetes films can exist too. Rowlands and Cassavetes have inspired three generations now, maybe even four.

John Cassavetes died in 1989. Way too young. He and Rowlands had been married since 1954. They have three children (all of whom have become film-makers and artists as well: Nick, Zoe, and Alexandra Cassavetes). Rowlands, heavily associated with her husband’s work, had had a great career before him (she became a star very young appearing on Broadway with Edward G. Robinson in Middle of the Night) and she has had a great career after him. She is 85 years old, and still working. Not only that, but she’s still a headliner. Olympia Dukakis came and spoke at my school years ago. She was talking about being an elderly actress in Hollywood and I thought it was so funny: even as a 70 year old, the competition never stops. Dukakis said, with no bitterness, only common-sense as well as a respect for the competition: “Listen, every script that comes to me has been offered to Gena Rowlands first. I get the script and her fingerprints are all over it. Any role I get it’s because she’s already turned it down.” That’s indicative of Rowlands’ towering stature.


Now for the Announcement, which I feel safe to make since it’s official and the deadline looms and it’s happening for real.

Last week I was contacted by a video-producer who is creating the Tribute Video for Gena Rowlands that will be played at the Lifetime Achievement Oscar awards ceremony. (Each recipient has a similar video). The producers had seen my Love Streams video-essay, tracked me down, and asked would I be interested in writing a similar narration for the tribute video?

Hmm, let me think it over and I’ll get back to you.

The ceremony is happening on November 14th, in Hollywood, so it’s a very quick deadline. I had a conversation with the producer yesterday, in between screenings, so we could discuss the parameters of the project. I have my marching orders.

As I said, Gena Rowlands was one of the reasons I ever became interested in acting at all, when I was a kid. Her work is not like the work of other actresses, whom you might admire, even revere. It’s something different.

To be given the opportunity to pay tribute to her like this, AND at an event where she will be present, is so “full-circle” with my own life that I don’t know how to process it. Ultimately, this is not about me, of course, it’s about her, but still: I remember being 11 and being awestruck by how Roger Ebert wrote about her, before I had ever seen one of her movies. So you see? The personal is tied up with it. She’s the kind of actress where you can say, “I am grateful she exists.” This is different than admiring someone’s work, even loving someone’s work.


One final note: A couple of years ago, when Angelina Jolie received the Humanitarian Award (handed out at the same ceremony as the Lifetime Achievement awards), Gena Rowlands made a great speech, for her “friend Angie.” If you haven’t seen the speech, do yourself a favor … I had not known that these two independent outlaws were friends, but it makes perfect sense. Of course they are.


Yesterday, the producer told me that Angelina Jolie would be doing the voiceover for the Rowlands tribute video, reading whatever it was that I wrote. Jolie returning the favor to Rowlands, in other words. Friends honoring friends.

More full circle.

I am proud, sure, but mostly grateful and humble at the chance to, yet again, express what Gena Rowlands means to so so many, at an event devoted to doing just that.

A Lifetime of Work

ca. 1958 --- Actor Jose Ferrer and actress Gena Rowlands in a bathroom in 1958 film The High Cost of Love. Ferrer plays depressed manager Jim Fry and Rowlands his wife, Jenny Fry. --- Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS
With Jose Ferrer in The High Cost of Love, 1958. Director/Co-Star: José Ferrer

In television series “Johnny Staccato”, 1959

In “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” television series, 1960. Director: Arthur Hiller

“87th Precinct”, television series, 1961-62

“Lonely Are the Brave” 1962

“The Spiral Road” 1962

“A Child is Waiting”, starring Judy Garland. Director: John Cassavetes. 1963

“Bonanza” television series, 1963

“The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” television series, 1962-64

“Peyton Place” television series, series regular. 1967.

“Faces,” 1968. Director: John Cassavetes

“Machine Gun McCain”, television series, 1969

“Minnie and Moskowitz”, 1971. Director: John Cassavetes

“A Woman Under the Influence”, 1974. Nominated for Best Actress. Director: John Cassavetes

Colombo Playback 1975 Peter Falk Geena Rowland RŽal: Bernard L Kowalski COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL
“Columbo” television series, 1965

“Opening Night,” 1977. Director: John Cassavetes

“Strangers: Story of a Mother and Daughter”. TV movie with Bette Davis. 1979

“Gloria,” 1980. Nominated for Best Actress. Director: John Cassavetes.

“Tempest,” 1982. With John Cassevetes co-starring. Director: Paul Mazursky

Shelley Duvall’s “Faerie Tale Theatre” television series. 1983

“Love Streams,” 1984. Directed by John Cassavetes.

“An Early Frost, groundbreaking TV movie about the AIDS epidemic.

“The Betty Ford Story”, television movie. 1987.

“Another Woman,” 1988. Director: Woody Allen

With Danny Aiello in “Once Around,” 1991. Director: Lasse Hallström

With Winona Ryder in “Night on Earth”, 1991. Director: Jim Jarmusch

“The Neon Bible,” 1995. Director: Terence Davies

julia roberts Something to Talk About
With Kyra Sedgwick and Julia Roberts in “Something to Talk About”, 1995. Director: Lasse Hallström

UNHOOK THE STARS, Jake Lloyd, Gena Rowlands, 1996, (c)Miramax
“Unhook the Stars,” 1996. Directed by her son, Nick Cassavetes

“She’s So Lovely,” 1997. Director: her son, Nick Cassavetes. Written by John Cassavetes.

“Hope Floats,” 1998. Director: Forest Whitaker

“Hysterical Blindness,” HBO movie, 2002. Such an excellent film, and it reunited Rowlands with frequent Cassavetes collaborator Ben Gazzara. Director: Mira Nair

The smash-hit “The Notebook,” with James Garner, 2004. Director: her son Nick Cassavetes

“The Skeleton Key,” 2004

“Paris Je T’Aime”, again with Ben Gazzara, whom she had been co-starring with since the 1970s. Director: Gérard Depardieu

“Persepolis” 2007. Voice of the mother

“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks”, 2014.

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36 Responses to Another Announcement: Gena Rowlands’ Lifetime Achievement Oscar

  1. Helena says:

    This is fabulous news.

    And such fabulous images!

  2. sheila says:

    I’m still adding more – there are so many!!!

    Thanks, Helena – I’m really excited!

  3. Helena says:

    And Angelina Jolie will be reading your words – *faints*

  4. Cla says:

    That’s very impressive, congratulations!
    She’s such an honest and genuine actress, even if sounds like an oxymoron. But that’s the beauty of her, making her roles to feel authentic.
    Your writing is beautiful, powerful and it touches the heart and mind of people. And you’re humble too. Today is a good day.

    • sheila says:

      Cla – Thank you!!

      It is a total honor to be asked to honor this woman. A huge responsibility too – her work is so meaningful to so many.

      I’m so happy to have been asked. Thank you!

  5. Carolyn Clarke says:

    Wow! Seriously, wow! Good on you. I will make sure that I record the show just to watch it again. Congratulations!

    • sheila says:

      Thank you Carolyn!

      It’s happening on the 14th of November – separate from the actual Oscar broadcast – I’m not sure if it’s televised – but the whole thing always ends up on Youtube.

  6. Stevie says:

    There’s a moment in “The Betty Ford Story” where she’s riding a car in a parade and pulls up to the press, and her words and hesitations are so realistically drug-addled, not wasted, just under the influence, I remember thinking, “Wow, that was perfect!” It pulled me out of the performance and I just marveled at the skill and talent.

    • sheila says:

      // so realistically drug-addled, not wasted, just under the influence //

      I haven’t seen it in so long. I am not even sure it is available – I should check Youtube.

      Gena is so good at playing drunk, or “under the influence.” Honestly, she puts other actresses to shame in this regard. I mean, Opening Night?

      Drunkenness is not necessarily sloppiness. And for SERIOUS drunks like that character, it comes with a complete alteration of personality. I know that there are people who cannot believe that she wasn’t ACTUALLY drunk in Opening Night. It seems impossible. She’s asked about it a lot at QAs. She laughs. No, of course she wasn’t really drunk.

      She’s just that good.

  7. Barb says:

    Wow! This is such fabulous news–Congratulations, Sheila!

  8. Regina Bartkoff says:


    Wait, what?! This is another Say What? Title! That’s just too incredible and so yet so right! And I just saw the trailer for the new Joli/Pitt movie and it looks really out there and great, intense and funny and I can’t wait. So excited at this news for you! Congratulations for this well deserved honor!

    • sheila says:

      Regina – I know, right? Say WHAT??

      And yeah, I cannot WAIT for that new Jolie/Pitt movie – it looks fabulous and messy and 70s-ish.

      I want to write something really good for Jolie to say, I won’t lie!!

      Thanks for the support.

      Go, Gena!!

  9. Myrtle says:

    Eeeeeeee!! How thrilling!

  10. mutecypher says:

    Just wow! Congratulations to you!

  11. Melanie says:

    This is so exciting for you! They couldn’t have selected anyone better.

  12. HelenaG says:

    Wow, Sheila! Just wow! They definitely picked the write person for the job. I cannot think of anyone who could write more eloquently about Gena Rowland’s life’s work. Congratulations.

  13. ilyka says:

    Congratulations! I couldn’t wrap my head around this when I read it first last night–I still can’t–but I know you will knock it out of the park, and I can’t wait to watch. Thrilling!

    • sheila says:

      Thank you Ilyka!!

      I’m not sure if this ceremony is broadcast on television – but the whole thing always eventually ends up on Youtube, so I’ll be waiting fearfully for all of it to launch.


  14. Sean O says:

    Congrats Sheila. Knock your project dead.
    Not that u do it for such a reward , but nice to
    see your passion rewarded with such an exciting opportunity.

  15. bainer says:

    Your knowledge and passion shine through with every word you write, Sheila. Congratulations, you deserve this recognition!

  16. Desirae says:

    Holy shitballs, this is wild! I can’t think of a congratulations big enough.

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