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Pittsburgh ties to the Oscars run deep

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imdb.com
Joe Letteri at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010.
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oscars.org
Ann Roth accepting the Oscar for costume design for 'The English Patient.'
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United Artists
Shirley Jones won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in 1960's 'Elmer Gantry.'
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Gramercy Pictures
Frances McDormand bundled up in police uniform in a scene from the film 'Fargo', 1996.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS
Gene Kelly poses with the Oscar he received at the 56th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles April 9, 1984 for the one he lost when fire destroyed his home in Dec. 1983.
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Orion Pictures
Anthony Hopkins for 'The Silence of the Lambs'
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Burton Morris' poster for the 76th Annual Academy Awards

Since 1908, when Pittsburgh's Nickleodeon became the nation's first movie theater, the city has been linked to Hollywood.

According to the Pittsburgh Film Office, more than 120 films have been shot here, including the blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Another superhero of sorts has Pittsburgher Michael Keaton soaring high with an Oscar nomination for his meta role in “Birdman.” One of two Pittsburghers nominated this year, he could join the list of Pittsburgh Oscar winners that spans 75 years.

THE PRODUCERS

Jack Warner

Some of Hollywood's biggest names started down the walk of fame via Pittsburgh. One of the biggest was Jacob Wonsal. Taking the surname Warner upon emigrating to the United States, the four brothers — Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack — opened the Cascade Theater in New Castle. In 1904, they moved to Pittsburgh to start the Duquesne Amusement Co. It would be their first venture into producing, leading to the formation of the legendary Warner Bros. Studio in Hollywood.

Eventually, one brother shrewdly took sole ownership and would reign as head for 45 years. Jack Warner ruthlessly shaped the movie industry, becoming one of the first and last true Hollywood moguls.

He won best picture as producer of “My Fair Lady” (1964).

Harry Warner

Though Jack Warner became literally synonymous with the studio that bore his family name, his brother Harry was the first to be honored by the Academy. In 1938, he received a special award for patriotic service in producing historical short subjects.

David O. Selznick

Born in Pittsburgh on May 10, 1902, the son of a silent-film distributor, Selznick headed to Hollywood in 1926. He worked for MGM, Paramount and RKO Pictures but dreamed of running his own studio. That dream was fulfilled when he formed Selznick International Pictures in 1935.

He secured his place in the parthenon of great producers with 10 Oscars for “Gone With the Wind.” When adjusted for inflation, the movie remains the top-grossing film in history.

He won outstanding production as producer of “Gone With the Wind”(1939), and outstanding production as producer of “Rebecca” (1940).

THE ACTORS

Jimmy Stewart

Stewart is one of film's most beloved actors. The Indiana native got his first taste of the limelight as a magician's assistant touring throughout Pennsylvania. From Frank Capra's “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “It's a Wonderful Life” to Hitchcock's “Vertigo” and “Rear Window,” his small-town manner made him Hollywood's all-American Everyman. He was nominated five times for his iconic roles, winning just one Oscar for best actor. In 1984, he was honored with a special award for 50 years of memorable performances.

He won best actor for “The Philadelphia Story” (1940).

Shirley Jones

Jones began her career at the age of 6 in Charleroi, singing in a Methodist church choir. At 18, she was crowned Miss Pittsburgh 1952, an honor that is, no doubt, second only to the Academy Award.

From Broadway to Hollywood, she was cast as wholesome characters, typified by her role in the “Music Man.” In 1961, she received a best supporting actress Oscar for playing against type as vengeful prostitute Lulu Bains in “Elmer Gantry” (1960).

Nine years later, she hopped on a trippy bus as the matriarch of the musical “Partridge Family,” becoming the first woman to win an Oscar and hold a No. 1 spot on Billboard's Top 100.

F. Murray Abraham

Abraham was born in Pittsburgh in 1939. He spent a decade playing small roles in film and TV. After seven frustrating years, he gave up acting to become a “house husband,” only to return for a juicy role as a bunch of grapes in a series of Fruit of the Loom commercials. In one of Hollywood's strangest segues, in 1984 he picked up an Oscar for a villainous turn as Antonio Salieri in “Amadeus.”

He won best actor in a lead role for “Amadeus” (1984).

Frances McDormand

A graduate of Monessen High School, McDormand's acting debut was in the Coen Brothers' 1984 film “Blood Simple.” The collaboration leapt off the screen when she married Joel Coen later that year. With 1996's “Fargo,” they became the first married couple to win Oscars for the same film.

She won best actress in a lead role for “Fargo” (1996).

Gene Kelly

Sadly, the film legend and Pittsburgh's favorite son never received an Oscar. The skills, talents and routines he honed here helped him become Hollywood's most dynamic dancer. He received his only nomination in 1945 for his role as Joseph Brady in “Anchors Away.” But in 1951, he was honored with a special award for his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer.

THE MUSIC MAKERS

Leo Robin

Robin attended the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and drama school at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University). Along with songwriting partner Ralph Rainger, he had 50 hit songs in the 1930s and '40s. They created signature songs for two screen legends — “Diamond's Are a Girl's Best Friend” for Marilyn Monroe and “Thanks for the Memory” for Bob Hope. The latter won him his only Oscar in 10 nominations.

He won best song for “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938).

Henry Mancini

Born in Cleveland, Mancini was raised in West Aliquippa where his steelworker father encouraged his musical talents. The two of them played flute side by side for Aliquippa's Son's of Italy Band. He was one of film's most most prolific composers: From 1952 to '58, he contributed music to more than 100 films, including “The Creature From the Black Lagoon.”

In 1958, he composed the jazzy theme to “Peter Gunn,” the first of many collaborations with Blake Edwards. Over 30 years, the partnership produced some of film's most recognizable tunes, including the “Pink Panther Theme.” Of his 18 nominations, his four wins were for Edwards' films.

He won best musical score and best song for “Breakfast at Tiffany's” (1961). He won best song for “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962). And he won best original song score adaptation for “Victor Victoria” (1982).

Jay Livingston

While in high school, Livingston made a living playing piano in Pittsburgh's nightclubs. Born Jacob Harold Levinson in McDonald, he attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he met songwriting partner Ray Evans. They produced many hits, including the classic “Silver Bells” for Bob Hope's “The Lemon Drop Kid.” The duo received their first Oscar from another Hope picture, “The Pale Face.”

He won best song for “Buttons and Bows” in “The Paleface” (1948); for “Mona Lisa” in “Captain Carey, U.S.A.” (1950); and for “Que Sera, Sera” in “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956).

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

Joe Letteri

With four Oscars for his work with visual-effects company WETA, Letteri is tied with Mancini as the Pittsburgher with the most Oscars.

He could break the tie with a win this year for his work on “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Throw in his Scientific and Technical award, and he already tops our list.

Letteri, who attended Center High School in Monaca, created visual effects for “Man of Steel,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “The Lord of the Rings” series and “Avatar,” making him the Pittsburgher with the highest-grossing film credits.

He won best visual effects for “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002); “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” (2003); “King Kong” (2005); and “Avatar” (2009).

Location, location

Western Pennsylvania has been the location for only three Oscar-winning films:

• “Silence of the Lambs” (1991), best picture

• “The Deer Hunter” (1978), best picture

• “The Johnstown Flood” (1989), short subject documentary

Joe Wos is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media

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