If Daniel Day-Lewis is immortalised by winning a third best actor Oscar on Sunday night, he will take the Midlands' already underappreciated film history to extraordinary new heights. Graham Young reports.
How brief, but alluring, modern history can seem.
On February 12 next year, it will still only be 100 years since the release of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Squaw Man, the first feature film to have been shot in Hollywood.
By 1920, the town was a world centre of filmmaking and in 1929 the first Academy Awards were presented at Hotel Roosevelt.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will honour the great and the good for only the 85th time on Sunday when an extraordinary piece of modern film history looks set to be made.
Thanks to his astonishing performance as President Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis is odds on to become the first man to win three best actor Oscars.
He’s already the first non-American to have two – alongside Fredric March, Spencer Tracy, Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn.
So how can anyone win three best actor awards in such a competitive environment?
Only Katharine Hepburn has done that – and she ended up with four.
Other legendary male stars, from James Cagney to James Stewart, John Wayne, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino have only managed one best actor Oscar win each, while Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia) went home empty handed eight times.
Nobody will mention it on Sunday night, but our hearts can swell with pride at the thought that Day-Lewis will have beaten the system as a grandson of Birmingham. His city-born grandfather Sir Michael Balcon gave Alfred Hitchcock his first directing job, ran the Ealing Studios at the height of their powers and, along with luminaries like Sir Alexander Korda, David Lean and Carol Reed, helped to found BAFTA in 1947.
Since 1978, BAFTA has awarded its Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema award in his name.
Baclon was also chairman of the Film Production Board (BFI) from 1963-71, a governor of the British Film Institute and an honorary Fellow of the British Kinematograph Society.
Knighted in 1945 and awarded honorary degrees by the Universities of Birmingham and Sussex, he was born in Birmingham on May 19, 1896, the son of Louis Balcon. Educated at George Dixon Grammar School in Edgbaston, the young Balcon was interested in games, plays and early silent films.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, he was training with the University of Birmingham Officers’ Training Corps, but his eyesight meant he was rejected for military service.
So he worked for the Dunlop Rubber Company and, after the war, joined forces with fellow film lover Victor Saville to form Victory Motion Pictures and then Gainsborough Pictures.
In 1924, Balcon married Aileen Leatherman and their children included daughter Jill Balcon, a future actress who became poet Cecil Day-Lewis’s second wife and mother of Daniel.
Since his feature-film debut as a character called Colin in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), Day-Lewis seems to have chosen his roles with unnerving stealth, including My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room With a View (both 1985) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988).
He won his first best actor award in 1990 for playing cerebral palsy painter Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot (1989) but has only made 10 films in the 23 years since.
After two more best actor nods in 1994 and 2003 respectively for In The Name of the Father and Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis won his second statuette in 2009 for There Will Be Blood.
He has already won so many plaudits for Lincoln (including BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards) it’s almost unthinkable that a third Oscar will not be his.
Yet when interviewing his mother Jill Balcon at the Odeon New Street at the end of October 2008, she shook her head when I asked if she thought he could become the first actor to complete a hat-trick.
“No,” she said, ‘‘because ‘they’ build you up and then pull you down.’’
“It’s horrible what happens to people and some terrible things were written about Daniel before he won his second award.
“I wish I could have been there when he won his second Oscar, but I’ve never been (to the Academy Awards). “I watched the ceremony on TV and, because it could have gone any way, I was sitting there on the edge of my seat biting my nails.”
Jill, who died just nine months later, aged 84, said: “I’m so proud of Daniel. He lost a toenail making Last of the Mohicans, carried on working with pneumonia while making Gangs of New York and he hurt his ribs shooting the fall scene in There Will Be Blood.
“Yet the only award he keeps at his home in Ireland is ‘Most Promising Newcomer, Co Wicklow Running Club’.”
Jill’s own film debut was as Madeline Bray in Nicholas Nickleby (1947) and she remembered her own children Daniel and sister Tamasin once seeing it on television and saying: ‘Mum! Were you ever as young as that?’
“It’s very difficult for children with two well known parents because they have to be themselves,” she added.
“My father was very strict, which is no bad thing. The last thing he wanted me to be was an actress. That wasn’t easy, but it didn’t stop me... just like he tried to help Daniel to become a cabinet maker.”
Jill’s visit to Birmingham was organised by Moseley-based Roger Shannon, Professor of Film & Television at Edge Hill University near Liverpool.
He says: “When the Birmingham International Film and TV Festival began in 1985, the first film we ever screened at the Arts Lab Cinema was Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette.
“Channel 4’s ground-breaking film launched the young Day-Lewis on to the international film scene in his role as the gay skinhead.
“It was evident from his performance in that film that Daniel Day-Lewis brought magic to his method and I would rate his performance in Lincoln as the best of his career.”
West Midlands film facts
* 19th century city-born inventor Alexander Parkes created the origins of celluloid in Birmingham
* In December 1909 saw the pre-Hollywood birth of what is now the UK’s oldest working picture house, The Electric Cinema.
* Oscar Deutsch opened his first Odeon cinema in Birchfield, Birmingham, in 1930.
* Dudley-born James Whale contributed to Hollywood’s enduring success with films like Frankenstein (1931).
* Laurence Olivier began his acting career at the Birmingham Rep in 1926 and ended up with nine best actor nominations (winning in 1949 at the fourth attempt for playing Hamlet).