Oscar Scandals: Wills, Chill (The Alamo)

The Oscar campaign for “The Alamo” was one of the most expensive and excessively political.

Much more criticized than John Wayne, the film’s star and director, was Chill Wills, who played Beekeeper, Crockett’s whiskey-drinking humorous sidekick.

Wills was charged with using deplorable means to seek for himself a supporting nomination. At fifty-eight, after half a century in film, Wills realized this was his only chance to win the award.

Thus, he didn’t hesitate to print ads like: “We of The Alamo cast are praying harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at the Alamo for Chill Wills to win the Oscar.” “Cousin Chill’s acting was great,” he wrote, signing, Your Alamo cousin.”

Another ad read: “Win, lose, or draw. You’re still my cousins and I love you all.”

Comedian Groucho Marx, appalled by Wills’s methods, wrote back: “Dear Mr. Wills. I am delighted to be your cousin. But I’m voting for Sal Mineo (nominated for Exodus).

Wayne himself didn’t approve of Wills’ campaign tactics, reproaching him in print, which prompted Groucho Marx’s comment, “For John Wayne to impugn Chill Wills’s taste is tantamount to Jayne Mansfield criticizing Sabrina for too much exposure.”

At the end of the day, neither Wills nor Mineo won; the supporting winner was Peter Ustinov for Spartacus.

The Alamo’s ad campaigns led to heated controversies over the professional and moral ethics involved in promoting movies. ┬áDiscussing whether or not advertising for Oscar nominations paid off, critic Dick Williams saw “nothing reprehensible in artists or productions blowing their own horns, because it is done in almost every other phase of American life.”

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