By SANDY COHEN
AP Entertainment Writer
LOS ANGELES – After a tumultuous week that saw the departure and replacement of the Oscar show’s host and producer, the film academy enjoyed a night of good vibes Saturday at its third annual Governors Awards. You might even say the force was with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Armed “Star Wars” storm troopers ensured guests were in their seats and paying attention as Darth Vader opened the evening honoring James Earl Jones, Oprah Winfrey and makeup artist Dick Smith. Under Vader’s helmet was academy president Tom Sherak, who welcomed the audience of industry insiders with, “How was your week?”
Over the past week, Oscar producer Brett Ratner and host Eddie Murphy resigned and were replaced with producer Brian Grazer and host Billy Crystal. Ratner departed the Oscar show amid criticism of his use of a pejorative term for gay men at a screening of the director’s action comedy “Tower Heist,” which stars Murphy.
Saturday’s untelevised Governors Awards, though, couldn’t have been smoother, as Jones, Smith and Winfrey accepted Oscar statuettes in front of a starry crowd that included John Travolta, Alec Baldwin, Woody Harrelson, Sharon Stone, Seth Rogen, Sidney Poitier and Tyler Perry, among others.
Jones, who famously voiced Vader, accepted his award by video from London’s Wyndham Theater, where he is starring in “Driving Miss Daisy” with Vanessa Redgrave. Baldwin and Glenn Close feted the actor before Sir Ben Kingsley presented him with his Oscar onstage in London.
Close called Jones “a world treasure” and Kingsley said the 80-year-old actor is “always so damn good.”
A beaming Jones said receiving an Oscar in such a fashion is “an actor’s wet dream.”
“I’m deeply honored, mighty grateful and just plain gobsmacked,” he said.
Smith, the groundbreaking makeup artist who counts “The Exorcist” and “The Godfather” among his credits, was lauded for his long career and his generosity in sharing the secrets of his craft. Writer-directors J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro saluted the 89-year old.
Abrams, creator of TV’s “Lost” and “Fringe,” said Smith “was the Beatles to me” and told of how he wrote a fan letter to the makeup artist and received an “old but clean” tongue from “The Exorcist” in return.
Smith said being honored by the academy was “an incredible joy, one of the greatest I’ve ever had in my whole life.”
“I have loved being a makeup artist so much,” he said, “but … to have so much kindness given to me all at once is just too much. I am so grateful.”
Winfrey was introduced by Quincy Jones, Travolta, Maria Shriver, producer Larry Gordon and a student she’d never met but whose education she funded.
Travolta said “the academy got it right” when it chose the media mogul to receive its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, calling her “the most wonderful person in the world, the most magical person in the world and the most powerful person in the world.”
Winfrey cried and nuzzled into boyfriend Stedman Graham as Shriver and the others spoke of her generosity, which includes providing scholarships for 65,000 students.
She said receiving an Oscar for philanthropy is “unimaginable” given her humble beginnings in Mississippi.
“It’s impossible for you to even know what this journey has meant,” Winfrey said.
Appearing in “The Color Purple” was “one of the greatest experiences of my life,” she said, When Quincy Jones tapped her for the role of Sofia- for which she earned an Oscar nomination for supporting actress- he changed the course of her career.
“I’d like to do more films, but to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award means more to me than any film, any acclaim, even an Oscar, because what it says is you all get it,” Winfrey said. “What this really means is that you all understand that what I’ve been trying to do, what I’ve been trying to say all these years, (which) is that all of us can make a difference through the life that we live.”
Winfrey said she plans to keep her new Oscar front and center on her desk.
“For me this Oscar will represent love from all of you,” she said. “I thank you for your vote of love and I will use it to increase the open space in my heart to continue to do the great and good work that we all have come to do.”
The film academy launched its Governors Awards three years ago to pay tribute to winners of honorary Oscars- prizes previously presented during the Academy Awards telecast. Governors from its 15 branches chose Saturday’s winners.
Highlights from the event will be available online at Oscars.org and included in the Academy Awards telecast in February.