Arthur Gardner is grasping for a memory that seems to lie just out of reach. The longtime Hollywood producer looks at a photo on the wall, gazes at his desk then stares back up at the wall. But prompted by a reporter's question about Edward G. Robinson, the star of Gardner's 1953 police procedural “Vice Squad,” his eyes suddenly light up.
“Eddie Robinson? Oh, he was a picnic,” Gardner said as he excitedly recalled the Golden Age actor known for playing gangster parts. “Of course, we got him at the end of his career. We knew it, and he knew it. But he was still fun to work with.”
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences is populated with older members -- producers, actors, directors and others -- who serve as a living testament to a time when Hollywood was a small town in the most literal sense. But perhaps none of these figures compares to Gardner, who at 101 is the oldest known living member of the Oscars organization.
Critics like to point out that the academy’s older demographic can mean it is out of touch with average moviegoers. But Gardner is a reminder that the same demographic serves as a link to the industry’s storied past. The year he began making movies, a small, relatively unknown body handed out the Academy Awards for the first time at a private banquet at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Gardner joined the academy more than a half century ago, he said, when he first became a producer. He hasn’t made a movie since 1982 -- “Safari 3000,” an adventure comedy set in Africa that starred David Carradine -- but he still tries to come to the office from his nearby assisted-living facility, usually at least once a week.
Gardner still combs through the DVD screeners he’s sent and votes on the nominees and winners almost as soon as he receives his ballot; this year, the producer was particularly taken with Steven Spielberg’s World War I drama “War Horse,” according to his son Doug.
“There's no point asking him to wait. He already has made up his mind and he’ll send his ballot in before I can even help him,” Doug Gardner said.
Raised in an upper-middle-class Jewish family in small-town Wisconsin, Arthur Goldberg arrived in Los Angeles in 1929 at the age of 18, with dreams of becoming an actor. Renting space in various flophouses, he began piecing together a living as an extra.