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Academy Awards: Nominee’s family won’t be staying up late

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Ed and Mervil Smith don’t expect to stay up for the Academy Awards show on television Sunday night. They will have an early-evening Oscar party in honor of their granddaughter Julie at Morningside Assisted Living in Georgetown and wait until Monday morning to get the news.

An evening like Sunday doesn’t come along very often, but the Smiths, both 97, need their sleep, even though granddaughter Julianne Moore has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in the movie “Still Alice.”

The Smiths lived in Pawleys Island — their son Peter Moore Smith is a part-time resident of Pawleys Plantation — until two years ago when they moved to Morningside.

This is the fifth time Moore has been nominated for an Oscar, and critics say it’s her year. Her father agrees that she’s the favorite but knows Academy voters can be fickle. Moore won every award for her 2002 movie “Far From Heaven” except the Oscar. Her competition this year includes: Marion Cotillard for “Two Days, One Night,” Felicity Jones for “The Theory of Everything,” Rosamund Pike for “Gone Girl” and Reese Witherspoon, for “Wild.”

“Still Alice” is a movie about a Columbia University linguistics professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. “She loved the movie,” Moore’s father said during an interview at his parents’ residence last week. “She thought it was a good story, something that needed to be told. She did a great job in it.”

Mervil Smith explains that neither she nor her husband Ed hear too well any more. They’ve been married 78 years. She and Ed went to first grade together but changed schools and didn’t reacquaint until they enrolled at Palmyra High School in Burlington County, N.J. “He had the most beautiful black curls when we were in high school,” Mervil said. After marriage, they made their home in south Jersey on the Delaware River until advancing years brought them first to Pawleys Island and now Morningside.

There is a framed photo of their famous granddaughter copied from People Magazine in their living room. It’s quaint, considering that some of the world’s most renowned photographers have shot Moore’s picture, and she will walk the red carpet Sunday in a designer dress amid an explosion of flash units from the world’s paparazzi. Her grandparents say Julie is unpretentious and down to earth, and the People Magazine head shot suits her.

“Guess where Julie was born,” Ed Smith said to a visitor. Her father has already spilled the beans while providing the background on the family. She was born Julie Anne Smith in an army hospital in Fayetteville, N.C. Her father made a career of the military, from paratrooper to helicopter pilot to military judge to appellate judge.

She decided to pursue an acting career after getting encouragement from a teacher at Frankfurt-American High School in Germany. “When she said she wanted to be an actress, her mother and I weren’t too thrilled,” Peter said. “That’s a tough business. But we said fine if that’s what you want to do.”

They did insist she study acting in college, and she attended Boston University. She was among students selected for an agents’ tryout in New York City her senior year. “She got an agent,” Peter said. “That’s a super important thing. If you don’t have one you are out of luck.”

She waited tables for about six months in New York before getting a role on the TV show “As The World Turns.” She won a Daytime Emmy within three years and made the move to films. “The first movie I remember,” Moore’s dad said, “she played a girl killed by a mummy. That was about 70 movies ago.”

His favorites include “Nine Months,” and Oscar nominees “The End of the Affair” and “The Hours.” He includes her performance as a porn queen in “Boogie Nights” among her best. “I liked ‘Boogie Nights’ a lot though it scares people to death,” he said. “I don’t think that a father should say ‘Boogie Nights’ was a great movie, but it was a great movie.” He remembers going to the set of the second Jurassic Park movie, “The Lost World,” in California and watching his daughter hang off a cliff. “She waved and said, ‘Hi Mom and Dad, this is what you paid to send me to school for.’”

Looking so much like her late Scottish mother with fiery red hair and freckles, Moore moved her dad’s emotions with “Still Alice.” Her portrayal of Alice Howland was memorable for both the acting and the subject matter, he said. “When I watched it,” he said, “I wasn’t able to talk. It’s a gripping movie. She goes through a personality change. When it’s your daughter, when it’s so convincing, it’s hard to separate her from the character.”

Moore plays a linguistics professor at Columbia University who is happily married to John, another brilliant mind, played by Alec Baldwin, with three unusually beautiful and successful children (Kristen Stewart, Hunter Parrish and Kate Bosworth). After some disconcerting forgetful episodes in class and at home, Alice visits a neurologist who diagnoses her with the rare disease. Moore’s portrayal of Alice’s gallant fight against impossible odds, sometimes using only the muscles in her face, has brought her another Oscar nomination after a 12-year gap.

Peter and his second wife, Debbie, have been watching a lot of awards shows since the movie came out. Moore has won the Golden Globe, the British film awards and more than a dozen others for “Still Alice.” Moore’s father said this may be her time to win because she has experienced the required disappointment and the film has two things going for it: low budget and the sympathy vote because director Richard Glatzer did the movie after being diagnosed with ALS, mirroring Alice’s experience.

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