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Analyzing the EGOTs | Wired Cola

Analyzing the EGOTs

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I got interested in the subject of EGOTs lately, mostly out of the dual motivations of "That 30 Rock sure is a funny TV show!" and "Whoopi Goldberg? Seriously?"

"EGOT", as the link above will inform you, is an acronym for "Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony," and is typically used to refer to the 12 people who have won all four awards.

In theory, you think of such winners as multi-talented threats, but most EGOTs limped into at least one category, sometimes more. Let's examine them in chronological order of EGOT-acquisition.

[a note on research: cataloging performer awards is one place where IMDB is generally ahead of Wikipedia, but they don't always care about Grammys and Tonys, which makes this research somewhat interesting]

Richard Rodgers

Probably the greatest composer of 20th century musical theatre, his work was a huge success on stage and screen. The only surprise may be that he won the Oscar only once (and for the relatively minor State Fair; this may be due to Academy music categories only being open to original music). He didn't concentrate much on TV, though, and so his only Emmy was for music contributions to a Churchill biography.

Helen Hayes

A great actress who had a long career on both the stage and screen, she also did a lot of TV, and while she only won one Emmy, she was nominated several times. As with most of the actors here, it's the Grammy award she backed into, thanks to the "spoken word" category, which she won in 1976 "for her recording of the Bill of Rights."

Rita Moreno

I thought Ms. Moreno would be one of the really defensible EGOTs, since she is the classic example of a Broadway-musical performer who had prolific film and TV careers. I assumed that she had recorded enough pop music to slip an album into the Grammys, but do you know what she won for? the recorded audio from the TV show "The Electric Company", in what can only be described as a category with slack admission criteria (her co-winner Bill Cosby was taking home his second consecutive win in the "Best Recording for Children" category, after scoring with Bill Cosby Talks to Kids about Drugs the previous year).

John Gielgud

Another giant of acting, prolific board-treader, decade-long reign as king of the miniseries, another dubious spoken-word Grammy, right? Well, almost. He was nominated for his spoken-word recordings nine times, and once in the Children's category! If anything, his Oscar is the dubious one, a probable "give it to Gielgud" in the ever-sketchy Supporting Actor category, for playing the valet in Arthur (a movie where you can play "before they were EGOT" with Gielgud and Liza Minelli, trivia buffs).

Audrey Hepburn

I'm not going to say a single mean thing about Audrey Hepburn's EGOT. Not a one. Love her. I'm not going to mention that her posthumous Emmy was for Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Programming for an episode of Gardens of the World. Dang.

And as long as I've spoiled it, her Grammy was also posthumous, and was in the category "Best Spoken Word Album for Children".

Audrey's EGOT frankly reeks of honouring the beloved and lately departed.

Marvin Hamlisch

Another musical theatre composer, and prolific as a film scorer, and a writer of pop music. He won a Grammy as the co-composer of "The Way We Were," which won in the big-league "Song of the Year" category in 1975, and two others. There's not much to mock in his collection of four Emmys (all in music categories, of course). If there's a surprise for me, it's that he has won multiples of all the EGOT awards EXCEPT the Tony, his sole win being for A Chorus Line. Hamlisch is arguably the most legit EGOT winner of all.

Jonathan Tunick

Yes, I know, "Jon who?" My reaction too. He's a prolific composer who has done a ton of Broadway work, as well as numerous film scores. He seems more than any other EGOT winner to have squeaked into this club with winning work on dubious projects. He won a 1978 Best Music Oscar for A Little Night Music, a forgotten film adaptation of a Sondheim musical. His 1988 Grammy was in the hotly contested Instrumental Arrangement category, and this theatre-oriented composer had to wait until 1997 to collect a Tony. He bears the dubious distinction of being the only minimalist EGOT: he has won each award once.

Mike Nichols

He won his Oscar for directing The Graduate, a peak in a long and impressive movie career. His brief forays into made-for-TV work scored him four Emmys, two for the brutal but excellent Wit, and two more for Angels In America. He's owned the Tony award for direction, collecting it 7 times (and one more for Best Play). But he had to rely on his early career as a sketch comic to pull in the 1961 Comedy Album Grammy.

Mel Brooks

Would you believe that Mel Brooks, famous man of American film comedy, winner of 3 Tonys, 4 Emmys, and 3 Grammys, has only one Oscar? I know!

Brooks, despite his vast oeuvre, won almost all of his EGOT prizes for either some version of The Producers, or for playing Uncle Phil. It is literally true that he could have won his EGOT solely on the prizes he collected from them. The two exceptional awards were a 1967 Emmy for writing on The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris Special, and a comedy-album Grammy in 1998, for The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000, the fifth recording of Mr. Brooks' and Carl Reiner's classic sketch.

Whoopi Goldberg

Like most EGOT-watchers, I think Ms. Goldberg is the poster child for the dubiousness of EGOT. Her Grammy? Comedy album, of course. Her Oscar? Supporting Actress, Ghost. I mean, seriously, have you seen that movie? Her Tony award was a producer's prize for Thoroughly Modern Millie, which I will assume was completely legit (15 producers?), And her Emmys were, of course, daytime Emmys. Now, you can say what you want about her work as part of the winning ensemble host-team on The View (heaven knows I do; "rape-rape"?), but that was actually her second Emmy. The one that vaulted her into EGOT status was awarded in 2002, for her work as host of that year's "Outstanding Special Class Special" (an award category I totally did not make up) for a TV documentary on the life of Hattie McDaniel, one which is currently reaping a big 5.1/10 on IMDB

Barbra Streisand

Babs is the first of the two "special class" EGOT winners, since her Tony Award was a "Special Tony Award" in 1970 rather than being in a competitive class. Her EGO prizes are fairly unimpeachable: 9 Grammys, 4 Emmys, 2 Oscars. I can understand why she got a Special Tony, but she earned what is typically a "lifetime achievement" award for a board-treading career that encompassed two roles and less than 6 years.

Liza Minelli

The second of our two special EGOTs, she was gifted a Grammy Legend Award in 1990 to fill out her set. Considering that she scored her first Tony in 1965, and added Oscar (Best Actress for Cabaret) and Emmy (for a concert special) in 1973, it was a long wait. Ironically for a performer best known for her singing abilities, Minelli has released 12 albums in 37 years, and less than half of those albums even charted in the US. I'd compare her career unfavorably with Rita Moreno's, but Ms. Moreno's "real" Grammy is more dubious than Liza's "fake" one.

EGORT?

So there you go, a complete list of quadruple threats in American performing arts. I think we can agree now the EGOT is a mess, and it's not unbelievable that Tracy Jordan could win one if he took a run at Broadway. In the course of researching this, I also noticed that several of the EGOT winners had been nominated for Golden Raspberry Awards, but as far as I can tell, none has won, so there's still a chance to be the first to be the best and the worst.

Future EGOTs

Wikipedia helpfully includes a list of the 3GOTs, people who are one award away from the EGOT, listed by which prize they are missing. This allows us to guess who might be added to the list in the future.

There are a surprising number of living film actors who have won every award except the Oscar: James Earl Jones, John Lithgow, Cynthia Nixon and I wouldn't count out Lily Tomlin. Prolific film composer Marc Shaiman wrote 5 Oscar-nominated film scores in the 1990s, and that's the only award he's missing. He's still active in the field, and he did the musical direction for the 2010 Academy Awards show. So he must be considered a near lock.

The five living "no-Emmy" 3GOTs are all composers or lyricists. Hans Zimmer, Elton John, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Tim Rice all seem like they could just write a few good TV show theme songs and auto-pilot their way to EGOT. I'd include Stephen Sondheim on the list, but he's 81 and may have better things to do with his time.

The no-Grammy list is a goodly collection of name-brand actors, and if I was Al Pacino, Maggie Smith, or Geoffrey Rush, I'd consider pumping out a lot of spoken-word recordings as a way of grinding to EGOT victory.

The no-Tony list is riddled with more musicians (John Williams, David Byrne and Randy Newman, notably), along with Robin Williams and Cher. But the most interesting case of all the 3GOTs might be Julie Andrews, who is missing only a Tony, but declined a nomination for one in 1996! They left her on the ballot, and she didn't win, but I'm thinking that she would have been the favorite without that grand gesture.

Final Thoughts

So Whoopi's EGOT still looks dubious, but I'd say she's joined in the lowest circle of marginal-EGOTs by Jonathan Tunick and, most surprisingly, Audrey Hepburn. As much as I'd like to rubbish the Special EGOTs of Babs and Liza, the cases for those two being contributors in all four types of performing art are better than Whoopi's, and maybe better than Tunick's and Hepburn's.

The truth about the EGOT is it's the triathlon of performing arts achievements: you win by being fairly good at several things instead of very good at anything.