Driving Miss Daisy movie poster

Another year-end release that only the Hollywood Foreign Press and eventually the Academy could love. Remember, this was the year of Do the Right ThingMy Left Foot, and Drugstore Cowboy, the critics’ choices. But it was Driving Miss Daisy, which won the hearts of the HFPA and eventually audiences worldwide.

The film cost less than $8 million and grossed over $150 million. It was a low budget Zanuck/Brown Company release, with no movie stars in the cast, based on a play that was produced off-Broadway, but which after winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama transferred to a Broadway theater and ran for 1,200 performances. Richard Zanuck and his wife Lili Fini bought the screen rights and guided it to the screen, promoting it themselves, knowing that it needed Golden Globe recognition if it was ever going to find an audience.

Soon after the Globe nominations were announced, word of mouth quickly spread and it became the film everyone wanted to see. But of course it wasn’t the HFPA that made that possible; it was the casting of 80-year-old Jessica Tandy and 50-year-old Morgan Freeman as the matriarchal Jewish retiree and her African American chauffeur. In a word, they were a dream team, and to no one’s surprise, both won Best Actor and Actress Golden Globes that year.

The film had a number of distinctions. It was the only Golden Globe Best Picture winner whose director Bruce Beresford wasn’t nominated. Beresford also failed to win an Oscar nomination. Jessica Tandy is still the oldest actress ever to win a Golden Globe. And the musical score performed entirely by Hans Zimmer was done electronically using samplers and synthesizers without the use of a single live instrument.

Ironically, 1989 was a great year for comedies. Others nominated were When Harry Met Sally, The War of the Roses, Shirley Valentine, and the lone musical animated feature The Little Mermaid. Mermaid picked up two Golden Globes for Best Musical Score and for Best Song, “Under the Sea,” which also won the Oscar. Other nominees in the Golden Globe Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy category were Billy Crystal for When Harry Met Sally, Michael Douglas for War of the Roses, Steve Martin for Parenthood and Jack Nicholson for Batman.

Jessica Tandy’s competition were Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine), Meg Ryan (When Harry Met Sally), Meryl Streep (She-Devil) and Kathleen Turner (War of the Roses.) One irony worth noting: Morgan Freeman created the role of Hoke in the Off-Broadway production and was cast in the movie. Jessica Tandy created the role of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, but Vivien Leigh got the part.