Tonight is the night when Hollywood allows the rest of the world to peek into its party while it pats itself on the back. Statuettes are handed out, gushy speeches are made, and most importantly, the stars get to pose for paparazzi while displaying their expensive jewelry, revealing gowns, and their physical endowments – and often their plastic surgery. Most of the hoorah is pretty silly (at least in my opinion). But occasionally something happens that makes the pomp and ceremony worthwhile. And since everyone else is doing it, here’s longitudes‘ own list of the Academy Awards’ unforgettable moments, from “The Trip” to “The Tramp.” Some are funny; some are curious, embarrassing, and poignant. But they’re all memorable:
10. “THE TRIP.” The first Academy Awards ceremony to be televised was in 1952. The Best Supporting Actress award went to B-movie mainstay Gloria Grahame (for whom I earlier devoted an entire blog post). Nobody expected Grahame to win for her small role in the Kirk Douglas movie The Bad and the Beautiful, least of all the actress herself. But Hollywood legend has her tripping while she walked down the aisle to accept her trophy from Edmund Gwenn and Bob Hope. The press later accused her of being drunk. I don’t know. I’ve seen the clip on “YouTube,” and although she looked a little unsteady, possibly from all the TV lights, I didn’t see her stumble. If she was drunk, she played it safe, for her acceptance speech consisted of four words: “Thank you very much.”
9. “THE DUKE.” John Wayne had handed out Academy Awards a number of times, but he didn’t win one until 1969 for his role as “Rooster Cogburn” in the original True Grit. He gave a short, classy speech, mentioning that if he had known he’d win the coveted statue, “I’d have put that patch on 30 years earlier.” Despite his very right-leaning politics in liberal Hollywood, Wayne beat out more talented actors like Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. Did he deserve the Oscar? Does it matter? The award was as much for his impact on film history as anything else. And it was touching to see the big man wiping away a couple tears.
8. “THE PUSHUPS.” Jack Palance had a long history in film, going back to the 1950 Elia Kazan-directed Panic in the Streets. He usually had supporting roles as a tough guy. In 1991 he won Best Supporting Actor for his role in the comedy-western City Slickers. When he accepted his award, the 73-year-old Palance looked down at his much shorter costar Billy Crystal and said “I crap bigger than him.” He then got down on the floor and did one-handed pushups. It was a funny moment that provided Crystal with a running gag for the rest of the show: “Palance just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood sign” and “He fathered all the children in a production number,” etc. (NOTE: somehow, a myth went “viral” that it was the indomitable Kirk Douglas who did the pushups. No, folks, it was Palance.)
7. “THE ICEBREAKER.” The first African-American to win an Academy Award wasn’t Sidney Poitier for the 1963 film Lilies of the Field. It was Hattie McDaniel, who won 23 years earlier for her role as “Mammy” in the classic Gone With the Wind. She gave a tearful speech, and her award was testament to how progressive Hollywood was compared to the rest of the country. But even Hollywood had a ways to go. McDaniel emphasized she hoped to be a “credit to my race.” And after her speech, she returned to a segregated table.
6. “THE POSE.” Last year one of the presenters was luscious-lipped, long-legged Angelina Jolie. A regular to the red carpet, Jolie forgot she was off the carpet when she presented the award for Best Screenwriter. She awkwardly planted her left hand on her hip and thrust her naked right leg through her split gown. This after lip-locking her own brother ten years earlier. The Descendants’ screewnwriter Jim Rash, thinking quickly, did a hilarious imitation of Jolie when he reached the podium to share the screenwriter award.
5. “THE CRUSADER.” In 1973 Marlon Brando won Best Actor for his unforgettable portrayal of Mafia boss “Don Corleone” in The Godfather. One of the most gifted of American actors, and perhaps the most influential of the last 60 years, Brando was heavily involved in securing rights for Native Americans by 1973. He used the Academy Awards to make a statement. Rather than accepting his award himself, Brando sent a young American Indian Movement member, Sacheen Littlefeather, to deliver his 15-page speech. She was booed when she tried to protest against television’s negative portrayal of Indians. (She later read Brando’s manifesto to the press backstage.) The incident prompted the Academy to prohibit proxy acceptance of Oscars. Littlefeather later posed for Playboy.
4. “THE MILITANT.” Brando may have at least had a point, but Vanessa Redgrave’s stab at “Zionist hoodlums” picketing outside the 1977 awards was pointless and embarrassing. Like Brando, Redgrave was (and is) enormously talented. But she was also politically controversial, immersing herself in causes for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). So it’s not surprising she injected politics in her acceptance speech for Best Actress for her role in Julia. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky later admonished her that “her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history” and a “simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”
3. “THE GRATITUDE.” Louise Fletcher won Best Actress for her role as “Nurse Ratched” in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Until that time, Fletcher was fairly unknown, having appeared in some minor television and film roles over 10 years earlier. As Nurse Ratched, she was one of the most cold-blooded characters in film history. But her acceptance speech was one of the most tearful, when she used sign language to acknowledge her parents, who were deaf. Ten years later deaf actress Marlee Matlin won Best Actress for her role in Children of a Lesser God.
2. “THE STREAKER.” David Niven was onstage at the 46th Academy Awards in 1974 when a streaker struck. At that time, streaking – or running naked through a public place – was all the rage. Niven was introducing a presenter when one Robert Opel jogged naked across the stage behind Niven and flashed the peace sign. Fortunately for “Oscar,” the television cameras only caught a glimpse of Opel’s pubic hair. Quick-witted Niven, in classic British understatement, remarked that “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” His quip was so perfect that some have suggested the streaking was planned. After all, it is Hollywood, isn’t it?
1. ” THE TRAMP.” For my money, the most memorable Oscar moment was legendary Charlie Chaplin receiving an Honorary Oscar in 1972. Chaplin wrote, produced, directed, edited, scored, and starred in movies beginning in 1914. His most famous screen character was “The Little Tramp.” In 1940 he made a movie, The Great Dictator, that satirized Adolf Hitler. But in 1952 he had to exile himself to Switzerland due to the McCarthy-era witchhunts in the U.S. Twenty years later he finally returned to the states to accept the award for his “humor and humanity” and received a 12-minute standing ovation. It was a powerful moment that may never be equaled. Hollywood remakes and sequels are never as good as the original. Chaplin was an original.