Print Edition - 2019-02-20  |  Life & Style

The nine greatest Oscar moments


Feb 20, 2019-


Let me be Frank, 1934

What one of the first recorded Oscar blunders—the ceremony was first held 90 years ago this May—teaches us is always, always say the surname. Or at least wait for yours to be called. Frank Capra learned this the excruciating way when presenter Will Rogers announced best director with the words: “I’ve watched this young man for a long time. Saw him come up from the bottom. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Come up and get it, Frank!” Capra, nominated for Lady for a Day, had almost walked to the stage when he noticed the spotlight was in fact on Frank Lloyd, director of Cavalcade. He had to slink back through the crowd—with VIPs shouting at him for ruining their view—and later wrote in his autobiography: “I wish I could have crawled under the rug like a miserable worm.” He collapsed back into his chair while his table of friends wept. Hopefully, the Oscars he subsequently won in 1935, 1937 and 1939 made up for what he called “the longest, saddest, most shattering walk in my life”.

History is made, 1940

Not only was Hattie McDaniel the first African American Oscar winner, for her performance as Mammy in Gone With the Wind, she was the first even to be nominated, after she placed a stack of rave reviews, including the Los Angeles Times writeup of her performance as “worthy of Academy supporting awards”, on the desk of the film’s producer, David O Selznick, who put her name forward to the Academy. The venue, the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador hotel, was still segregated and Selznick had to petition for McDaniel to attend. She was seated away from the Gone With the Wind table, at the back of the room. “I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry,” she said in her acceptance speech.

Marlon Brand-no, 1973

Long before the Oscars became a platform for political causes, Marlon Brando declined to accept his Academy Award for best actor in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. After his name was called out, a woman in traditional Apache dress rose from a seat, walked to the stage and raised one hand in silent refusal as Roger Moore attempted to hand her the statuette. She was Sacheen Littlefeather, president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. “He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this is the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry,” she said, to a mixed chorus of boos and applause from the audience.

Winning streak, 1974

“And now to divulge the contents of this year’s important envelope,” began David Niven, in what was intended to be an introduction to presenter Elizabeth Taylor, but actually served to introduce the streaker who appeared behind Niven, throwing a peace sign, willy waving in the wind. Ever the consummate professional, Niven barely missed a beat before pondering: “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?” The streaker was artist and gay rights activist Robert Opel, who had managed to get backstage by putting on a jumpsuit and pretending to be an entertainment journalist.

Yeah, we like you, 1985

Sally Field delivered the most misquoted and possibly most relatable speech ever when she was named best actress for Places in the Heart, her second Oscar win. Flushed of cheek, she said breathlessly: “I wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it. But this time I feel it. And I

can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now… you like me!” to laughs and cheers from the audience, who were shocked and presumably relieved to have the gaping void of need inside them briefly exposed to the light.

Falling for Jennifer, 2013

Yes, she’s a hugely talented, multifaceted woman of some skill, but has there even been an actor, a human, as endearing as Jennifer Lawrence? As rip-your-arm-off-and-hit-yourself-in-the-face-with-it adorable? The only thing more adorable than Normal Everyday Jennifer is Awards Jennifer, who talks about eating chips on the red carpet and loses her mind at the mere sight of another A-lister. But that’s nothing compared to 2013 when, after winning best actress for Silver Linings Playbook she tripped—oh so giddily, and oh so gracefully—up the stairs. Who falls up the stairs? Awards Jennifer, that’s who. She followed up by flipping the bird in the press room. See! Adorable.

I pronounce you… 2015

There’s a variation on the dream where the entire world sees you naked, which is the entire world watching you realise you can’t say someone’s name and having to plough on anyway because it’s live TV and, actually, it’s the Oscars and you’re John Travolta. After being introduced as the “wickedly talented, one and only Adele Dazeem” in 2014, Idina Menzel (seriously, Adele?!) got her sweet, sweet revenge a year later when she welcomed her “very dear friend, Glom Gazingo”—AKA Travolta—to the stage. Whereupon he joined her on stage and, um, held her face.

Going la la, 2017

No Oscar acceptance speech should include the words: “I’m sorry, no, there’s been a mistake.” Yet these were the words uttered by Jordan Horowitz, producer of La La Land, on stage after he’d accepted the best picture statuette only to then be quietly handed the correct envelope, showing Moonlight had triumphed. Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been given a duplicate of the best actress envelope, which had indeed gone to Emma Stone for La La Land. The world realised it had no true understanding of what a bad day at the office meant.

Cool rider, 2018

There is no actor quite like Frances McDormand and we were never going to get a speech quite like any other when she collected the best actress Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in 2018. “So, I’m hyperventilating a little bit, if I fall over, pick me up…” she began lightly, before facing down the lens, jaw set: “… cos I’ve got some things to say.” McDormand asked all female nominees in all categories to stand up with her (saying, quite rightly, “Meryl, if you do it, everybody else will”) and reminded those with power and budgets in the audience that these women had stories to tell. She then uttered the words that could change representation in film forever: “inclusion rider”.

Published: 20-02-2019 10:09

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