Vintage Hollywood’s biggest Oscar shocker and epic mix up

IT was bigger than California, bigger than America.  It was Hollywood’s finest moment. Celebrating the Academy Awards (nicknamed Oscar) is as old as a man’s knowledge of entertainment — music, laughter and despair. It is as fresh as a child’s first taste of make believe, the magic splendor of film making which has always been a part of our lives.

The stars were shining brightly, and for most revelers, it was a spectacle.  Gorgeous ladies and their princely escorts walk down the red carpet, wearing jewelry that could blind an eagle’s daze.  The glitz and glamor could make an entertainment and fashion editor weep.

The movie industry matters because they measure more than our society’s affluence and leisure, our temper and taste, our stature and maturity in our pursuit of taste and excellence in filmmaking.

The spotlight on the stars and the audience show slices of reality.  These are universal experiences: the promise of laughter, the catch on the throat, the wonderful awe, the agony of waiting, and the ecstasy of winning.  Nostalgia, half-remembered memoirs of stars now gone, back stories and acceptance speeches of yore.

The Oscars has been sought and spurned by Marlon Brando, Dustin Huffman, George Scott, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne.  Revered and reviled, it is also called an incentive for excellence and a commercial tool.

But what has the Oscar meant for the winners and nominees?  What are the reactions in winning and losing an award?

The distinction between being a movie star and an esteemed player rivaled both subjectively and objectively because judgment is made by players, film critics and audiences.  The Oscar legitimizes the talent of popular stars who have not enjoyed the respect of their colleagues.  

Sophia Loren ((“Before I made Two Women,” her Oscar-winning film) said succinctly, “I had been a performer. Afterward, I was an actress.”  This is said to be a pretty accurate description.

The Academy Award is not an achievement that just happens.  It is on players’ minds easily. In their careers, it is considered by them to be the ultimate symbol of attainment that serves as a metaphor of success.

The winning of an Oscar

Many artists consider it not just the climax of their professional career, but as the greatest achievement of their lives.  Their immediate reaction to usually a period of tremendous anxiety, that six weeks purgatory between the announcement of nominees and the Oscar night is highly emotional.

That is why their immediate reaction is spontaneous or less fabricated than the ordinary behavior in Hollywood.  With all the preparations for the event of winning, there are always elements of unpredictability. 

They are shown live to hundreds of millions of television viewers all over the world, which is exciting for the winners but terrible embarrassing for the losers.  But hope, being the eternal rogue that it is; that on the night of the awards, anxiety and tension are immense and their effects are equally felt by both male and female nominees —aspects of the “Oscar phenomenon” that does not distinguish between genders or at any age at which they win. Actor Christopher Plummer at 82 is the oldest Oscar winner, chosen by an academy with 6,000 members then.

“I would like to thank…” The acceptance speech — there are two kinds — one type asserts that the awards mean nothing to them and the other, the one that breaks into tears upon receiving an award, and thank their mother, father, children, the producer, the director, and — if they can crowd them in —the American Baseball League, as Howard Koch, has observed.

In the beginning, prior to public broadcasts, the acceptance speeches tend to be modest.  Janet Gaynor, the first Oscar winner said, “I am deeply honored,” but she couldn’t continue as her voice cracked and tears filled her eyes, thus setting a standard of behavior for future speeches by female winners. 

Of course, the speeches have varied in length, content and originality.  Some were simple as Vivian Leigh’s 1940 speech (for “Gone in the Wine) in which she thanked “Mr. Selznek, all my co-workers and most of all Margaret Mitcher.”

Greer Garson’s was extremely long, thanking everyone including “the doctor who brought me into the world.”  She realized she had a broken a “sacred rule” for “leading ladies, aren’t supposed to get further than ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’ and burst into tears.  Her speech soon became a joke in Hollywood, imitated at parties.  Rumors have it that in the next decade, she refused to speak in public at all.

Charlton Heston (“Ben Hur”) thanked “the first secretary in Broadway casting office who let me in to get my first job.”

Shelley Winters thanked her “agent for getting her part in ‘The Diary of Ann Frank.’”

Burt Lancaster speech evoked laughter and applause when he thanked those who worked with him in “Elmer Gantry,” those who voted for him, but also those who did not vote for him.

Rod Steiger was truly gracious when he thanked his co-star or in the “Heat of the Night,” and Sidney Poitier “whose friendship gave me the knowledge to enhance my performance and we shall overcome.”

Here are some of the speeches that stood out in their humor:

Claudette Colbert at Biltmore Hotel Oscars: “I am happy enough to cry, but I can’t take the time to do so.  A taxi is waiting outside with the engine running.”  

Eva Marie Saint (“On the Waterfront”) was in advance pregnancy and feared “I may have the baby right here out of excitement.”

Yul Brynner (“The King and I”):  “I hope this is not a mistake because I won’t give it back for nothing. “

Lee Marvin (“Cat Balou”) broke with tradition of acceptance speeches “half of this (Oscar) belongs to a horse.”

Barbra Streisand simply looked at the statuette and said “Hello, Gorgeous,” her line from “Funny Girl.”

Post Script:  Different million things were felt— disbelief, shock, sadness, and confusion about a film named “Moonlight” which won Best Picture.

Warren Beatty was handed the wrong category envelope, and announced a massive Best Picture mistake sending emotions back on and off the stage.  As it started to swirl, it poured into the marathon of the loudest and noisiest after Oscar parties.

That’s entertainment!


E-mail Mylah at [email protected]

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