The 20 most memorable Oscar moments
PUBLISHED: 10:22 04 March 2018 | UPDATED: 16:25 07 March 2018
With allegations of sexual harassment running rife through Hollywood and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements sure to have a presence at this year’s Academy Awards, Mark Edwards looks back and finds controversy and the Oscars have always gone hand in hand.
When the 90th Academy Awards Ceremony takes place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles on Sunday it is inevitably going to have its share of controversy. In the months leading up to the event the film industry has been rocked by dozens of sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct allegations and the fallout has led straight the Academy Awards. Implicated names have been notable by their absence among the nominees for awards and more notice appears to have been taken of female filmmakers with Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird picking up five nominations, including a rare Best Director for Gerwig (only the fifth woman to ever be nominated in the category) and Dee Rees’ Mudbound earning four nominations.
The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are sure to be prominent in the speeches and style of the evening as they were at the Golden Globes and Baftas. Even the films that have been chosen have not escaped controversy with allegations of plagiarism (The Shape Of Water), racism (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and paedophilia (Call Me By Your Name) hitting the nominations for Best Picture. However, controversy at the Oscars is nothing new as these 20 stand-out moments from the awards ceremony’s history reveal.
1. Hattie McDaniel becomes the first black Oscar winner
When the African-American stage actress, professional singer-songwriter and comedian won the supporting actress statue in 1940 for the role of house slave Mammy in Gone With The Wind segregation rules meant that she had to sit at the back of the venue until her name was announced. McDaniel, who appeared in more than 300 films, but only received screen credits for around 80, said: “I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and the motion picture industry.” The industry struggled to match Hattie’s good grace. It would be another 51 years until another African-American woman won, when Whoopi Goldberg took home the Oscar in the supporting actress category for Ghost.
2. Greer Garson and the longest Oscar speech of all time
Have you ever wondered why Oscar speeches are not allowed to run over 45 seconds? Well, you can blame, or thank, Greer Garson. In 1943 she won the Best Actress award for Mrs Miniver, and, offering the crowd a humble “thank you” she added “As this is after all the opportunity of a lifetime, I hope you won’t mind if I try to expand that word just, just a little.” What followed was a speech to make Kanye West look tongue-tied. It was by then one in the morning and her speech was eating into some serious Hollywood party time. It was agreed this should never happen again.
3. Marlon Brando refuses to collect his Oscar
In 1973 Marlon Brando won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as mafia boss Don Corleone in The Godfather, in which it was quite tricky to understand a word he said. Rather than attending the ceremony himself he sent a female Native American activist, Sacheen Littlefeather, to the stage to speak on his behalf. “He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” said Littlefeather, who was wearing traditional Apache dress. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.” She received a mixture of boos and applause.
4. Adrien Brody’s ‘kiss’ with Halle Berry
One moment you can pretty much guarantee won’t be emulated at this year’s Oscars is Adrien Brody’s non-consensual kiss of Halle Berry at the 2003 ceremony unless it is part of the protagonist’s plan to pack his bags and never see Hollywood again. Brody was undoubtedly excited about winning the Best Actor award for The Pianist and on receiving the gong from Berry impulsively took the Oscar-winning actress in his arms, leant her back and planted a lingering kiss on her, which Berry spent most of his acceptance speech trying to wipe off.
5. The Oscars gets its first streaker
There have been stars such as Cher and Bjork, with her swan dress, that have commanded the headlines for outrageous and revealing outfits on the night, but no-one has gone quite as far as Robert Opel. The gay rights activist ran across the stage wearing only a moustache when, in 1974, quintessentially English actor David Niven was about to announce Elizabeth Taylor on to the stage. The unflappable Niven said: “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?” Opel, rather than being arrested, was interviewed after the event as if he was one of the night’s winners. He said: “People shouldn’t be ashamed of being nude in public. Besides, it’s one hell of a way to launch a career.” But Opel drifted back into obscurity and was tragically shot to death in 1979.
6. Jack Palance does one-handed push-ups onstage
Actor and one-time boxer Jack Palance proved he was still in great shape at 73, after winning Best Supporting Actor for his role in the comedy City Slickers, by breaking off from his acceptance speech to perform three one-armed push-ups. His City Slickers’ co-star and host on the night Billy Crystal ran with the theme all night. The following year’s Oscar telecast opened with Palance dragging a giant Academy Award on to the stage — with Crystal riding on top.
7. Robert Benigni’s stage entrance
The Italian actor’s Holocaust tragi-comedy Life Is Beautiful won big in 1999 with three Oscars. Benigni won Best Actor, giving a speech which he later said “used up all of his English.” When the film also won Best Foreign Language Film the star let his actions do the talking. When Sophia Loren announced the winner, the actor, stood up on his chair, waving his hands in delight – the cameras caught him being held up by Steven Spielberg in a neighbouring seat. Benigni then started to scale the theatre’s seats to get to the stage, being held aloft by Hollywood legends – like a starrier version of the end of Crocodile Dundee.
8. Patricia Arquette hits out at the gender pay gap
After collecting her award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Boyhood in 2015, which was filmed over 12 years, Patricia Arquette used the platform to highlight the issue of the gender pay gap. The speech began conventionally enough, but it concluded with: “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.” On the night the speech drew wild cheers from the audience. However, subsequently, Arquette has said that the speech has hurt her career and caused her to be passed over for roles in Hollywood.
9. Moonlight almost misses out
At last year’s ceremony, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, onetime stars of Bonnie And Clyde, almost masterminded another robbery. They were to announce the winner of the Best Picture Oscar to finish the night, but they had been given the envelope for Best Actress for La La Land’s Emma Stone. Beatty seems to realise the mistake on opening the envelope, and, ever the gentleman, decides to hand it to Dunaway to read out. She does and, in a moment of mass confusion, La La Land’s team come up on stage, take the award and begin giving their acceptance speeches, before they are alerted by the mortified host Jimmy Kimmel, who will also helm Sunday’s awards, that Moonlight had actually been crowned the winner. Despite the huge mix-up - and the chaotic 10 minutes that followed - both teams from La La Land and Moonlight showed huge amounts of dignity and mutual support when the mistake was realised.
10. Charlie Chaplin gets a 12-minute standing ovation
In 1972 the legendary actor-writer-producer-composer was invited to the ceremony to receive an honorary Oscar. The night marked Chaplin’s first return to the US after a 20-year politically imposed exile from the country after he was labelled a communist by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Coming to the stage to accept his award he was given a 12-minute standing ovation, the longest in Oscar history. The legend of the silent screen era said in his speech: “Words seem so futile – so feeble. I can only say thank you for the honour of inviting me here.” He then put on his trademark bowler hat and cane and the crowd rose to their feet again. The combined standing ovations lasted more than 20 minutes.
11. The wrong Frank
“Come up and get it, Frank!” bellowed cowboy, vaudeville actor and journalist Will Rogers when he announced the winner for Best Director at the 1934 Academy Awards. So war hero and director Frank Capra began his walk to the stage. Only trouble was there were two Franks nominated for the award and it was Frank Lloyd, director of Calvalcade, who had won. Capra, mortified, returned to his seat. In his autobiography he described the walk back as “the longest, saddest, most shattering walk in my life. I wish I could have crawled under the rug like a miserable worm. All my friends at the table were crying.” He won the next year for It Happened One Night.
12. Sidney Poitier becomes the first black man to win the Best Actor Oscar
In 1964, Sidney Poitier, then 37, made history by becoming the first African-American to win an Oscar for best actor, awarded to him for his role in Lillies of the Field as a travelling handyman who becomes the answer to the prayers of nuns who wish to build a chapel in the desert. It was awarded two months before the Civil Rights Act was passed in the US and the quick, congratulatory peck on the cheek given to Poitier by white actress Anne Bancroft, who handed him the award, inflamed racial conservatives. Interracial marriage was still not legal in all 50 states at that time. Poitier used the exposure the award gave him to star in three successful films in 1967 which dealt with issues involving race and race relations: To Sir, With Love, In The Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Still, it would be 38 more years before another black man, Denzel Washington, would win the Best Actor Oscar, for his role in Training Day.
13. Heath Ledger wins a posthumous Oscar
In 2009, the year after the Australian film actor died of an accidental overdose, the 28-year-old won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight. He is only the second actor to receive a posthumous Oscar after British-born Australian Peter Finch won for Network in 1976. As Ledger’s name was announced, cameras cut away to show fellow stars Anne Hathaway, who starred in Brokeback Mountain with Ledger, and Angelina Jolie, battling back tears. The award was accepted by Ledger’s parents and his sister Kate. She dedicated the golden statuette to his young daughter with actress Michelle Williams, saying, “we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful Matilda.”
14. Ellen DeGeneres takes a star-studded selfie
The 2014 host Ellen DeGeneres assigned actor Bradley Cooper a selfie stick and herded a host of A-list stars into a picture, which 37 million people worldwide took a look at, almost breaking the internet. Among the smiling stars were Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Jared Leto and Angelina Jolie. Another picture taken at the time, but this time from the back, revealed singer and actress Liza Minnelli climbing all over Julia Roberts and other taller stars in a doomed effort to be part of the picture.
15. Tatum O’Neal becomes youngest Oscar winner ever
At just 10 years old, O’Neal won the award for Best Supporting Actress in 1974 for her performance in Paper Moon, which she starred in alongside her father, Ryan. Wearing a tuxedo and beaming, she thanked her dad and director Peter Bogdanovich. O’Neal turned nine years old during filming for her role as the cigarette smoking con artist Addie Loggins. It was a big year for young actresses, with O’Neal edging out 14-year-old Linda Blair for the award, despite her head-swivelling, projectile vomiting efforts in The Exorcist.
16. Martin Scorsese finally wins best director (2007)
Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The King of Comedy – all wonderful, groundbreaking films deserving of an Oscar, but the man behind all of them, Martin Scorsese, had to wait until 2007 to be recognised. He won the Best Director award for The Departed, a Boston-set remake of Hong Kong mobster drama Infernal Affairs. Scorsese got a standing ovation on being announced the winner by a triumvirate of his pioneering directing contemporaries Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Poking fun at his status as a perennial loser at the awards, having been nominated without success four times previously, Scorsese said in his speech: “Could you double check the envelope?”
17. James Franco bombs as Oscar co-host
It’s unlikely James Franco will be present at this year’s Oscars ceremony due to recent allegations of inappropriate behaviour that have surfaced in the media, but his performance at the 2011 ceremony won’t have helped. The star of The Disaster Artist and 27 hours co-hosted the event with Anne Hathaway with all the vim of a teenager doing the vacuuming. Despite the ever perky Hathaway’s earnest attempts to inject some energy into proceedings, Franco’s phoned-in turn made for one of the most listless and critically savaged ceremonies ever.
18. Actress Louise Fletcher uses sign language to thank her parents
In 1976 Louise Fletcher came from nowhere to win the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the chillingly prim Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She went on to deliver a heartfelt and very moving Oscar acceptance speech. She started with: “Well, it looks like you all hated me so much that you’ve given me this award for it, and I’m loving every minute of it. And all I can say is I’ve loved being hated by you.” After thanking the cast and team behind the production, she moved into sign language. Fletcher was born to deaf parents - her mother Estelle was born deaf, but her father Robert had been struck by lightning and lost his hearing when he was four – and the last message was for them watching at home.
19. Sally Field’s acceptance speech
All the greats through times have been misquoted. People are forever mangling Shakespeare lines - so much so the original often gets forgotten. So perhaps actress Sally Field should be honoured that her 1984 Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech for her role as a Depression-era Texan widow in Places in the Heart has become so famously twisted. It does, however, seem a little tough on the actress, who also won an Oscar in 1980 for her role in Norma Rae, that her actual line of “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me” was traduced to “You like me, you really like me” and used to target the preciousness of actors who crave adulation. Stars such as Madonna and Jim Carrey have had fun with the misquote.
20. Kathryn Bigelow best director
You know how you always envision bumping into the ex who dumped you when you are arm-in-arm with a supermodel or constantly being interrupted to pose for selfies because you have become a sporting legend when it is more likely you will be staggering out of Aldi at 3pm still in your pyjamas, hair askew, having just bought a multi-pack of Pot Noodles when it happens? Well, the 2010 Oscars ceremony was evidence that occasionally such reunions can be gloriously sweet. That year Kathryn Bigelow not only became the first female to win the Best Director Oscar for Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker, which also won Best Picture, she also beat ex-husband James Cameron, nominated for Avatar.