The saying goes: If Hollywood is really the movie capital of the world, then Oscar night is the world’s biggest wrap party, and like all parties, each event comes with unwelcome guests, embarrassing situations, strange fashions and controversial moments. In fact, controversy and the Oscars seem to go hand in hand and despite the fact that the Academy Awards are, for the most part, an elegant and tightly controlled affair, some very strange things do occur. Let’s take a look back through the history of the Academy Awards, and some of it’s strangest and more controversial moments – which sadly were also the most memorable.
For the 2007 ceremony, producers hired the dance troop Pilobolus to recreate famous images from that year’s most popular films.
Richard Gere was last asked to present in 1993 when he interrupted the ceremony to give a long speech attacking China’s leader Deng Xiaoping and that country’s human rights record. Gere was told at the time that he would not be invited back to the ceremony.
At the 1993 Oscars, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon answered back to the United States government decision to allow a group of HIV positive Haitians to enter the country.
In 1975, Frank Sinatra responded publicly on an Oscar telecast, criticizing Dustin Hoffman for his attack of the Academy, saying “and contrary to what Dustin Hoffman thinks, it is not a disgusting evening, it is not garish, and it is not disrespectful.”
In 1977, Vanessa Redgrave won her Supporting Actress Oscar for Julia. The film was based on Lillian Hellman’s book Pentimento, a portion of which purports to tell the story of her relationship with her lifelong friend, “Julia,” who fought against the Nazis in the years prior to World War II. However, in addition to starring in Julia, Redgrave also funded a documentary entitled The Palestinian in which she backed a Palestinian homeland and, more controversially, danced with an Kalashnikov rifle. Some of the more militant Jewish groups took this as a signal that she was an anti-Semite despite her role in the film she was nominated for. Around seventy-five Jewish Defence League (JDL) members and two hundred Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) followers and sympathizers were present for the media circus outside. Watch Redgrave’s response to the protesters during her Oscar speech below.
Two hours later, when it came his turn to announce an award winner (for Best Writing), Paddy Chayefsky, responded to Redgrave saying,
“Before I get on to the writing awards, there’s a little matter I’d like to tidy up—at least if I expect to live with myself tomorrow morning. I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal propaganda. I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”
The same people who applauded Redgrave applauded Chayefsky. Basically, I don’t think anyone knew what was going on.
–The 1996 opening intro to the event with host Billy Crystal is still by far the most memorable.
Missing In Action
George C. Scott made it known how little he cared for the Oscars when he didn’t show up to accept his award for Best Actor in 1970. Instead, he stayed home and watched a hockey game.
The most well known example of an actor refusing his Oscar was Marlon Brando, who was named Best Actor of 1972 for The Godfather. Instead, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather, who delivered the reason why Brando wouldn’t accept his Oscar, due to the poor treatment of American Indians by the film industry, at which point the audience booed her off stage.Clint Eastwood wondered if it should be presented “on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford westerns over the years.” Michael Caine then criticized Brando for “letting some poor little Indian girl take the boos,” instead of appearing and taking the boos himself.
Three 6 Mafia
Memphis’ Three 6 Mafia made history, becoming the first hip-hop group to ever perform live at the Academy Awards and also winning the Best Original Song Oscar for the Juicy J and DJ Paul-penned song “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” from the film Hustle & Flow. T
While I found a video online of their performance, I couldn’t find a good quality clip of their speech. So here is a transcript of Three 6 Mafia’s acceptance speech from the history making moment:
DJ Paul: We wanna thank Keith Young, our choreographer.
Juicy J: Yes!
DJ Paul: Man, hear me out—the whole Sony Records. Lisa Ellis, our moms, our whole family…
Juicy J: Thank you Jesus! The Academy!
DJ Paul: Select-O-Hits for givin’ us a chance. The Academy…We love the Academy! Gil Cates! Everybody, man!
Juicy J: Man, we love ya’ll!
DJ Paul: Hell, I got plenty of time. I wanna thank everybody man…
Juicy J: Lisa Ellis, Don Ienner,
DJ Paul: Once again our families…Ludacris, shawty, what’s up! George Clooney, my favorite man, he showed me love when I first met him.
Frayser Boy: Memphis, Tenn, we bringin’ it home!
DJ Paul: We outta here!
Juicy J: Memphis Tennessee!
Lip-Syncing Sign Language?
In 1977, singer Debby Boone performed “You Light up My Life” at the ceremony. For her performance she recruited a group of eleven deaf children to perform the lyrics in ASL for the hearing impaired watching the broadcast. As it turned out, the children were not deaf, as everybody had believed they were, and had no clue how to use sign language.
Albert Lamorisse’s exquisite The Red Balloon remains one of the most beloved family films of all time. Weirdly, the 1956 film won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar = despite being a 35-minute French movie, and despite having no dialogue.
In 1988, the Academy itself managed to anger Disney over the use of Snow White in a very bizarre opening featuring Rob Lowe singing and dancing with an actress dressed up as the title character. The performance was a giant flop, and in the following days the Walt Disney Company sued the Academy for unauthorized use of the Snow White image.
at the 1974 ceremony, 33-year-old Robert Opal ran across the stage butt-naked on live TV. Opal flashes a peace sign as he passes the cameras, and NBC cuts away to avoid full frontal nudity. After the laughter has died down, presenter David Niven tells the crowd, “Just think: the only laugh that man will probably ever get is for stripping and showing off his shortcomings.”
South Park vs. The Oscars
When the song “Blame Canada” from the 1999 animated musical South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut received a Best Song nod, the South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone walked the red carpet wearing imitations of the same headline-making dresses previously worn at award shows. The duo dressed in drag chose the following outfits: Parker wearing a replica of the cotton pink Ralph Lauren gown Gwyneth Paltrow wore when winning the Best Actress the previous year and Parker opted for the much-talked-about green Versace dress that Jennifer Lopez wore at the Grammy awards.
The original music by Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s for South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was nominated for Best Original Song. Voice actress Mary Kay Bergman was supposed to perform the number, but her suicide resulted in Robin Williams singing by himself while embodying eight people at the same time.
In 2005, George Clooney’s Oscar speech summed up just how self congratulatory Oscar night is when he responded to host Jon Stewart’s earlier dig that “Hollywood was out of touch with America.” Clooney replied: “I would say that we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood… it’s probably a good thing. We were the ones talking about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn’t popular and this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were sitting in the backs of theaters.” The incredibly obnoxious speech angered many viewers, but some good did come out of it, as it inspired Matt Stone and Trey Parker to create one of South Park’s most memorable episodes. Watch the video above to understand why.
Björk Dons a Swan
Bjork’s infamous swan dress, designed by Marjan Pejoski, which she wore to the 2001 Oscars red carpet, surprised just about everyone. Bjork shocked crowds with the outfit, which even laid eggs along the red carpet. The Icelandic singer and actress was nominated for Best Original Song for “I’ve Seen It All” from Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. It is arguably the most famous outfit ever worn to the Oscars, but the singer insists the infamous swan dress she wore was meant as a joke, explaining: “Well, I did bring eggs. Six of them that I left all over the red carpet. I was actually amazed at how many people thought I was serious. I didn’t mean to cause a riot. It was really funny because the security guards would pick them up and run after me with their walkie-talkies saying, ‘Excuse me, miss, you dropped this.'”
Brody Vs. Berry
Adrien Brody was the youngest Best Actor winner in Oscar history when he took home the prize in 2002 for his work in The Pianist. The actor stunned viewers and actress Halle Berry by kissing her passionately on the lips as she presented him his award.
Strange Acceptance Speeches
Cuba Gooding Jr.’s acceptance speech at the 1997 Academy Awards has topped a list naming the most dramatic, outrageous and unexpected moments in Oscar history. Gooding Jr. was so overjoyed to collect his Best Supporting Actor prize for Jerry Maguire that the actor continued to speak even when the orchestra began playing, yelling “I love you!” to a long list of Hollywood stars, while jumping up and down in excitement.
Jack Palance had been nominated for an Oscar twice, both for best supporting actor, for 1952’s Sudden Fear and 1953’s Shane. Four decades later, he finally won the award for the comedy City Slickers, at the age of 72. In the middle of a rather raunchy acceptance speech, Palance decided to drop down to do a series of one-armed push-ups, proving that age is just a number.
Perhaps not so much a strange nor controversial moment, but one that caught everyone by surprise. Robert Benigni’s acceptance speech in 1998 for his performance in Life is Beautiful had everyone talking for weeks. The Italian actor and director couldn’t just walk up on stage like everyone else, instead, he leaped from one seat back to another, climbing over heads and stopping to give Sophia Loren a big hug. The actor who could barely speak English, used up most of his time simply saying “thank you”’ and “this is terrible mistake because I used up all my English . . .”
Michael Moore, whose anti-gun film Bowling for Columbine won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, accepted his Oscar by attacking President Bush amid boos from the star-studded audience.
Director James Cameron proved how much of an egomaniac he was after winning Best Picture for Titanic. After thanking the cast earlier for giving him “pure gold every day”, Cameron noted “this is for a real event that happened when real people died and shocked the world in 1912 and I’d like…to do a few seconds of silence in remembrance of 1500 men, women and children who died.” This was of course followed by him pumping his fist in the air and shouting: “I’m the king of the world!” not to mention following up that moment of silence with “now let’s party ’til dawn!”
After picking up an award for her performance in Girl, Interrupted, Angelina Jolie pretty much confessed to the world that she was in love with her brother.
At the 2010 ceremony, Roger Ross Williams won an Oscar for his short documentary Music by Prudence, only to be interrupted by Elinor Burketts, who ran on stage like a raging drunken maniac, and pulled a Kanye West, taking up the rest of the director’s allotted time on the mic. The back-story is that Williams and Burkett were once filmmaking partners. That didn’t go too well. And it ended even worse. Still not very classy.
Worst Show Ever
The 59th Annual Academy Awards were hosted by three people and none of them worthy of the job — Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, and Paul Hogan. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was yet another strange trio, set to open up the show. Back then, it was tradition to open the show with a musical production number so someone had the bright idea of hiring Telly Savalas, Pat Morita, and Dom DeLuise to start the night with a musical number from Guys and Dolls.