The 21 Moments That Defined the Oscars
The Academy Awards are Hollywood's Super Bowl. While the annual telecast may seem over self-congratulatory at times, it's the most important night in show business. The show not only celebrates a medium that brings people from all over the world together, but it can also make a career. (Think Matt Damon and Ben Affleck circa 1998.)
The high-stakes event lends itself to raw emotions, which can lead to rare moments of candor from publicly cautious celebrities. The result? Some of the best water cooler talk of the year. But sometimes the behind-the-scenes stories are even juicier than what happens on the stage. We talked to the people who made headlines to find out what really happened and how spontaneous —or staged—the moments were.
Remember Chris Rock's searing #OscarsSoWhite monologue? A producer on the show that year tells us Rock came prepared that night: he spent six weeks working with 17 writers to create the perfectly memorable moment.
Here are 21 other moments—and the stories behind them—that define the history of the Oscars:
1940: HARTIE MCDANIEL IS THE FIRST BLACK OSCAR WINNER
When McDaniel won the supporting actress statue for her portrayal of Mammy—a slave on the Georgia plantation Tara—in Gone With the Wind, she was forced to sit in the back of the venue due to segregation. "I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry," McDaniel said during her acceptance speech. It would be 51 years until the next African American won, when Whoopi Goldberg took home the Oscar in the supporting actress category for Ghost.
Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African American to win an Oscar.
1943: GREER GARSON PULLS A KANYE WITH THE LONGEST OSCAR SPEECH OF ALL TIME
You have Garson to thank for the 45-second Oscar acceptance speech rule. Garson, who won the Best Actress award for Mrs. Miniver, began her speech rather humbly by acknowledging the crowd. "Thank you," she said. "That is really all there is to say; but, 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." And then for five minutes, at one in the morning, Garson rambled on and on. (Think Kayne West's epic mic-dropping 2015 VMA acceptance speech and shave off a minute or two.) "This was a time when winners often gave no speech at all, or very short remarks," a spokesperson for The Academy tells BAZAAR.com. "It was also the last award of the night and past midnight, so it gained an immediate reputation which lives on today."
1964: SIDNEY POITIER BECOMES THE FIRST BLACK MAN TO WIN THE BEST ACTOR OSCAR
When Poitier accepted the award, Anne Bancroft gave him a quick congratulatory peck on the cheek. Racial conservatives considered the kiss offensive—at the time, interracial marriage was still not legal in all 50 states and the Civil Rights Act had not yet been passed. It would be 38 years before another black man—Denzel Washington—won the category.
"It was a special evening," Poitier said when he reflected on that night in 2002, when he received an honorary Oscar. "It represented progress. It meant the embracing of a kind of democracy that had been very long in maturing."
Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft, who presented him with his Best Actor Oscar.
1969: BARBRA STREISAND AND KATHARINE HEPBURN SPLIT BEST ACTRESS WIN
"Hello, Gorgeous!" That's how Streisand greeted her first Oscar statuette for Funny Girl. Despite tying with Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in the Winter)—both actresses received 3,030 votes—Streisand stole the show thanks to Hepburn's absence. At the time, it was the third tie in the Academy's history; since then there have been three more.
In 1969, Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied for Best Actress. Hepburn wasn't at the ceremony.
1972: CHARLIE CHAPLIN RECEIVES AN HONORARY OSCAR
Hollywood celebrated the legendary actor-director-writer-producer-composer with a 12- minute standing ovation, the entirety of which was not caught on camera. The night also marked the silent-era star's return to the U.S. after a 20-year politically imposed exile from the U.S. for alleged communist sympathies. "Words seem so futile—so feeble," Chaplin said. "I can only say thank you for the honor of inviting me here." Following the brief speech, the audience got back on their feet when Chaplin put on his trademark bowler hat and cane.
1973: MARLON BRANDO REFUSES HIS OSCAR STATUETTE
Brando was the first to use Hollywood's most prestigious awards show as a political platform. The actor, who won Best Actor for The Godfather, didn't attend the ceremony. Instead 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.
Three months later on The Dick Cavett Show, Brando said he didn't regret the decision to reject the award at the height of his career. "I felt that it was a marvelous opportunity for an Indian to be able to voice his opinion to 85 million people."
1974: A NAKED MAN TAKES THE STAGE
It took a special person to steal the show from Elizabeth Taylor, but activist/artist/professional streaker Robert Opel managed to do just that. English actor David Niven was about to introduce Taylor, who would announce The Sting had won the award for Best Picture, when Opel ran across the stage wearing only his mustache.
"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?" Niven quipped.
Shockingly Opel, 33 at the time, wasn't arrested or even kicked out of the event. Instead he was gave a post-telecast press conference just like the evening's winners. "You know, people shouldn't be ashamed of being nude in public," he told reporters. "Besides, it is a hell of a way to launch a career."
But after the infamous sprint, Opel drifted back into obscurity only to surface again in national headlines when he was tragically shot to death in 1979.
1985: SALLY FIELD'S MISQUOTED ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
The phrase "You like me, you really like me!" has been mocked by the likes of Madonna and Jim Carrey, and it's right up there with famous film phrases including, "You talkin' to me?" (Taxi Driver) and "Luke, I am your Father," (Star Wars). But like the Star Wars line, Field never actually uttered those words at the Oscars. What she actually said when she won Best Actress for Places in the Heart was, "I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me."
In 2015, the actress told The Hollywood Reporter that she hadn't allowed herself to feel her first win and wanted to "own" the second one. "I just said to myself, 'I'm gonna feel it' ... They had a huge, red, glaring light that started flashing in your face ... so I panicked ... and I remembered the part of me that said, 'You didn't say anything that mattered, you didn't say anything genuine,' (the first time) and I, without knowing it, said what I said ... It just came out."