It’s the greatest show on earth but sometimes things go a little awry. James Oliver looks at the most outlandish moments from the Academy Awards. 

Hooray—it’s almost Oscars time again! Hollywood’s annual jamboree of self-celebration is the biggest show on earth, an excuse to gawp at the stars, laugh at their outfits and—just occasionally—think about some movies.


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It’s often criticised as "predictable" (as in, we already know La La Land is going to clean up) but every now and then, fate throws a curve ball. Here we present a round-up of some of those moments where the ceremony didn’t quite go according to plan...

 

1. Rob Lowe dances with Snow White

We can only wonder what the Oscar organisers were thinking when they decided to open their ceremony in 1989 with a 15-minute (!) song-and-dance number which paired Rob Lowe (then still in the dog house after a saucy scandal) with an angelic Snow White, all set in a dive bar.


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It was not well-received. Disney complained and assorted luminaries, including Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, fulminated that routine had besmirched the Oscars and, indeed, the very art of cinema itself.

 

2. Sally Field gushes. And then some

Actors are emotional old things and many an Oscar ceremony has been enlivened by someone blubbering away on the podium (think Gwyneth Paltrow; think Kate Winslet). But the gold standard for embarrassing speeches goes for Sally Field, awarded Best Actress in 1985:

This is why actors need writers to tell them what to say.

 

3. Frank Capra stands up, is stood up

Spare a thought for poor Frank Capra. He reckoned he was a shoo-in for Best Director in 1933, for his movie Lady for a Day. So when host Will Rogers called out, “Come and get it, Frank!”, he did just that.


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...Only Rogers was actually hailing Frank Lloyd, director of Cavalcade. We may assume that Capra spent the rest of the ceremony praying for something worse else to happen to distract from his faux pas. As this entry proves, it didn’t.

 

4. Cher’s malfunctioning wardrobe

“You’re not going out dressed like that, young lady!”

“But MUM! It’s the OSCARS!

“I know, our Cher, and you always look a right state. Remember how you looked in 1998...


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...in 1988....


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...and as for 1986...


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5. Vanessa Redgrave calls out "the haterz"

Not everyone wanted Vanessa Redgrave to win Best Actress in 1978 (for Julia): her vocal support of Palestinian causes made her a divisive figure. So when she picked up her gong, she gave a shout out to those who stuck by her. She could, however, have described her detractors just a wee bit more tactfully...

 

6. An Oscar for Best Presenter

Stan Berman does not feature in the lists of Oscar presenters: he was a Brooklyn cabby who styled himself “the world’s greatest gatecrasher” who invited himself to the show in 1961 and presented a home-made award to host Bob Hope. It would appear that the Academy was none too impressed as they never invited him back.

No clip of Berman’s Oscar hijinks is available, but here he is on What’s My Line rip-off called I’ve Got a Secret:

 

7. Marlon Brando couldn’t be with us tonight...

When Marlon Brando won Best Actor for The Godfather in 1972, audiences might have expected the traditional fake humility. Instead, they received a lecture on America’s treatment of its indigenous population delivered by a Native American called Sacheen Littlefeather, who had been deputed by Brando to collect the award in his stead.

They didn’t hold it against him: he was nominated again the next year for Last Tango in Paris. Ms. Littlefeather, however, has been snubbed ever since.

 

8. David Niven remains unflappable

Sooner or later every event will be disrupted by a streaker. The Oscars’ moment came in 1974 but luckily, David Niven was at the controls. The old smoothie went amusingly off-script to put the nudist in his place.

 

9. Hello From Hanoi

Given the times, we may expect the speeches at this year’s Oscars to have a political flavour. But if they’re really trying to upset the authorities, they’ll have to go some way to beat Bert Schneider. Collecting Best Documentary for Hearts and Minds in 1975, the producer read out a telegram from the North Vietnamese authorities, an administration then still technically at war with the USA.

Since Schneider survived the evening, we may assume John Wayne wasn’t there that night.

 

10. Greer Garson drones on and on

Goodness knows, acceptance speeches can be interminable but spare a thought for those who attended the Oscars in 1941.

That was the year Greer Garson won Best Actress (for Mrs. Miniver) and opened up a crack in the space-time continuum: technically, she spoke for about five and a half minutes but survivors said it felt more like half and hour, or even twice that. Certainly, the surviving fragments show Ms. Garson could make a little go a very, very, very, very, very, very long way.

Such things are all part of the Oscar fun, of course, and another reason to watch the ceremony: we can only hope someone has some serious disruption planned for the latest shindig.

 

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