When Will Smith struck Chris Rock across the face at last year’s Academy Awards presentation, the entire Dolby Theatre audience and all 15.4 million viewers were in a state of confusion and shock. It was not the first time a faux pas has occurred during the most prestigious awards ceremony in the U.S. entertainment industry; however, on this occasion, physical violence and the F-bomb were involved. Kudos to Mr. Rock, who kept his wits about him and continued as if nothing had happened. It is incredulous that, later on in the show, Smith still received an Oscar for Best Actor in “King Richard” – apparently there was not enough time for the producers and other concerned parties to figure out what had just happened and what to do about it in a live on air setting.
Afterwards Rock declined to press charges against Smith, who subsequently withdrew his Academy membership and was banned from attending any Awards ceremonies for the next 10 years. The Academy did not rescind his Oscar.
There have been other missteps, but none as appalling and disgraceful as the Rock-Smith events of 2022.
In 2017, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty awarded a Best Picture Oscar to “La La Land” instead of “Moonlight”, which was quickly corrected on stage by the producer, Jordan Horowitz, with great embarrassment. What actually happened? Beatty was inadvertently handed the envelope for Best Actress instead of Best Picture by a PwC representative.
Believe it or not, Sammy Davis Jr. suffered the same fate in 1964 when he incorrectly named John Addison (for “Tom Jones”) as the winner of an Oscar for the Best Music Score for an Adaptation or Treatment instead of Andre Previn (for “Irma La Douce”); however, this time there was a difference – “Tom Jones” was not even nominated in the category, so no one rushed up to the stage. Instead, Mr. Davis Jr. smoothly continued on, joking “wait until the NAACP hears about this”, after which he was handed the correct envelope.
Another tense moment, but of a completely different nature, occurred in 1973 when Sacheen Littlefeather delivered an historical Oscar rejection speech on behalf of Marlon Brando for his performance in "The Godfather". It has been said that John Wayne took it upon himself to physically lunge at Ms. Littlefeather and had to be restrained. Members of the audience booed her, and made racist and offensive gestures. It took 50 years for the Academy to issue an apology to her for the disrespect and threatening behavior she was subjected to as Brando’s spokesperson.
In the 95 years since the inception of the Academy Awards, only 3 people have refused their awards: Marlon Brando, George C. Scott (Best Actor in “Patton”, 1970) and Dudley Nichols (Best Screenwriter, “The Informant”, 1935). Interestingly, the great Katharine Hepburn skipped the Awards all 12 times she was nominated, including the 4 times she won. Brando is the only person who took a stance during the actual ceremonies, the others simply failed to show up.
I hate to say it, but events like today’s Top 3 make headlines. If nothing unusual happens at this year’s Oscars, we’ll all complain that the show was boring. I can guarantee that the Academy, the producers and ABC will do everything in their power to ensure total boredom. Good luck with your upcoming gig Mr. Kimmel!
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