The Academy Awards have been one of the most popular awards shows for a long time now, with viewers tuning in each year to find out whether their favourite artists and films have managed to win. For almost a century now, the Oscars have had a huge influence on public consciousness and how the general public perceives the evolution of art and cinema.
Considering the long history of the Oscars, it is completely understandable that a lot of memorable events have taken place during the show. The Academy has faced criticism for a variety of issues, ranging from commercialism to a lack of diversity. They have even faced backlash for political biases and Marlon Brando once refused his award as a protest against the industry’s discrimination against Native Americans.
A lot of this is centred around the culture of celebrity fetishisation. Due to the extensive coverage of the show, minor events are amplified and public reaction oscillates between outrage and adoration. Many think of the annual “ritual” as a self-congratulatory carnival of celebrities patting themselves on the back under the collective delusion that they are somehow saving the world.
As the Oscar season draws near once again, we take a look at 10 famous mistakes that were committed throughout the history of the Academy that puncture the mythical status of the ceremony.
10 famous mistakes in Oscars history:
10. Sam Smith thought he was the first gay man to win an Oscar
When Sam Smith won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2016, he used his platform to tell the audience that he might have been the first openly gay man to achieve that prestigious accomplishment. However, this is completely false since other gay artists like Dustin Lance Black and Elton John have Oscars to their names.
“I actually meant to say Best Male Actor and I didn’t. I obviously did know that I wasn’t the first gay person to win an Oscar. I was gutted – there was 90 million people watching that show; I wanted to say something positive and I fucked up. When I mucked that up, I lost a lot of confidence. I can’t express enough – it really upset me. It made me realise that what I say can be damaging,” Smith later apologised.
9. A streaker breaks loose in 1974
American photographer and art gallery owner Robert Opel is now famous for the legendary stunt he pulled during the 46th Academy Awards. While host David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor, who was going to announce the winner of the prestigious Best Picture Award, Opel held up a peace sign and ran across the stage naked.
“Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” Niven asked the audience. Co-host Taylor was taken aback as well and jokingly added, “That’s a pretty hard act to follow.”
8. Seth MacFarlane’s infamous ‘We Saw Your Boobs’
Having Seth MacFarlane host the Academy Awards ceremony was always going to be controversial, but the creator of Family Guy doubled down on his edgy sense of humour. Although it was meant to be subversive, MacFarlane chose to sign a sexist song titled ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ which called out all the actresses who had gone topless throughout their careers.
“I’ve never mentioned this, but that gag came about because I read a lot of the press,” MacFarlane explained. “You should never read your own press, but I read a lot of press leading up to the Oscars and it was a lot of really angry, foaming-at-the-mouth kind of stuff. It was just like, ‘Oh, I bet I know what he’s going to do and I hate him for it’ from a lot of these outlets.
“Mostly from the Hollywood press. It got to the point where I had to comment on it in some way. My original idea was very tame, old style song and dance. In a way, you helped create what you despise. It’s this idea of creating an alternate Oscars that was exactly what they were afraid would happen. That’s what gets forgotten. They always forgot context.”
7. Frank Capra celebrated too early
When Will Rogers was announcing the winner of the Best Director Award, he ambiguously said: “Come on up and get it, Frank.” He was referring to Frank Lloyd, the director of Cavalcade, but Frank Capra assumed that he had won the Oscar and enthusiastically got up to climb onto the stage.
Capra wrote in his autobiography, “That walk back through applauding V.I.P.’s yelling ‘Sit down! Down in front! Sit down!’ as I obstructed their view was the longest, saddest, most shattering walk in my life. I wish I could have crawled under the rug like a miserable worm. When I slumped into my chair, I felt like one. All my friends at the table were crying.”
6. Laurence Olivier cuts to the chase
During the last 15 years of his life, the legendary Laurence Olivier suffered from various health complications. When he was brought on to announce the winner of the Best Picture Award in 1985, Olivier rightly received a huge standing ovation. However, he forgot to announce the nominees first as is the tradition and directly declared: “Amadeus!“
While accepting the honorary Oscar in 1979 a few years prior, Olivier was much more articulate: “In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation’s generosities, this particular choice may be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it — the prodigal, pure human kindness of it — must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament, which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth and the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow.”
5. Sammy Davis Jr. picked up the wrong envelope
Most people now consider the La La Land mix-up to be the only such anomaly in the history of the Academy Awards but that is not the case. Sammy Davis Jr. made a similar mistake while announcing the winner for Best Music Score for an adaptation or treatment due to confusion regarding the envelopes.
“They gave me the wrong envelope. Wait till the NAACP hears about this,” he complained. After he was handed the correct envelope, Davis Jr. took out his glasses and joked: “I ain’t gonna make no mistake this time, damn it.”
4. Michael Moore’s rant
Michael Moore is probably one of the most political filmmakers around. His documentaries have always asked incisive questions that have urged people to think about relevant problems. When he won the Best Documentary Feature Award for Bowling for Columbine, he used the opportunity to criticise the Bush regime and the wars in the Middle East for which he received a lot of backlash from the audience.
Moore reflected on the event, “When they say one billion people watch the Oscars, I learned how true that statement is. People would later remember I’m ‘that guy who told the truth.’ People in other countries saw that night that not all Americans were behind George W. Bush. Not all Americans supported the invasion of Iraq.”
3. John Travolta makes up a name
John Travolta was tasked with the responsibility of introducing the performance of Idina Menzel’s famous song from Frozen – ‘Let It Go’. However, he ended up making a mess of things by announcing that the “wickedly talented Adele Dazeem” was going to take the stage.
“So I go out there and I get to her thing and I go ‘Huh?’ In my mind, I’m going ‘What? What is that name? I don’t know that name.’ And it was this phonetic spelling, and I didn’t rehearse it that way,” Travolta said while explaining the event.
2. “In Memoriam” reel with the incorrect picture
The 2017 Oscar ceremony might have committed one mistake which received most of the attention but there was another significant one. During the “In Memoriam” reel, they were supposed to honour the late costume designer Janet Patterson. Instead of using her picture, they put up an image of Australian film producer Jan Chapman.
“I was devastated by the use of my image in place of my great friend and long-time collaborator Janet Patterson,” Chapman later said. “I had urged her agency to check any photograph which might be used and understand that they were told that the Academy had it covered.”
1. The La La Land debacle
There can be no doubt that the whole fiasco surrounding the announcement of the Best Picture Award in the 2017 ceremony is probably the most famous Oscars blooper. Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced La La Land as the recipient of the prestigious accolade but in reality, the wrong envelope had been handed to the announcers and Moonlight was the actual winner.
Two months later, Dunaway said: “Beatty took the card out, and he didn’t say anything. He paused, he looked over me, off-stage, he looked around, and I finally said, ‘You’re impossible.’ I thought he was joking! A dramatic pause.”