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Great Oscar Gaffes

Every year we watch the nominations unfold, the awards change hands, and the speeches drag on. But we miss all the inappropriate jokes, drunk punches, and other such un-televisables. Here’s the moments Oscar wished he’d never seen.

In 1982, Ben Kingsley is mistakenly awarded the Best Supporting Actress statue for the role of Julie Nichols in Tootsie. Ever the gentleman and never one to spoil a perfectly enjoyable evening, Kingsley politely thanks the strong women after whom he modeled his performance. Among the list of female role models to whom Kingsley pays tribute: Mahatma Gandhi.

 

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Fueled by alcohol, an aggressive and only partially clothed Marlon Brando (a winner in 1972 for his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather) undresses the Native American princess who accompanies him to the podium, then burns her ceremonial robes in a ‘funeral pyre for those rotten Guineas in New York.’ A cutaway to the audience reveals a sobbing and disconsolate Francis Ford Coppola. The broadcast version of this award presentation would feature a replacement princess refusing the award on Brando’s behalf.

 

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On the 10th anniversary of Oscar, the ghost of Emile Zola appears to accept Best Picture honors on behalf of Warner Brothers for their biopic of the French novelist. Zola’s speech, peppered with profanities, makes repeated reference to the ‘galley of American swine’ the Academy comprises. Zola concludes by hurling his own head into the stunned audience, bowing graciously, then flying off into the Hollywood night. Those in attendance are heard to remark on the striking dignity of the French.

 

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Many are stunned by Matt Damon’s tearful, hysterical display in 1997, when he admits that Ben Affleck single-handedly penned the entire script for Good Will Hunting, and only credited Damon with co-authorship because ‘he printed it out on my fucking computer.’

 

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Patty Duke, winner for The Miracle Worker in 1962 and clearly terrified by the thought this might be her only chance at Oscar celebrity, accepts her award with a speech that boasts the roles she has been offered in forthcoming suspense thrillers—ruining their endings in the process. The list includes The Collector, Bunny Lake is Missing, and Rosemary’s Baby, about which she announces, ‘In the end, it turns out I was never pregnant in the first place.’

 

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Geena Davis, Best Supporting Actress in 1988, refuses to go up for her award, complaining, ‘When I get back my chair will be all warm from someone else’s ass.’ A lock-out of seat fillers ensues, prompting Davis to threaten vigilante action against the union. A bemused George Lucas infamously dubs the would-be Hollywood hero, ‘Geena Fett,’ and then coolly offers a $60 million solution: The seat-fillers, now equipped with Skywalker-brand buttock-cooling equipment, return to work only days later at the Teen Spirit Awards, where they are received, somewhat ironically, with a standing ovation.

 

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Nominated for his role in 1979’s Being There only weeks before his death at 81, the victorious corpse of Melvyn Douglas is carried onstage by a longtime personal assistant. Douglas receives the award with a stiff and slightly rotten right hand while a pre-recorded tape plays into the podium mic: ‘You Academy members are so predictable with the death vote, but I’ll be damned if even the everlasting is going get in the way of letting Mickey Rooney know I’ve always thought he’s a complete jackass.’

 

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Shirley Temple, everyone’s favorite little star, is given an honorary Oscar in 1934 for her ‘contribution to screen entertainment.’ In a fit of jealous rage, a young Lillian Porter—still six years away from her role as a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz—rushes the stage and assaults Temple with the miniature statuette. Porter then swan-dives into the orchestra pit, taking the lives of an oboe player and conductor John Williams, Sr. In 1971, when John Williams, Jr. wins the Oscar for his score to Fiddler on the Roof, he remarks in his acceptance speech, ‘I hope that dwarf Porter is rotting in Munchkin hell for what she did to my family.’ The comment does not make it to the airwaves.

 

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In 1990, Jane Campion wins Best Original Screenplay for The Piano. Her self-designed ‘piano-key’ dress, while a hit on the red carpet, proves disastrous onstage, when a clearly deranged Tom Hanks leaps upon her and reprises the infamous toy-store scene from Big.
 

Mike Baker is a postdoctoral fellow in the Centre for Cinema Studies at the University of British Columbia. His daughter is cuter than your daughter. Pasha Malla is a film school dropout who has worked as a camp counselor, elementary school teacher, and group home coordinator. His first novel, People Park, has just been published. More by Mike Baker & Pasha Malla