7 Great Oscar Night Surprises
By Mark Juddery
Every year during Oscar season, you can always safely guess one thing: Before the awards are presented, critics will complain about how predictable the Oscars are. But while every year seems to have a few obvious results, you do get the occasional shocker. Take the 1996 awards, for example, when Lauren Bacall was expected to be named Best Supporting Actress because, frankly, she was getting old. Instead, young Juliette Binoche's name was announced, which was a problem, because she hadn't even prepared a speech. "I don't know why I got this," she apologized. "I thought Lauren would win." Yes, sometimes the Oscars can surprise. Here are some of the most memorable occasions.
1. Katharine Hepburn (1932-33)
As a young actress, Katharine Hepburn was dubbed "box-office poison," and wasn't well-liked in Hollywood, so just being nominated for Morning Glory was surprising enough. She didn't even show up to the Oscars ceremony, which she might have found entertaining. Host for the night was liberal satirist Will Rogers, joking about Republicans, Hollywood big shots, even Oscars lobbying (predating Jon Stewart's Oscar night banter by 73 years). His rudest joke, however, was reserved for the Best Actress award. Upon opening the envelope, he summoned the other two nominees, May Robson and Diana Wynyard. They rushed up excitedly, assuming that it was a tie (as had happened with the Best Actor prize the previous year). Instead, Rogers thanked them for their performances and announced that the winner was their rival, Katharine Hepburn. (Funny, perhaps"¦ but what a creep!) The stunned crowd replied with a half-hearted applause.
Hollywood later warmed to Hepburn, eventually giving her another three Oscars "“ more than any other actress. Though she never bothered to show up, Hepburn confessed in 1998 that she felt touched by her Oscars. "They gave me their respect and their affection. It was a revelation "“ the generous heart of the industry." Even after her death, she proved that she could still win Oscars, when Cate Blanchett took home a statuette for playing her in The Aviator (2004).
2. Luise Rainer (1937)
While it was a great honor, it didn't do her much good. Within a year, her career had fizzled. "I have often heard the Academy Award to be a bad omen," she later said. Still, she is the oldest living Oscar winner (at 99), so it's not all bad news.
3. An American in Paris (1951)
There was an audible gasp from the audience, followed by loud applause. People who were already leaving suddenly stopped near the exit, wondering if their hearing was all right. Back then, musicals never won the Oscar for Best Film. (The only exception was The Broadway Melody, way back in 1928.) Gene Kelly, the star of An American in Paris, had even been presented with an honorary Oscar that night, which is usually a consolation prize for people who will never win a "real" Oscar. Now his producer, Arthur Freed, was proudly holding one of those statuettes.
4. Grace Kelly (1954)
To everyone's shock, the Oscar instead went to 26-year-old former model Grace Kelly, for The Country Girl. To this day, critics call this one of the strangest decisions in Oscars history. Once again showing her acting prowess, Garland smiled graciously at the news, while being secretly heartbroken. Kelly would retire from acting two years later to become Princess Grace of Monaco.
5. Marisa Tomei (1992)
But how could Tomei have won against such a prestigious group? Well, the Academy is famously patriotic. The British vote would have been split "“ but as the only American nominee, perhaps it should have been surprising if Tomei had not won.
6. Roman Polanski (2002)
7. Marlon Brando (1972)
It was later reported that Littlefeather was actually an actress named Maria Cruz (she has her rebuttal here), and that Brando still received the award, displaying it proudly next to his other Oscar. Still, it goes down one of the great surprises of Oscar night history.