12 Bizarre Moments From Oscar Award Ceremonies Past
Some downright odd occurrences have happened at the Oscars since the awards show debuted on May 16, 1929. Recent events like Will Smith and Chris Rock's headline-making altercation at the 2022 ceremony and the unforgettable 2017 snafu where La La Land was erroneously awarded Moonlight's Best Picture Oscar might be some of the strangest things to ever happen at the Academy Awards, but they definitely aren't the only oddities.
1. When Will Rogers didn’t specify which Frank won Best Director.
In 1934, Oscar host Will Rogers revealed the winner of the Best Director award by casually saying “Come up and get it, Frank!” Unfortunately, two Franks had been nominated that night, and Lady for a Day director Frank Capra had nearly reached the open dance floor before he realized the spotlight had spun around to illuminate the real winner, Cavalcade director Frank Lloyd. Capra would bounce back to win Best Director the following year for It Happened One Night, but he took the loss pretty hard at the time.
“I wished I could have crawled under the rug like a miserable worm,” he wrote in his autobiography. “When I slumped in my chair, I felt like one. All my friends at the table were crying.”
2. When Hattie McDaniel became the first Black Oscar winner—and needed special permission to attend the ceremony.
When Hattie McDaniel was nominated for her unforgettable performance as Mammy in 1939’s Gone With the Wind, producer David O. Selznick had to call in a favor to get the Ambassador’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub to break its "no Blacks" policy and let her attend the ceremony. That favor, however, didn’t secure McDaniel a seat at the table with her fellow cast members. Instead, she sat at a tiny table in the back with her escort and agent, and had to trek a fairly lengthy distance to accept her Best Supporting Actress award later that night.
3. When the Oscars ended 20 minutes early and Jerry Lewis had to kill the time.
When the final award of the 1959 Oscars ceremony was given out a full 20 minutes early and producers scrambled to figure out how to fill the time, co-host Jerry Lewis was left to his own comedic devices. Standing center stage among a sea of presenters and award winners, Lewis announced that they’d be singing 300 choruses of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” before watching a Three Stooges program to “cheer up the losers.” He then politely hijacked the conductor’s baton and led the orchestra in song until NBC finally cut to a sports review show for the rest of the time.
4. When Sacheen Littlefeather refused Marlon Brando’s award for him.
When Marlon Brando was announced as the winner of the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Godfather in 1973, Native American Sacheen Littlefeather refused the award on his behalf and explained that he was boycotting the Oscars to bring attention to the deplorable treatment of Native Americans in the film industry. Her statement was met with a smattering of applause and a chorus of boos, and Brando was criticized for the stunt. It did, however, succeed in drawing attention to the cause, and the trend of politically charged acceptance speeches has only gained popularity since then.
5. When a streaker snuck onstage behind David Niven.
In 1974, conceptual artist and photographer Robert Opel snuck into the Academy Awards ceremony disguised as a journalist and jogged across the stage in his birthday suit, flashing a peace sign and interrupting co-host David Niven. Niven laughed it off, joking, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen,” before introducing presenter Elizabeth Taylor, who admitted it would be a “pretty hard act to follow.”
6. When Rob Lowe sang with Snow White.
An opening number centered around Snow White singing a rewritten version of “Proud Mary” with her “blind date” Rob Lowe seems like a recipe for confusion at best, and disaster at worst. At the 1989 Oscars, it was both. The long, painful performance baffled the audience, and certain high-profile Hollywood actors—Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, and Julie Andrews, to name a few—even signed a letter to the Academy condemning the program as “an embarrassment.” On top of that, Disney filed a lawsuit against the Academy for not officially licensing Snow White, though they backed down with a simple apology.
7. When Jack Palance’s acceptance speech included push-ups.
A genial Jack Palance ambled up to the podium in 1992 to accept his Best Supporting Actor award for City Slickers and treated the audience to a demonstration of three one-armed push-ups in the middle of his speech. The 72-year-old actor was attempting to illustrate what casting directors sometimes make younger actors go through during auditions, but the septuagenarian’s impressive athletic feat no doubt made a much bigger impression than anything he said.
8. When Tom Hanks seemingly outed his former drama teacher, which inspired the 1997 film In & Out.
Tom Hanks accepted his Best Actor award for Philadelphia in 1994 by thanking (among others) his former high school drama teacher, Rawley Farnsworth, and calling him one of the “finest gay Americans.” Though many people thought Hanks had accidentally outed Farnsworth, Hanks had actually gotten his permission beforehand. Still, the confusion inspired screenwriter Paul Rudnick to create In & Out, a 1997 movie about a closeted teacher (Kevin Kline) whose secret was accidentally disclosed during a former pupil’s (Matt Dillon) acceptance speech.
9. When South Park's creators dressed as Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow.
In 2000, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone celebrated their Best Original Song nomination (for “Blame Canada” from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut) by showing up to the Oscars clad in iconic ensembles from other red carpets. Parker rocked a recreation of Jennifer Lopez’s Versace dress from the Grammys earlier that year, and Stone glowed in a low-cut, pale pink number that mirrored Gwyneth Paltrow’s from the 1999 Oscars. The pair later admitted that they took LSD right before the event, but they didn’t mention whether or not drugs were involved when they chose their outfits.
10. When John Travolta called Idina Menzel “Adele Dazeem.”
If John Travolta had just stumbled through Idina Menzel’s name during his introduction of her performance of “Let It Go” in 2014, we might have simply let it go. However, he quite clearly enunciated a completely different, fictional name, “Adele Dazeem,” which has cemented itself in the minds of anybody who watched the ceremony and many people who didn’t. Menzel exacted good-natured revenge on Travolta at the 2015 Oscars by calling him “Glom Gazingo.”
11. When the “In Memoriam” segment featured a living woman.
The 2017 “In Memoriam” segment should’ve been an especially somber affair. Not only did the slideshow feature both Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, but it was backed by Sara Bareilles’s emotional rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” However, it also featured a photo of Australian film producer Jan Chapman—who is still alive—next to the name of costume designer Janet Patterson. Chapman, who worked with Patterson on 1992’s The Last Days of Chez Nous and 1993’s The Piano, said at the time that she was “devastated” by the mistake. “I am alive and well and an active producer,” she told Variety.
12. When La La Land won Best Picture, and then it didn’t.
The “In Memoriam” error could’ve been the wildest Oscars fail for decades to come, but it was unseated later that same night when presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the wrong winner for Best Picture—and the mistake wasn’t corrected until after the La La Land cast and crew had waltzed onstage, accepted their awards, and delivered heartfelt speeches. Then, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz declared to a rightfully puzzled audience that Moonlight was the real winner, brandishing the correct results card and repeating “This is not a joke.” We’d later find out that Beatty had accidentally been handed a duplicate envelope for “Best Actress,” which Emma Stone had won for La La Land. (Amazingly, this was far from the first or only time the wrong winner had been announced at a major award ceremony.)
This story originally ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2022.