Oscar speeches sometimes leave lasting legacies
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 13:02
You’re never going to win an Oscar. But whether you’re conscious of it or not, you’ve probably already given an Oscar speech.
They may be the most secretly influential forms of American rhetoric. The rhythms and tropes of wealthy filmmakers accepting career-peak trophies echo in every weepy retirement speech, every smug valedictorian address, every comic icebreaker the CEO uses to kick off his PowerPoint presentation. Movie stars show us how to kiss, how to dress. Of course we learn public discourse from them, too.
“You know what you want to say, you want to be grounded, be yourself, be totally honest about how you’re feeling,” says Roger Ross Williams, recalling his 2010 Oscar moment. Not ringing a bell? More on him later, as we recall nine landmark Oscar speeches and their legacies.
Her acceptance of the 1942 best actress prize (for “Mrs. Miniver”) is the longest in the show’s history — an estimated seven minutes — but it also set the pace for gassy self-regard. The British star pontificated on the meaning of awards, her journey to the United States, the marvelous support Hollywood was getting from the troops.
Time limits. Self-mythologizing stars (Halle Berry: “This moment is so much bigger than me”; Hilary Swank: “just a little girl from a trailer park with a dream”). RNC speeches that barely mention the nominee. The worst banquets you’ve ever attended.
The veteran character actor, winning the 1962 best supporting actor for “Sweet Bird of Youth,” thanked his producer and his director, “but most of all, and this is from the heart, my agent, George Morris.” The room was shocked. This was a first! “Really and truly!” the actor protested, explaining that Morris worked overtime to get him the role.
Thanking your agent, your publicist, your hairdresser. Taking your bifocals and a folded list onstage with you. (“Titanic” producer Jon Landau name-checked 55 people.) Four-page author acknowledgments.
The eccentric “Godfather” star skipped the 1972 ceremony and sent “Sacheen Littlefeather” (actress-activist Marie Cruz) to refuse his best actor prize — in protest, she said, of “the treatment of American Indians” by Hollywood and the government. A political statement? Whatever. It was really the birth of “Punk’d” culture.
Five-second delays. Howard Stern fans crank-calling live news broadcasts. Sacha Baron-Cohen’s career. Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift.