The Academy Awards -- one of cinema's most supreme accolades (or so they tell us). So prestigious that, as many filmmakers and actors claim, it's an "honor" just to be nominated. A gift from your peers, a historic milestone, a career changer, an... oh... where's Sacheen Littlefeather?
I like Oscars that go a little crazy. And not in those golly-gee speeches where someone -- say, Anne Hathaway (the inevitable winner Sunday) -- reacts with such feigned shock that she giddily exhibits an actorly, cute-as-a-button manic depressive episode, stuttering out names that reveal how kooky, sweet, humbled and... enough, Ms. Hathaway. You're an actress so I do respect you for using your craft on the podium. I expect it. And I like you, Anne (I really like you!), I do. Actually, come to think of it, I hope you pull a Greer Garson five and a half-minute gusher. That would be entertaining. But that won't happen, so... bring me Joan Crawford! Bring me Joan Crawford in bed, accpeting her golden boy (for Mildred Pierce). That's the speech I want to hear.
So with the Academy Awards telecast approaching, here are three (among many) of my favorite Oscar moments -- moments that simply make me happy. There are others of legendary lore: Rod Steiger thanking the Maharishi, George C. Scott not showing up, Brando's Littlefeather showing up, and again, Joan in bed, but I'm sticking to these three stars who, a la Lina Lamont, proved themselves shimmering, glowing stars in the Oscar firmament.
1. The Unshockable David Niven (1974)
This one is so famous that if you don't know it, I don't know you. Now, I adore David Niven. How can one not adore David Niven? It seems a part of one's biolgical makeup to adore David Niven. But David Niven plus Oscars plus streaker? In that case, I worship David Niven. Shaking up the normally demure affair in 1974 was one naked Robert Opel, a guy who'd managed to sneak onstage and streak past Niven while flashing the peace sign. Debonair Niven craftily upstaged the nude marauder, however, by handling the potentially embarrassing situation with amused aplomb. Not missing a comedic beat, the quick-witted Brit quipped, "The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping and showing off his shortcomings." Wonderful.
Should we be surprised Niven handled this so beautifully? No. He was once close pal Errol Flynn's roommate in a house nicknamed "Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea." I'm thinking a naked hippie meant nothing to a seen-it-all-and-everything David Niven. One of the greatest Oscar moments and a sterling example of how to manage a sticky situation -- something many presenters should learn from. In case of emergency, break glass and resurrect David Niven.
2. Jack Palance Don't Need No Stinkin' Geritol (1992)
An old-school, star-studded brand of my-grandpa-can-kick-your-grandpa's-ass moment happened when City Slickers star Jack Palance picked up his Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Not content with the requisite "thank you's" delivered by scroll (and Palance had been around -- he'd have a lot of shout-outs, instead he brought up a producer 42 years ago who thought he'd win an Oscar), the actor dropped to the floor and performed an impressive set of one-handed push-ups. Not bad for a 72-year-old. His City Slickers co-star and Oscar host Billy Crystal was so amused, Jack bettered his material for the rest of the evening with quips like: "Jack Palance has just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood sign." Or after a musical number performed by a host of kids, Crystal announced that all of the children had, in fact, been seeded by the virile tough guy.
No matter how much Palance deserved his award for earlier, superior films like Shane or Sudden Fear (in which he's brilliant), there's no doubt that he made a special kind of history that night. Also, he made co-nominee Tommy Lee Jones smile. That's something.
3. Dear Joan, Damned Bette (1963)
I respect the talents of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford so much, that I sometimes tire of their images looked upon (especially Joan), with only camped-up, Mommie Dearest delight. But there's no denying it -- that's one part of their appeal. And so yes, I do love a good Bette vs. Joan throw down and this is a great one. Furious when her What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? co-star Davis was nominated for Best Actress and she wasn't, Crawford got supremely crafty in the ongoing grudge match with Miss Bette (their feud went as far back as an affair with Franchot Tone). Joan exhibited some serious Harriet Craig-level manipulation when she wrote each of the other nominees (oh, how I would love to see those letters) and offered her services to accept on their behalf should one of them be unable to attend the ceremony. And wouldn't you know it? Anne Bancroft, who could not be present, won for The Miracle Worker.
Sweeping on stage and pawing that golden boy like a jungle cat, Joan basked in the limelight, starting with, "Miss Bancroft said, 'Here's my little speech, Dear Joan.'" Dear Joan continued while Ms. Davis steamed in her seat, feeling more like Crawford's Blanche, never being able to leave that chair. Bette, I love you, and I'm not taking sides here, but in this case... Bravo and bitchily well-played, Joan. A diva to the death. And she looks fantastic, of course.
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