Historic Oscar speechesComment on this story
Beverley Hills - THE Oscar acceptance speech might be the most secretly influential form of American rhetoric.
The rhythms and tropes of wealthy film-makers accepting career-peak trophies echo in every weepy retirement speech, every comic icebreaker the chief executive uses to start his PowerPoint presentation.
“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.
Greer Garson: Her acceptance of the 1942 best actress prize (for Mrs Miniver) is the longest in the show’s history – about 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 US, and the marvellous support Hollywood was getting from the troops.
Ed Begley: 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.
Marlon Brando: 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, at “the treatment of American Indians” by Hollywood and the government. A political statement? Whatever. It was really the birth of Punk’d culture.
Louise Fletcher: The best actress winner for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) kept it short, gracious and barely memorable – until she completed her speech in sign language to thank her deaf parents “for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true.” Nothing like a good awards-show cry.
Vanessa Redgrave: What was more shocking: When the Palestine advocate and best supporting actress of 1977 (Julia) thanked the academy “for standing up to Zionist hoodlums” who opposed her? Or the hisses from the audience and subsequent scolding from presenter Paddy Chayefsky?
Meryl Streep: Everyone knew she’d win best supporting actress for 1979 film Kramer vs Kramer, but she politely acted surprised: “Holy mackerel!” Cute, unconvincing and soon the new standard.
Sally Field: What she actually said, accepting the 1984 best actress prize: “And I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!”
What it meant: a subtle reference to a line from her 1979 movie Norma Rae. What it turned into was the single most-quoted, imitated, joked-about moment from the Oscars, ever.
Jack Palance: Exulting in his 1991 best supporting actor trophy (City Slickers), the 73-year-old dropped to the floor and did three one-armed push-ups.
Roger Ross Williams: Remember? He’s the 2009 best documentary short director whose carefully planned speech was cut short when estranged producer Elinor Burkett rushed the stage. “Everyone was talking about it the next day,” he marvels.