The golden era of Hollywood fell between 1927 and the early 1960s. Oscars were first being handed out in 1929. Since then, memorable Academy Awards speech-making has included the two-second address from Joe Pesci in 1991 as well as the lengthy ode of gratitude by Cuba Gooding Jr. in 1996. So what did their forbearers, who defined Hollywood’s golden age, do and say?
1939: Vivien Leigh
Spencer Tracy presented Vivien Leigh her award for best actress in “Gone with the Wind.” In an era when graciousness was the call of the hour, Ms. Leigh took the spotlight off herself and placed it on David Selznick, who produced the movie.
1942: Mary Astor
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences notes that Mary Astor, upon receiving her Oscar from Ginger Rogers for her supporting role in “The Great Lie,” suggested that audiences should write their own thank-you script and left the stage with a sincere “thank you very, very much.”
1948: Edmund Gwenn
Playing Kris Kringle in the (now) classic “Miracle on 34th Street,” Edmund Gwenn received an Academy Award for his supporting role. Presented by Anne Baxter, he responded with a lengthier treatise on Santa Claus. What makes his speech so memorable is the suggestion that Claus should name himself “Santa Claus, Incorporated. Santa Claus, Inc. Inc.!”
1958: David Lean
Director David Lean received his Oscar from presenter Sophia Loren. His movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” had astounded audiences and the Academy alike. In his acceptance speech, Lean jokingly talked about “sweating away in the jungles of Ceylon” without a hope of any Hollywood recognition.
1967: Sandy Dennis (accepted by Mike Nichols)
In 1966, the movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” had a stellar showing. Elizabeth Taylor, who received the Oscar for her leading role in the movie, was absent. Interestingly, so was Sandy Dennis, who received the Oscar for her supporting role in the feature. Accepting the award on her behalf from presenter Sidney Poitier was director Mike Nichols whose speech had three short sentences. He finished with “it was nice to be up here.”
As Hollywood’s golden era past into the history books, Academy Awards speeches became memorable not necessarily for their brevity and gracious tone, but frequently for their disjointed nature. Take for example Cher, who accepted the award from presenter Paul Newman in 1987 for “Moonstruck.” Rambling on for a bit, she talked about her hairdresser and the “lady who taught me how to speak in this Brooklyn accent.” Of course, Michael Moore’s 2003 rant about “fictitious election results” most likely takes the cake.