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Remember Marlon Brando’s stirring words on winning an Oscar for 1972’s The Godfather? Or Dalton Trumbo’s noble oration when he received a screenplay award for 1956’s The Brave One? Of course you don’t. Because those speeches were never spoken.
Over nine decades of Oscar, there have been countless nominees who didn’t get the chance to thank their agents, mothers and God, in that order. But there were also winners who, for various reasons, didn’t deliver their remarks.
Here’s the backstory behind the five most memorable Oscar-winning speeches that were never delivered.
DALTON TRUMBO, THE BRAVE ONE, 1957
When Deborah Kerr took the stage to announce the winner of the best story award, recipient Robert Rich was notably absent.
That’s why Jesse Lasky Jr., then a vice president of the Writers Guild of America, came to the podium on Rich’s behalf — not knowing that Rich was the pseudonym of blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.
Lasky thanked the Academy on behalf of “my good friend” Rich, who couldn’t be there, he said, because Rich’s wife was about to deliver their baby.
That, at least, is the way the story has gone down in myth, as widely reported in books about the blacklist. In fact, Lasky never spoke those words. What he said, according to the Academy, was far simpler and less phony: “On behalf of Robert Rich and his beautiful story, thank you very much.”
Trumbo’s own speech, if he had one prepared, has never been found. So perhaps it’s appropriate that there are two versions of Lasky’s to choose from.
MARLON BRANDO, THE GODFATHER, 1973
The iconic performer had been nominated five times and won once (for 1955’s On the Waterfront) when he was nominated as best actor for The Godfather.
Rather than attend the awards ceremony, Brando sent Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather in his place.
When Roger Moore went to present her the statuette, she raised her hand to block him and told the audience, to mixed applause and jeers, that Brando “very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are [sic] the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns.”
Littlefeather said she was not given enough time to deliver’s Brando own speech, a 739-word peroration. But days later, The New York Times published the whole speech:
“I, as a member in this profession, do not feel that I can as a citizen of the United States accept an award here tonight,” Brando wrote. “I think awards in this country at this time are inappropriate to be received or given until the condition of the American Indian is drastically altered. If we are not our brother’s keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.”
MICHAEL MOORE, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, 2003
Two years into the Iraq War, Moore won an Oscar for his documentary.
“We live in fictitious times,” he told the Academy. “We live in a time when we have fictitious election results and elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons, whether it’s the fictition [sic] of duct tape or the fictitious [sic] of Orange Alert. We are against this war, Mr. Bush.”
At that point, boos and jeers (mixed with cheers) began to drown him out.
“Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you, Mr. Bush,” Moore continued. “And any time you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up.”
The music then rose and Moore was ushered offstage, unable to finish his words.
Fifteen years later, however, he delivered the entire speech he had planned to give at the Oscars, this time at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, closing with the words:
“Those of us from the now-dead factory towns of the Rust Belt, who, like me, have just a high school education, we from the working class immediately know the class-based tone of those who speak to us, those who went to the finer schools or even any school at all. I encourage anyone watching at home tonight in the Gary, Indianas, of America, in the Camden, New Jerseys, in the San Ysidros, in the East St. Louises and, yes, the Flints and Detroits and the Pontiacs and the Dearborns, to pick up a camera and fight the power, make your voice heard and stop this senseless war. Thank you and good night.”
BARRY JENKINS, MOONLIGHT, 2017
Only one person has ever given a thank you speech for an award he didn’t get to take home.
That was producer Marc Platt when he took the stage to accept the best picture Oscar for La La Land and began, “Here’s to the fools who made me dream: my uncle Gary Platt, my mentor Sam Cohn, my parents, my children, my wife Julie” — only to learn halfway through his speech that the winner was, in fact, Moonlight.
That moment, arguably the most memorable in Oscar’s 90-year history, took the wind out of director Barry Jenkins, who was barely able to get out his appreciation when he stood at the podium with his producers. But he did allow THR to publish the speech he would have given, a few days later:
“Tarell [Alvin McCraney] and I are Chiron. We are that boy. And when you watch Moonlight, you don’t assume a boy who grew up how and where we did would grow up and make a piece of art that wins an Academy Award. I’ve said that a lot, and what I’ve had to admit is that I placed those limitations on myself, I denied myself that dream. Not you, not anyone else — me. And so, to anyone watching this who sees themselves in us, let this be a symbol, a reflection that leads you to love yourself. Because doing so may be the difference between dreaming at all and, somehow through the Academy’s grace, realizing dreams you never allowed yourself to have. Much love.”
JENNIFER LAWRENCE, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, 2013
Remember when the actress walked onstage to pick up her best actress Oscar — only to trip on the steps? That so threw her that she forgot to name two of the people she wanted to thank.
The next day, Lawrence issued a statement with the part of her speech she had failed to deliver:
“In the whirlwind of last night, I was remiss to thank two incredibly important people to this film and in my life.
“David O. Russell: Thank you for the most incredible experience of my life. Thank you for your genius, for your guidance, for teaching me things about myself and nurturing me to be a better actor. You have so much passion and such a bleeding heart, you believe not only in your films but what your films can do for people and that is the most important thing that I have learned from you.
“Harvey Weinstein: You championed this movie and its story from early days. Your passion and unyielding support gave this film the opportunity to thrive and touch so many people.
“Thank you to both. I will never be able to forgive myself for such a brain fart but I hope that you both can. Obviously, it was not on purpose, I couldn’t remember what I had already said and my mind went completely blank — your brain does funny things during the most overwhelming moment of your life!”
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