Oscars Flashback: Marlon Brando Bailed on the First Governors Ball in 1958

Courtesy of ©A.M.P.A.S.
Dean Martin (center) hit the dance floor. Ray Anthony’s band performed until 3 a.m., with Pearl Bailey singing on some numbers.

Sixty years ago, actor George Murphy was asked to stage a new post-Oscars dinner dance for the nominees.

For the first dozen years, the Academy’s Annual Awards of Merit were handed out over dinner at such hotels as the Roosevelt, the Ambassador and the Biltmore. But 1958 marked the ninth year that the ceremony was held at the Pantages in Hollywood — and it was decided that after hours in cramped theater seats, guests wanted to stretch and celebrate. Actor and future senator George Murphy was tasked with chairing a dinner dance for 800 following the 30th Awards, held Wednesday, March 26. 

The awards started at 7 p.m.; while speakers onstage continued after the NBC cameras turned off at 9, the audience began to head to their limousines for the 30-minute drive to The Beverly Hilton (Lana Turner’s car broke down, so she took a taxi), where 200 people had gathered to watch the proceedings on television.

Among the 600-some ceremony attendees arriving at the Governors Ball from the Pantages were Cary Grant, John Wayne, Bette Davis, Rock Hudson, Jimmy Stewart, Rosalind Russell, Shirley MacLaine, Kim Novak, Kirk Douglas, Clark Gable and Sophia Loren.

Studio moguls Adolph Zukor and Barney Balaban of Paramount, Sam Goldwyn and Jack Warner were on hand; future president Ronald Reagan sat at table 218. The room was almost all Hollywood: The few exceptions included poet Rod McKuen and controversial LAPD Chief William Parker. 

That night, agent Jay Kanter and his wife, Judy (Balaban’s daughter), threw what may have been Oscar’s first afterparty at their Rodeo Drive home. “We invited Paul [Newman] and Joanne [Woodward] to come over after, win or lose,” recalls Judy.

The first to arrive was Jay’s client Marlon Brando. The Sayonara star landed from New York only an hour before the ceremony, changed clothes at the airport and sat through his best actor loss to the absent Alec Guinness, who won for The Bridge on the River Kwai.

At the Hilton, Brando took one look around and headed immediately to the comfort of the Kanters’, where he helped himself to a buffet of fried chicken and more. 

“Around 4:30 a.m.,” recalls Judy with a laugh, “enough people were still there that we started scrambling eggs.” 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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