Veteran actor Jack Palance, who turned 72 last month, won the Oscar for best supporting actor Monday night for his role as the gritty, taciturn cowboy in the comedy, "City Slickers."
The winner for best supporting actress was Mercedes Ruehl for her role as Jeff Bridges' girlfriend in "The Fisher King."
Palance told the audience at the 64th annual Academy Awards that a producer in 1949 informed him after his first film that one day he would win an Academy Award.
Nominated twice before, the last time 39 years ago for his role in "Shane," Palance wowed the audience by doing a series of one-handed pushups.
"Bugsy," the story of gangster Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel's fling with Hollywood and the Las Vegas strip, on Monday went into the ceremony with the most nominations but little assurance of a sweep.
In the Oscar race for the best in 1991 films, the nominations were spread over several movies, reducing the chances of a repeat of last year's seven-Oscar victory for "Dances With Wolves" and increasing the tension surrounding Hollywood's biggest night of the year.
While "Bugsy" had the advantage of the most nominations--10--"The Silence of the Lambs," the psychological thriller about an FBI agent's quest to understand a pathological killer's mind, had already captured other key industry awards.
"Silence," nominated for seven Oscars, has won Writers Guild and Directors Guild awards for Ted Tally and Jonathan Demme, a Golden Globe for actress Jodie Foster and the British equivalent of the Oscar for actor Anthony Hopkins, among other prizes.
"Bugsy" and "The Silence of the Lambs" were in the running for the cherished best-picture Oscar, as were Oliver Stone's controversial "JFK," with eight nominations; Barbra Streisand's drama "The Prince of Tides," with seven nominations, and the Disney animated feature "Beauty and the Beast," nominated in six categories.
The Academy Awards in 23 categories were to be presented Monday night in ceremonies televised live to an expected 1 billion viewers worldwide from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center.
Despite gay and lesbian activists' threats to disrupt the ceremonies and stage protests outside the theater, security precautions for the event appeared less stringent than they were last year, when, just weeks after the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War, 500 security guards were posted around the theater.
But security was tight, said the show's security chief, Jerry Moon, who refused to discuss details about how disruptions would be averted. The militant group Queer Nation said it planned to interrupt the ceremonies from within the theater and stage protests outside throughout the day.
Several Queer Nation members briefly appeared Monday morning to challenge all homosexual actors and other award winners to reveal their sexuality during the awards show.
Since Saturday, dozens of fans had been filling up the quad outside the theater, and by 5 a.m. Monday the first 300 were ushered into bleachers for optimum celebrity-gawking.
The event has become an annual ritual for some, including Sue Addison, who traveled with three friends from Phoenix for a third consecutive year of star-gazing.
"It's so exciting. The trip is definitely worth it," she said.
In the highly competitive best-actor category, the candidates were four-time acting nominee Warren Beatty in the title role of "Bugsy"; Robert De Niro, who has won two Oscars, as the ex-convict Max Cady in "Cape Fear"; Hopkins as sociopath Hannibal (the Cannibal) Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs"; Nick Nolte as Southern football coach Tom Wingo in "The Prince of Tides," and three-time nominee Robin Williams as Parry, a former medieval history professor in "The Fisher King."
The best-actress category put "Thelma & Louise" co-stars Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon against each other, possibly splitting the vote in favor of 1988 winner Foster. Laura Dern, in the title role of "Rambling Rose," which won critical acclaim but had a relatively brief distribution, and Bette Midler as songbird Dixie Leonard in the poorly received "For the Boys" were long shots for the award.
Dern and her mother, Diane Ladd, made academy history last month when they became the first mother-daughter acting team nominated in the same year. Ladd was nominated for best supporting actress for "Rambling Rose," against winner Ruehl, Juliette Lewis in "Cape Fear," Kate Nelligan in "The Prince of Tides" and 1989 best-actress winner Jessica Tandy in "Fried Green Tomatoes."
In addition to Palance, the supporting actor field included Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley, both nominated for "Bugsy," as well as Tommy Lee Jones in "JFK" and Michael Lerner in "Barton Fink." Kingsley won the best-actor Oscar in 1982 for "Ghandi."
The earlier win at the Directors Guild Awards all but assured that Demme would take the directing Oscar for "The Silence of the Lambs," his first nomination. Nearly all past Directors Guild winners have carried their success through Oscar night.
But he faced tough competition from six-time nominee Barry Levinson ("Bugsy"), who won in 1988 for "Rain Man," and Stone for "JFK," which generated considerable controversy for suggesting that a high-level government conspiracy was behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy but received critical praise for its captivating cinematography and editing in recreating some of the most shocking scenes in America's memory.
Stone, who has 10 nominations in writing, directing and producing to his credit, won the directing category both times he was nominated--in 1986 for "Platoon" and 1989 for "Born on the Fourth of July."
The fifth directing nominee, John Singleton of "Boyz N the Hood," made Oscar history by being nominated at age 23. Singleton, the first black nominated for a directing Oscar, also became the academy's youngest directing nominee, taking that title from Orson Welles, nominated in 1941 at age 26 for "Citizen Kane."
But the academy generally recognizes veteran directors as if rewarding them for improving with age. The chances of Singleton winning for his first feature directing project are slim, especially one year after better-known Kevin Costner won in his directorial debut for the popular "Dances With Wolves."
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