A snub by any other actor might have caused trouble. But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences remembers the night Marlon Brando rejected his Oscar with admiration -- for his spectacularly theatrical gesture.
“It was a show stopper,” recalls Bruce Davis, executive director of the academy, of the 1973 ceremony when Brando sent in his place Sacheen Littlefeather, an actress in full Native American regalia, to read a political statement.
Brando won the best actor Oscar for playing Vito Corleone in “The Godfather,” and Davis chalks up the gesture to the “climate of the times.” Two years earlier, George C. Scott was a no-show after winning for “Patton,” decrying competition among actors.
Brando accepted his previous best actor Oscar with gratitude for playing Terry Malloy in 1954’s best picture winner, “On the Waterfront.” He even applied to the academy to replace it after it was stolen.
Davis says Brando had been in the business a long time, “knew how things were done,” when he rejected his “Godfather” Oscar and had previously negotiated the appearance of the actress (whose given name was Maria Cruz) with the producer. Contrary to popular belief, Brando neither picked up his Oscar, nor was it kept in a special place, Davis says. Although many have asked, he says, “There is no Brando Oscar.”
On the whole, academy members were more impressed than put off by the performance and the next year nominated Brando again for his role in “Last Tango in Paris.”
“The academy doesn’t hate someone for doing something wildly theatrical during the Oscar show,” Davis says. “It was a great moment in the history of the show, a wonderful, off-the-wall thing that everybody thinks and talks about for the next quarter of a century.”