Oscars 1974: It was a very good year


In the long history of Oscar ceremonies, few matched the craziness, drama and poignancy of the 46th Academy Awards, which took place almost 40 years ago on April 2, 1974, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

That ceremony, hosted by writer-director John Huston, singer-actress Diana Ross, and actors Burt Reynolds and David Niven, featured a streaker who ran across the stage; a legendary comedian receiving a special award; a multiple Oscar-winning actress (who was ceremony-shy) make her only appearance at the Academy Awards, while another famous actress, who was dying of cancer, made her final bow.

And youth was served, as a 10-year-old actress became the youngest to win a competitive Oscar while a composer a few months shy of his 30th birthday won all three music awards.


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When it comes to the nominated films, there are interesting parallels between the 1974 awards show and this year’s version, which will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.

Alfonso Cuarón’s stranded-in-space thriller “Gravity” and David O. Russell’s ABSCAM-inspired con comedy “American Hustle” are going into the ceremony Sunday evening at the Dolby Theatre with 10 nominations each.

Forty years ago, the classic con comedy “The Sting” and the devil-possession horror film “The Exorcist” arrived at the ceremony on as the front-runners, also with 10 nods apiece.

The academy chose the lighthearted “The Sting,” directed by George Roy Hill and starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, as best picture. The film earned seven Academy Awards, including film, director and original screenplay, while The Exorcist” earned just two — for adapted screenplay and sound mixing.

This year’s best picture winner, though, is too close to call, with “Gravity,” “Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave,” nominated for nine Academy Awards, in a near dead heat for the top prize.


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Here’s a look back at some of the highlights of the 1974 show:

A streaker’s “shortcomings”

Forty years ago streaking became a huge fad across the nation, especially at college campuses, where students would toss their clothes and run naked. So naturally streaking went prime time on the Oscars.

When Niven was about to announce Elizabeth Taylor as the best picture presenter, a man named Robert Opel ran across the Chandler stage in the full Monty, flashing more than a peace sign. The unflappable, amused Niven quipped: “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” Five years later, Opel was found murdered in San Francisco.

Hepburn brings down the house

By 1974, Katharine Hepburn had won three lead actress Academy Awards, for 1933’s “Morning Glory,” 1967’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and 1968’s “The Lion in Winter” and had been nominated for several other Oscars. But she notoriously avoided the ceremony until 1974 when she shocked the audience as she walked out in a pantsuit and clogs to present the Irving G. Thalberg Award to her friend, producer Lawrence Weingarten.


“I’m so glad no one called out, ‘It’s about time,’” said Hepburn. “I’m living proof someone can wait 41 years to be unselfish.”

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Hayward’s swan song

Susan Hayward, who won the lead actress Oscar for 1958’s “I Want to Live!,” presented the lead actress Oscar with Charlton Heston to no-show Glenda Jackson for “A Touch of Class.” Frail but still radiant in a red wig and glitzy Nolan Miller gown, Hayward, who was losing her battle with brain cancer, received a warm ovation from the audience. She died the following March at age 57.

Say the secret word

The great Groucho Marx received an honorary Oscar “in recognition of his brilliant creativity and for the unequaled achievements of the Marx Brothers in the art of motion picture comedy.” Jack Lemmon presented the 83-year-old Marx with the Oscar while the audience gave him a sustained standing ovation.


His speech was typical Groucho.

“I wish that Harpo and Chico could have been there to share it with me, this great honor,” he said. “I wish Margaret Dumont could have been here too. She was a great straight woman for me, even though she never understood any of my jokes. But most of all I want to thank my mother, because without her we never would have been anything.”

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Records are meant to be broken

Marvin Hamlisch, who just a decade before had been the rehearsal pianist for the Broadway production of “Funny Girl” with Barbra Streisand, made Oscar history winning original dramatic score for “The Way We Were,” song from the movie with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman and scoring for “The Sting.”

“What can I tell you?,” said Hamlisch when he received his first award of the night. “My piano teacher is thrilled about this, I know. She kept saying, ‘Practice, practice.’ And I can tell you, last but not least, I want to thank the makers of Maalox for making this all possible. Thank you.”

Tatum O’Neal, who was all of 10, became the youngest performer to win a competitive Academy Award when she received supporting actress honors for the comedy “Paper Moon,” which starred her father, Ryan O’Neal. Four decades later, the record stands.


Dressed in a tuxedo, Tatum said, “All I really want to thank is my director, Peter Bogdanovich, and my father. Thank you.’ And as she was leaving, her grandfather, Charles O’Neal, hugged her on stage and added, “Her grandfather thanks you, her father thanks you and I know Tatum thanks you.”

A twist of Lemmon

Eighteen years after earning a supporting actor Oscar for his comedic turn as Ensign Pulver in “Mister Roberts,” Jack Lemmon received his only lead actor Oscar as a middle-aged businessman on the ropes in “Save the Tiger.”

During his acceptance speech he put Oscar naysayers on notice:

“In recent years especially, there has been a great deal of criticism about this award. And probably a great deal of that criticism is justified. I would just like to say that whether it is justified or not, I think it is one hell of an honor and I am thrilled.”