How many of these Oscars faux pas do you remember?
Vogue, January 2020
This article, originally written for Vogue Global Network, has since been published on British Vogue, Vogue Paris, Vogue Australia, Vogue India, Vogue Germany, Vogue Japan, Vogue Taiwan, Vogue Spain, Vogue Mexico, Vogue Russia, Vogue Poland, Vogue Portugal and Vogue China.
From Jennifer Lawrence tripping up the stairs in Dior Couture to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway reading out the wrong Best Picture winner — and even a 1970s streaker — we recap 5 of the biggest blunders in Oscars history
Since its first show in 1929, the Academy Awards ceremony has dazzled and delighted cinephiles and fashion cognoscenti alike. From Hattie McDaniel becoming the first black person to win an Oscar for her performance in 1939’s Gone with the Wind, to Sally Field’s famous acceptance speech for 1984’s Places in the Heart, countless moments have been etched into the collective memory of its 29.6m viewers.
At three-hours long and broadcast live on TV, however, it’s not surprising that even the most meticulously planned event has the occasional slip-up. From envelope swaps to uninvited guests, Vogue looks back at the biggest blunders in Oscars history.
1. A stripped-down affair (1974)
While nudity was about as common (and welcomed) in the 1970s as a new Abba single playing on the radio, it’s safe to assume that guests at the 1974 Academy Awards didn’t expect a naked man flashing a peace sign (and just about everything else) to storm across the stage during the live broadcast.
The attention-grabbing streaker in question? Artist and gay rights activist Robert Opel — he momentarily stunned viewers and presenter David Niven, who was in the process of introducing his co-host Elizabeth Taylor. Niven’s response was as comical as it was cutting: “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?” Ouch.
Taylor, on the other hand, appeared unphased. To this day, Opel’s motive isn’t entirely clear, but some say the incident was orchestrated as a stunt by the show’s producer, Jack Haley Jr.
2. A tale of two winners (2017)
Director Damien Chazelle’s chromatic crowd-pleaser La La Land won the most coveted award of the night until… it didn’t. After a convoluted series of unfortunate events, presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were handed the all-important Best Picture envelope at the 2017 Academy Awards — or so they thought.
Instead, Brian Cullinan — a senior partner at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has tabulated Oscars voters’ ballots since 1934 — had mistakenly handed Beatty the envelope containing the night’s Best Actress winner (awarded to Emma Stone moments earlier). Visibly confused, Beatty passed the envelope to Dunaway who, in a moment she likely won’t forget, crowned the wrong winner. Cheers and fanfare quickly turned into murmurs and gasps, as producer Jordan Horowitz stormed the stage to announce: “There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture. This is not a joke.”
After a thorough investigation, countless apologies issued by PwC and plenty of viral celebrity-reaction gifs, Cullinan and his colleague Martha Ruiz were uninvited from attending the Oscars ever again, while the firm was allowed to continue working with the Academy. No strangers to controversy themselves (it was only in 2016 that #OscarsSoWhite set the Twittersphere ablaze), it appears the members of the Academy were in a forgiving mood. And the Oscar goes to…
3. We’re going to need a bigger boat (2016)
It comes as no surprise that members of the LGBTQ+ community have been significantly underrepresented in the list of Oscar nominees and winners over the past decades. While dozens of heterosexual actors have been nominated for portraying gay, lesbian and trans characters on screen, there has been only a handful of ‘out’ Oscar winners, including Dustin Lance Black who won Best Original Screenplay for 2008 Harvey Milk biopic, Milk.
Still, few are better than none — a lesson Sam Smith learned the hard way when accepting the accolade for Best Original Song at the 2016 Academy Awards. During their impassioned acceptance speech, the singer erroneously proclaimed: “I read an article a few months ago by Sir Ian McKellen and he said no openly gay man had won an Oscar.”
Shortly after, Black tweeted a video of his own acceptance speech from 2009, with the caption: “Hey @SamSmithWorld, if you have no idea who I am, it may be time to stop texting my fiancé [British diver Tom Daley].” In an interview with NME, Smith later apologised for the mix-up, confessing: “I was gutted — there were 90 million people watching that show; I wanted to say something positive and I fucked up.”
Thankfully, any rumours of bad blood were quickly dispelled as Black took to Twitter once more, clarifying his response was only meant in jest: “Dear Internet: @TomDaley1994 and @samsmithworld are pals. They text. Thus my surprise Sam took me for a closet case! Feel free to laugh.” After all, more diversity in Hollywood makes everyone a winner.
4. Balancing act (2013)
Jennifer Lawrence is the youngest person ever to have received four Oscar nominations (for 2010’s Winter’s Bone, 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, 2013’s American Hustle and 2015’s Joy — although Saoirse Ronan is only a few months behind her now, after receiving her fourth nomination this week).
Lawrence’s meteoric rise to fame made her a bona fide red-carpet maven. But unlike some of her more reserved Hollywood peers, she quickly established herself as down to earth and relatable — a reputation she further cemented when she tripped up the stairs on her way to accepting the Best Actress accolade during the 2013 Academy Awards for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. After lifting her light-pink Dior Haute Couture gown and ascending the remaining steps, Lawrence quipped: “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell. That’s really embarrassing.”
More cynical minds have since started questioning the authenticity of Lawrence’s cool-girl persona, culminating in a Saturday Night Live sketch in which pop luminary Ariana Grande impersonated the actress, sighing: “They told me not to do a game show, but I was like, ‘Screw it, I can have fun, I’m a regular person!’” Lawrence’s response? In Vogue’s September 2017 issue, she praised Grande’s performance, calling it “spot-fucking-on”. Sounds pretty down to earth to us.
5. Lost in translation (2014)
What rhymes with meme? Adele Dazeem. During the 2014 Academy Awards, controversy magnet John Travolta broke the internet when he introduced Tony-award-winning actress and Frozen star Idina Menzel as “the wickedly talented, one and only Adele Dazeem”.
To say audiences reacted with bemusement would be an understatement. In addition to the launch of a viral ‘Travoltification’ name generator, which allowed its users to willfully distort anyone’s name, Urban Dictionary soon included the term ‘Travoltify’ in its expansive listings, defining it as the act of “[deforming] someone’s name, accidentally or purposely, in such a way that it is no longer recognisable”.
Menzel, who took the lexical louse-up in good spirit, had the last laugh at the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony. After host Neil Patrick Harris joked that Benedict Cumberbatch is “the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce ‘Ben Affleck’”, the Wicked star took to the stage to introduce Travolta as “my good friend, Glom Gazingo”. When it was time for Travolta to announce the year’s nominees for Best Original Song, Menzel asked: “You want me to do it?” It seems as though Menzel took the words of her song to heart, choosing to let it go.