The Academy Awards take place tonight, one of the great televised rituals of the American year (the others being the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Super Bowl, of course). The grandfather of all televised award shows, Americans love it - and love to hate it - for its red carpet parade of fashions, its cheesy dancer numbers, snappy (and sometimes abusive) patter from a host comedian, and its creaking length. What was once an industry dinner dance with cameras changed over the decades into a full-blown production. The show's length is now due less to rambling acceptance speeches than it used to be (Etiquetteer vaguely remembers that Greer Garson's clocked in at something like 22 minutes!), but there was a time when it was sadly fashionable to use the Oscar podium for political statements. Oscar-winning actress Joan Crawford was interviewed at Town Hall on April 8, 1973, and criticized the change in the demeanor of the Oscars thus (beginning at 3:40):
"Let's talk about the Academy Awards. I think everyone tried to have the cutes, and each one who came after the couple before tried to be funnier. The dignity and the beauty of the Academy Awards, I must say, has been lost without the Gregory Pecks and the Charlton Hestons. The Gregory Pecks come on, the Frank Sinatras come on . . . they come on with dignity and they set the stage, really, for what everyone else should do. Some don't. And this year I was appalled at the behavior of everyone, including Mr. Brando."
What did Marlon Brando do that was so appalling? It wasn't that he didn't attend when he was nominated for his performance in The Godfather (nor could Joan Crawford have Wagged an Admonitory Digit at him for that, as she was famously home in bed the year she won Best Actress for Mildred Pierce). Brando found a young Apache woman names Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on his behalf in case he won. Etiquetteer doesn't say "accept," because Mr. Brando didn't intend to accept the Oscar, but to decline it in an ostentatious way to call attention to the way Native Americans were treated by the film industry:
Needless to say, this provoked outrage in Hollywood and beyond, as did Vanessa Redgrave's acceptance speech a few years later, when she won Best Supporting Actress for Julia. Note her reference to "Zionist hoodlums" at 2:54:
Now, back to Joan Crawford at Town Hall. Later in that wonderful interview, she really summed up well Perfect Propriety for Oscar winners (beginning at 6:41):
"I think people who go on the Academy Awards and . . . oh brother! Just accept and be grateful for the honor, and don't try and get on national television and make your pleas, and never discuss politics or religion."
For those viewing tonight, Etiquetteer wishes you a Perfectly Proper Oscarthon!