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Alumni and Their Oscar Moments

Academy Award speeches featuring five from the Farm.

Photo: Barguti/iStockphoto

By Sam Scott

Stanford isn’t exactly a film factory, but its Hollywood connections are deep and longstanding, and the Farm can claim its share of Oscar glory. The pantheon ranges from the late David Brown, ’36, and Richard Zanuck, ’56, who co-produced 1989’s Best Picture Driving Miss Daisy, to two-time winner Alexander Payne, ’83, who is up again this year for directing Nebraska.

Winning doesn’t always come with the opportunity to bask in the glow. When screenwriter Ronald Bass, ’63, won for Rain Man in 1989, the orchestra was already playing by the time his partner wrapped up his speech, giving Bass a few seconds to recognize his daughters: “I'm just going to say goodnight to Jennifer and Sasha and leave it at that.”

Others made a little bit more of the moment, none more so than actor Jack Palance, ’49, who may have surpassed the role he was being honored for with a speech that no one will forget . . . which leads us to the Top 5 Stanford Oscar Moments* (*that we could find video of).


JACK PALANCE, ’49, Best Supporting Actor, City Slickers

Palance waited a long time for the academy to come calling, and when it did four decades after his film debut (the 1950 noir thriller Panic in the Streets), he made the moment one for the ages.

After winning for playing tough-as-nails trail boss Curly Washburn in 1991’s City Slickers, the 6-foot-4 actor channeled Washburn to call out co-star Billy Crystal, the host of the night’s awards. “Billy Crystal,” he sneered, “I crap bigger than him.”

Then the 73-year-old dropped into a set of one-handed push-ups before leaving the stage without a word of thanks. The speech was instant fodder for Crystal. “I told Jack before the ceremony, 'Decaf, Jack, decaf.’”

The next year’s awards began with Palance dragging a huge Oscar statuette—with Crystal aboard—onstage by his teeth.

Best Adapted Screenplay, Sideways; Best Adapted Screenplay, The Descendants

Forgetting to thank someone is a storied Oscar tradition. See actors Sean Penn and Hilary Swank, who both famously skipped thanking their now ex-spouses after winning awards.

Your mom can’t divorce you. But when Payne won Best Adapted Screenplay in 2004 for Sideways, his mom apparently took notice that his writing partner remembered his mother while Payne thanked his studio.

Seven years later, the writer-director got a do-over. After winning for The Descendants, he acknowledged that his mother had made him promise that if he ever won again he would dedicate the award to her, “just like Javier Bardem did.”

Then with the spotlight on his mother, sitting shyly in the audience, he made good on the promise: “Mom, this one's for you,” he said. “Thanks for letting me skip nursery school so we could go to the movies.”

CYNTHIA WADE, MA ’96, Best Short Documentary, Freeheld

So much has changed so quickly in the national debate about same-sex unions, not least New Jersey’s emergence in 2013 as the 14th state to recognize gay marriage.

Things were far different in 2005, when Wade discovered the story of a terminally ill New Jersey cop fighting an uphill battle against officials to leave her pension to her lesbian partner. Her effort became the subject of Freeheld, a 38-minute documentary.

In her acceptance speech, an emotional Wade made sure to keep the focus on the issue. “It was Lieutenant Laurel Hester’s dying wish that her fight against discrimination would make a difference for all the same-sex couples across the country that face discrimination every day, discrimination that I don’t face as a married woman.”

EDITH HEAD, MA ’20, Eight-times Best Costume Design

Head was a Hollywood legend. From 1949 to 1978, she received 35 nominations for Best Costume Design, winning the award a record eight times.

Not that she got much time to preen about it at the awards. In 1954, a time when models demonstrated nominees’ costumes live on stage, Head barely broke her stride as she collected the Oscar for Roman Holiday and was ushered off with hardly a word to the audience.

She said a little more after winning her final Oscar for The Sting in 1974, speaking for all of 15 seconds.

, Honorary Oscar

Watch the video from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

To people of a certain age, producer/director Roger Corman needs no introduction. The author of a How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, Corman is often labeled “the King of the B Movies.” But his films were also hugely influential and Corman mentored many of today’s leading directors, including Martin Scorcese, James Cameron and Ron Howard.

For a younger audience, the best way to get up to speed on his importance may be to watch Quentin Tarantino—who dedicated his breakout movie Reservoir Dogs to Corman—froth in praise of the filmmaker during the 2009 ceremony bestowing an honorary Oscar on Corman: “This is a dream come true,” Tarantino said.


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