David Bruce: Awards Anecdotes


In 2008, Charlize Theron, 32 years old and an Oscar-winner as Best Actress in the movie Monster, and AnnaSophia Robb, 14 years old and the lead actress in the kids’ movie Because of Winn-Dixie, starred together in the movie Sleepwalking. Normally, actors will study each other’s work before acting together; however, Ms. Robb had seen very few movies starring Ms. Theron. Why? She explains, “My parents won’t let me see them, especially Monster.” Of course, winning an Oscar for Monster was very satisfying for Ms. Theron, especially because it was so hard to get the movie made and to find distribution for it. Ms. Theron says, “There wasn’t one person in this industry who wanted that film made. We had our financiers calling us at 3 a.m. and asking us what the hell we were doing. They didn’t like the way I looked [the beautiful Ms. Theron put on weight for the movie and looked ugly], and they wondered who would want to see this movie. When we finished, we couldn’t pay a distributor to take it. We were hours away from signing a straight-to-video deal with Blockbuster when we found a distributor. For that reason alone, the Oscar was especially sweet.”

At one time, film producer Harvey Weinstein tried to convince Barbra Streisand to star in the movie version of Chicago, which was to be directed by Anthony Minghella, who had just directed The English Patient. Always a straight talker, Ms. Streisand told Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Minghella over dinner that The English Patient was “overlong and overpraised.” Later, of course, The English Patient was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won nine, including Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. At the Academy Awards, Ms. Streisand was seated directly behind Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Minghella. As The English Patient won Oscar after Oscar, Ms. Streisand was a good sport, patting Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Minghella on the back and laughing at her critical appraisal of The English Patient. Mr. Minghella even told Mr. Weinstein about Ms. Streisand, “She ended up being our good luck charm.”

A couple of mishaps occurred when Betsy Byars accepted the Newbery Medal for her book The Summer of the Swans. Her favorite dessert, blueberry cheesecake, was served at the ceremony, but before she gave her speech she was so nervous that she couldn’t eat any of it. Near the end of her speech, she started to think about the cheesecake and she started to read her speech more quickly. Unfortunately, when she was finished with her speech and she went to the dessert table, all of her favorite dessert was gone. In addition, a couple of teenage boys wearing pageboy costumes and carrying banners led the VIPs to their seats of honor at the beginning of the ceremony. Ms. Byars was pleased by this, but she heard one of the teenage boys say to the other teenage boy, “I could just kill my mom for making me do this.”

A famous scene in the movie Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding, Jr., occurs when Mr. Gooding’s character, a football player, makes Mr. Cruise’s title character, a sports agent, jump through a few hoops before he allows Jerry Maguire to continue to represent him. One hoop is to shout “Show me the money!” like he meant it. Jerry does that, and he gets to continue to represent Mr. Gooding’s character. Mr. Cruise was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor, and Mr. Gooding was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. After learning about the nominations, they got together on the telephone and shouted. Mr. Gooding says, “We screamed at each other for ten minutes. It was nothing intelligent, just ‘Arrrggghhh! Ahhh! Yeaaahhh!’ I yelled. He yelled. Then he went hoarse.”

Actress Angelina Jolie has the respect of people in the movie industry. In 2000, when she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Girl, Interrupted, she was making a movie titled Original Sin in Mexico. After flying back to the movie location following the Academy Awards, she was asleep when suddenly a mariachi band started playing outside her trailer. She went outside, where the cast and crew of Original Sin greeted her. Each member of the cast and crew gave her a rose—she ended up with almost 200 roses! Many of the crewmembers, including director Michael Cristofer, had worked with her before in the television movie Gia, and they were ecstatic that she had won an Oscar.

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, gave Gregory Peck, who played Atticus Finch in the movie, a pocket watch that had belonged to A.C. Lee, her father, the model of Atticus. (After the book was published, friends asked A.C. to sign their copies as “Atticus,” which he gladly did.) Mr. Peck was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, and at the Academy Awards, he held that watch. He was still holding it when he won the Oscar, and he made sure to thank Ms. Lee in his acceptance speech.

Shirley Temple became a child star in movies before she learned how to read. So how did she learn her lines? Her mother read her the scripts of her movies at bedtime. In 1934, little Shirley won a miniature Oscar to recognize a major accomplishment: According to Hollywood, she had brought “more happiness to millions of children and millions of grownups than any child of her years in the history of the world.”

The high-quality TV sitcom Taxi won awards even when it had low ratings. After it was canceled, it still won Emmys. When Judd Hirsch, who played Alex Rieger, picked up an Emmy for Best Award in a Comedy Series, he asked, “Don’t they know we’ve been cancelled?”

Tim Conway’s speeches after winning an Emmy are great because he never talks about the Emmy Awards. Once, he thanked all the Tarzana Pitch ’n’ Putt employees and recommended that everyone in the audience play golf there for an evening of relaxation.

When magicians Penn and Teller won an Obie, their theatrical show was so unusual that the presenters of the award didn’t know what to call it. Therefore, they officially gave the award to Penn and Teller for “whatever it is they do.”


David Bruce: Awards Anecdotes



As a radical who broke new ground in art, Mary Cassatt rejected some things that many artists accept. After she was informed that she had won a $300 Walter Lippincott Prize for work shown in the 1904 exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, she turned down the prize, writing, “Of course it is very gratifying to know that a picture of mine was selected for a special honor. I, however, who belong to the founders of the Independent Exhibition, must stick to my principles, our principles, which were, no jury, no medals, no awards.”

Czechoslovakian citizen Emil Zátopek won four gold medals at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, including one for an unexpected win in the marathon. Winning these medals, of course, was memorable; however, later Mr. Zátopek did something even more memorable when he met Ron Clarke of Australia, a great runner who had bad luck at the Olympic Games. Despite setting many world records during his running career, Mr. Clarke never managed to win a gold medal while competing at the Olympic Games. Mr. Zátopek admired Mr. Clarke, and in 1966 he gave him a wrapped present, telling him not to open it until he was on a plane and headed back home. When Mr. Clarke opened the gift, he found an Olympic gold medal and a note from Mr. Zátopek: “Dear Ron, I have won four gold medals. It is only right that you should have one of them. Your friend, Emil.”

Opposing the rich landowners and the soldiers who supported them in Guatemala in 1980 could be dangerous. Rigoberta Menchú organized cotton and sugar plantation workers in preparation for a strike to demand better working conditions and higher pay. Soon, soldiers started looking for her. At one point, while being chased by soldiers, she ducked into a crowded church, let her hair down, and joined the other people kneeling at their prayers. Fortunately, the ruse worked and she was not captured. In 1992, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in helping Mayan workers in Guatemala. With the money she won with the Nobel Peace Prize, she set up the Vicente Manchú Foundation to promote human rights in her native country, Guatemala. The foundation is named after her father, who died trying to help workers in Guatemala.

Mike Nichols and Elaine May satirized television. At an Emmy Awards show, Ms. May, acting as host, praised everyone who had won for excellence, then said, “But what about others in the industry? Seriously, there are men in the industry who go on, year in and year out, quietly and unassumingly producing garbage.” She then announced an award for the Most Total Mediocrity in the Industry. Accepting the award was Mr. Nichols, who said, “This is the proudest moment of my life. I’d like to say briefly how I did it. Firstly, no matter what suggestions the sponsors make, I take them. Last but most important, I have tried to offend no one anywhere on earth. In ten years of production, we have received not one letter of complaint.”

After receiving an award from the City of New York (which allowed him to struggle for New York seasons for 25 years and forced him and his dance company to travel overseas for much of that time), Merce Cunningham told a story about composer John Cage. Because he was driving too fast, Mr. Cage was stopped by a police officer who told him that he was issuing him a citation. Mr. Cage said, “Thank you very much.” After telling this story, Mr. Cunningham immediately told the presenters of the award, “And I thank you very much.”

When Felicity Huffman won the Best Actress award at the Independent Spirit Awards for her performance as a transexual in the movie Transamerica, she recounted a story about a grip working to correct some malfunctioning equipment. Perched precariously on a ladder, he muttered, “This f—— film better win a f——- award.” Ms. Huffman then held her award up and said, “Here’s the f—— award.”

In 1995, Sarah Michelle Gellar missed her prom because she was busy attending the Daytime Emmy Awards, for which she was nominated as Outstanding Younger Leading Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Kendall (the daughter of the character played by Susan Lucci) on All My Children. However, when she attended the after-prom party, she took her new Emmy award with her.

Ellen Zwilich is the first woman ever to win the Pulitzer Prize in music; in 1983, she won for her composition Symphony No. 1: Three Movements for Orchestra. Afterward, she was surprised by the number of people who asked her, “How does it feel to be the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in music?” Her usual reply was, “I hope it’s the last time gender is more important than creativity.”

When Daniel Keyes’s “Flowers for Algernon” won the Hugo Award for the Best Story of 1959, award presenter Isaac Asimov praised the story enthusiastically, then asked Mr. Keyes how he had been able to write it. Mr. Keyes replied, “Listen, when you find out how I did it, let me know, will you? I want to do it again.”

In 1986, Elie Wiesel, author of the Holocaust memoir Night, won the Nobel Peace Prize. His father, mother, and youngest sister all died in the Holocaust, but to show that the Jewish people survive despite such oppression, when giving his acceptance speech, he asked his 14-year-son to come to the podium with him.

Harlan Howard, Roger Miller, and Willie Nelson had a wonderful time one year at the BMI Awards diner in Nashville. Each and every time a winner was announced, the trio would jump up and run to accept the award, causing mass amounts of confusion until the real winner appeared on stage.

In 1988, Jodie Foster won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in The Accused. Following her acceptance speech, she joked backstage that she would immediately put the Oscar to good use: “I rented three videos last night … and they said if I brought this in I would get them free.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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