The following quotes from Oscar winners are in response to the question of what winning the award meant to them, either personally or from a career standpoint.
Actor, “The Goodbye Girl”(1977):
“Gee, golly, gee. When you get an Oscar, you’re supposed to walk offstage and hand it to someone so they can engrave it. No one was there and I had to fly directly back to New York, because I was in ‘Julius Caesar’ at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. They were working on my apartment at the time and I didn’t feel it was safe to leave it there, so for three weeks I carried my Oscar around in a plain brown paper bag, to the theater and back.
“There’s a story about Emil Jannings, who won the first best actor Oscar. He went back to Nazi Germany and became a mainstay of the Nazi film industry. When Patton’s Fifth Army was taking town after town in Germany, a platoon was walking down a street, and a tattered figure in an old greatcoat came shambling out of a building yelling, ‘Don’t shoot! I vin Oscar! Don’t shoot! I vin Oscar!’ – which is some kind of metaphor.”
Best supporting actress, “Elmer Gantry” (1960)
“The Academy Award was the best thing that ever happened to me career-wise, because my career was over. I was a musical lady and they weren’t making musicals at that time. The studio producers told me, ‘You’re not right for what we’re doing.’
“Burt Lancaster saw me on a live TV show, a ‘Playhouse 90’ installment called ‘The Big Slide’ with Red Skelton – for which Red was nominated for an Emmy. Richard Brooks had wanted someone else for the part in ‘Elmer Gantry,’ but Burt took a stand and fought for me. I even told Brooks, ‘I’ll do it for nothing.’ And I did do it for way less than I had been making. After he saw the first day’s rushes, Richard apologized to me and said, ‘Shirley, you’re going to win an Academy Award.’ ”
“Cool Hand Luke” (1967):
“I didn’t expect to win. Even my best friends didn’t expect me to win. We didn’t have reservations for anywhere afterwards. And I never told this to anyone except my wife. I was walking to my car and it occurred to me that I had just done something that can never be duplicated. Like in London, they knight actors and they are that for the rest of their lives. Regardless of what would happen in the future, I was an Academy Award winner, and no one could take that away from me. It would stay with me forever.”
“Ed Wood” (1994):
“It means recognition by your peers. If I was a physicist, I would want to win the Nobel Prize. Actors nominate actors, then the whole academy votes. When people say the nomination is very meaningful, they’re right, because the people who do what you do are recognizing your work. It’s a vote of confidence. That night I was as sober as a judge, but I never felt so high and so sober at the same time.”
Supporting actress, “The Last Picture Show” (1971):
“I was walking out to my limousine, all dressed and ready, and Morgan, my 8 -year-old son, called out the door, ‘Don’t forget the bread!’ I said, ‘OK. Bye.’
“I couldn’t write a speech. It was hopeless. Just before the category came up, I said to my former husband, who was with me, ‘Oh my God, George, what if I win?’ He said, ‘Thank your former teachers.’ Then … the winner is … and time stopped. I thought maybe I didn’t hear it right. While 100% of me was prepared to win, 100% of me said, ‘No way in hell’ – a complete dichotomy – and Ellen Burstyn had won with the New York Critics and Ann-Margret had gotten the Golden Globe. But the applause was so thunderous that I was blown off the ground. It was thrilling, just thrilling. I felt like Sally Field: ‘You really like me.’ ”
“A Streetcar Named
“The Oscar is a great honor. But from a career standpoint, it didn’t boost me up. I had just signed a seven-year contract with Warner Bros. and I wasn’t rebellious. And they were good to me. I didn’t have to repeat the same kind of heavies I had been playing. But a result was that they tried to make a leading man out of me and I did pictures with Rosalind Russell and Claudette Colbert and Bette Davis. But I was out of my element. I’m a character actor. It was like I had to be a leading man because of it.
“But I’ll tell you something about winning the Oscar. I personally feel that a lot of people who win feel like, OK, now’s the time to wait for that career part, that fabulous, immortal part. And they wait themselves out of the business. I was a workaholic. I never felt I had to wait. I never wanted to. You can’t wait. In order to hit those home runs, you have to go to bat often.”
Actor, “To Kill a
“On Oscar night, 1963, I carried a rabbit’s foot, given to me by my little girl, Cecilia, and a pocket watch, which had belonged to Harper Lee’s father – the real Atticus Finch. They worked. Harper and I have remained close friends. Not long ago, I said to her, ‘OK, you won an Oscar for me 34 years ago. What have you done for me lately?’ Don’t believe that an Academy Award isn’t a very nice thing to have. It makes a difference.”
Best actor, Charly (1968)
“You have to think about who received that award prior to you. Everybody gets up with that aw-shucks kind of self-imposed modesty to accept, saying, ‘all five of us deserve this,’ which can be true. But when I won the Academy Award, all I could think of is Spencer Tracy and Laurence Olivier and other actors and that my name is now listed with them.
“The other thing about when I won was the competition that year — Peter O’Toole, Alan Arkin, Alan Bates and Ron Moody. They said it was the stiffest competition ever. We made a modest little picture and had no money to spare on publicity. So, it was very Earth-shaking when I won.
“The Oscar stayed in my agent’s office for two years until my then wife, Dina Merril, finally brought it home. It’s now in my house on Long Island.”
“Coming Home” (1978)
“The Oscar is in our industry the expression of an appreciation of excellence. It promotes high standards. And, as far as many of the movies I’ve made, which didn’t immediately seem to have commercial potential, the possibility for Oscar-caliber work within them became a reason that they got made at all.
“For a person to get one, it’s a fortunate blessing. It’s a dream come true. We have been raised in a culture in which it means the apex of our industry. It celebrates what we do and it allows us once a year to turn into children a little bit.”