Eminem, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando are but a few infamous absentees

By Drew Mackie
Updated February 23, 2015 07:45 AM
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Credit: Lester Cohen/WireImage(2); Kevin Mazur

The Oscars sum up Hollywood quite tidily: The most popular people get together to find out who has been selected as being especially notable, and then everyone claps. If you’re the type who likes attention – and let’s face it, most who excel in Hollywood do – getting that moment onstage is a dream come true.

Every now and then, however, an Oscar winner isn’t present to receive his or her statuette. It’s Hollywood heresy – the thought that someone would have somewhere more important to be than onstage, receiving applause. But it happens, and when it does, there’s usually a good story behind it. Here are some of the best.

Joan Crawford

Nominated for Mildred Pierce, Crawford was so convinced she’d lose the Best Actress award to Ingrid Bergman for The Bells of St. Mary’s that she skipped the 1946 show altogether. When she learned she won, she invited reporters into her bedroom, where she accepted the statuette – and became the story of the night.

Anne Bancroft

When Bancroft won the Best Actress award in 1963, she was unable to attend due to a theatrical commitment in New York. What’s notable here is that Joan Crawford accepted the award on her behalf – because she specifically asked Bancroft if she could.

Bette Davis had also been nominated for Best Actress, for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which co-starred Crawford. The production of this film was enlivened by the infamous seething hatred between Davis and Crawford, who wasn’t nominated at all and who used Bancroft’s absence to steal the moment.

Woody Allen

He picked up his first Oscar in 1978 for Annie Hall, and he’s since won two more. Allen, however, has never accepted any of them, instead offering the polite excuse that he has a standing gig playing clarinet in a bar. He’s also dismissed awards shows as “silly.” But at the 2002 Oscars, just a few months after 9/11, he introduced a montage of films that showcased the beauty of New York City.

Elizabeth Taylor

Her performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was favored to win the Best Actress award at the 1967 Oscars, but her costar and husband, Richard Burton, was not expected to win Best Actor. Because he’d been nominated four times previously without winning, the couple skipped the ceremony entirely. According to the L.A. Times, Taylor attributed her absence to Burton’s fear of flying. In the end, Burton never won his Oscar.

Henry Fonda

On Golden Pond tells the story of a strained relationship between an ailing father and his daughter. It’s made all the more poignant by how it paralleled the lives of its stars, Henry and Jane Fonda. In fact, Jane specifically sought the rights to On Golden Pond so she could play opposite her father. When Henry won Best Actor for the film at the 1982 Oscars, Jane accepted the award on his behalf because he was too ill to attend. He died five months later.

Katharine Hepburn

The Fondas’ On Golden Pond costar also took home the Best Actress award that year, but just as with her three previous wins, she was not present to accept it. The Hollywood Reporter explains this chronic absenteeism with a quote that’s equally humble and brash – very Hepburn: “As for me, prizes are nothing … My prize is my work.”

Hepburn’s only Oscars appearance happened in 1974, when she presented producer Lawrence Weingarten with the Irving B. Thalberg Memorial Award. “I’m also very happy that I didn’t hear anyone call out, ‘It’s about time,’ ” she quipped.

George C. Scott

There’s declining to attend, and then there’s what George C. Scott did. First, he wrote to the Motion Picture Academy asking to rescind his Best Actor nomination for Patton. He also dismissed the Oscars ceremony as a “two-hour meat parade,” but he won anyway. In the end, he was so repulsed by the notion of actors competing for awards that he simply never picked up his statuette.

Eminem

Eminem was famously not present when 8 Mile‘s “Lose Yourself” won Best Original Song in 2003. What gives? As Eminem explained in an interview, he was asleep when the song won. “I just felt like I had no chance of winning,” he said.

Marlon Brando

And finally, there’s the most famous example of someone accepting an Oscar on behalf of the awardee: Apache activist Sacheen Littlefeather accepting Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather and speaking out against the poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry and elsewhere. The incident is one of the most famous in Oscar history, but one footnote that gets left out is presenter Liv Ullmann’s words of wisdom immediately preceding: “Often to be most eloquent is to be silent.” If only more Oscar acceptance speeches took this into consideration.

And the Award for Most Memorable Oscar Speech Goes to