February 20, 2002 06:17 PM

The director Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1984) is a Hollywood role model in more ways than one. Not only did the master of suspense carve out a distinctive career in which he specialized in one genre — thrillers — but when he won an honorary Oscar in 1967 he also gave what was considered a perfect acceptance speech. It entirely consisted of two words. “Thank you.” By comparison, last year’s Best Actress acceptance speech by Julia Roberts lasted nearly four minutes. Multiply that by the number of winners to be announced on Oscar night March 24 and the Academy could end up with a ceremony that will last well into April. To curb such a threat, Howard Bragman, chairman of Bragman Nyman Cafarelli Public Relations, penned an 825-word opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times this week, advising winners on how to behave when they accept their Oscars. Among his pointers: Be brief — and not dull. “Your best friend, your agent, your manager and your publicist certainly aren’t going to tell you the truth (they all want to hear their names read in front of 1 billion people from the stage of the Kodak Theatre),” wrote Bragman. “So it’s up to me (to tell them). You’re not going to be thanking me anyway.” Speaking to PEOPLE.com about his article on Wednesday, Bragman (great name for a publicist) said that people in the business are sometimes so insular that winners often assume that everyone in the TV audience has seen their movie. He suggests that they use their speeches to make a clever point — and to do a clever selling pitch of their film. He also dismissed a wire report that said he took out an ad in the L.A. Times to make HIS point. “I’m in publicity,” he told PEOPLE.com “I know how to schnor (get for free) editorial space.” For the record, the longest Oscar speech ever delivered came from MGM star Greer Garson (1904-1996), when she won a Best Actress Oscar for 1942’s “Mrs. Miniver.” “I’m practically unprepared,” she said as she began (at this point, it was already past 1 a.m. in Hollywood). Then came a flood of words — seven minutes’ worth, according to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences historian Patrick Stockstill, as quoted in a 1999 Washington Post article. The Oscar presenter, Joan Fontaine, left Garson’s side and took a seat. Garson never won an Oscar again.

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