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Academy Award Winners Who Rejected Their Oscars

February 26, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

George C. Scott as World War II General George Patton, his 1971 Oscar nominated role. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

It’s become cliche for actors, writers, and directors to say that they don’t care about winning an Academy Award, even if they do. But in the 90-year history of the Oscars, there have been very few people who won a golden knight statuette and then told the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to keep it.

One of the most famous instances was in 1973, when Marlon Brando won Best Actor for his role in The Godfather. When the presenters announced that he’d won, the camera panned to an Apache actress named Sacheen Littlefeather, whom the announcer stated would accept the award on Brando’s behalf. But Littlefeather, who was the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, soon clarified that she was actually rejecting it for him.

“[Brando] very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” she said. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry … and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” (The federal government was then waging armed conflict against Native American activists in Wounded Knee, South Dakota.)

The backlash was swift. Midway through Littlefeather’s speech, audience members booed. Later that night, Clint Eastwood mused about whether he should present the Best Picture award “on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford westerns.” After the ceremony, many people falsely claimed that Littlefeather was not really Apache. John Wayne, for instance, told the New York Times that “[Brando] should have appeared that night and stated his views instead of taking some little unknown girl and dressing her up in an Indian outfit.”

It was the first time an actor had sent someone to reject an Oscar in person, but it wasn’t the first time someone had refused the award. George C. Scott also famously rejected his Best Actor Oscar for the 1970 film Patton. Yet unlike Brando, whose snub caught the Academy by surprise, Scott had actually been saying he wouldn’t accept an Oscar for years.

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