Jon Voight Remembers Winning The Oscar

“There were wonderful films represented and great actors that evening. Bobby De Niro was up for The Deer Hunter, Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait, Gary Busey for The Buddy Holly Story, and Laurence Olivier for The Boys From Brazil, and I was the frontrunner according to Vegas odds and everything else. It seemed to be a moment between two Vietnam films, one being Deer Hunter and the other being our film, Coming Home.

A couple days before, I flew in from New York. Two seats away from me was Laurence Olivier. He was just recovering from prostate cancer. He had very thick glasses, as he could hardly see, and had arthritis that was so severe (that) when he stood up to put his coat on; he needed the help of his son Richard. It was very sad for me because I had seen Olivier play kings and do a magnificent job. I was really attentive to his entire career, and in his generation, he was the great actor who inspired and created dreams for other actors. So he was the man. Then I saw him in this state.

Then the night before the Oscars, I got a phone call at home. ‘Hello, Jon, this is Larry Olivier.’ I said to myself, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t know what to call him!’ It was Lord Olivier. I explained my real attentiveness to all his work and the kindness of his call, and he called to say how wonderful my performance was. Can you imagine? That was a big deal.

Now, I go the Oscars and I’m sitting there with the nerves of that event. I had a little something prepared to say if it came my way, and all of a sudden Cary Grant introduces the lifetime achievement award, and it’s going to Laurence Olivier. There I am, part of this focus of that evening and even the center of that focus in some way because the best actor award is one of the big ones. So Cary Grant comes on stage and introduces very beautifully, as he does in his charming style, his friend, Larry Olivier.

And Larry Olivier walks out on stage. And he has no glasses. And he’s standing erect. And he gives a speech that is prepared, like a piece of poetry: A brilliant, beautiful speech of gratitude to the Academy, and to the business and to the art of filmmaking and his career. It was like watching a great sports moment. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my God!’ He’s like a tightrope walker. I know the guy can’t move his arms. I know he can’t see. I know he’s in a debilitated state, but look what he’s doing. As I’m watching him, the people who are running the show saw my response immediately. I was very moved by him. And then as he started doing his speech, I was overwhelmed because no one comes that prepared in some sense. He was showing us not only through his career, but through his appearance, how to handle that moment in the spotlight. They cut from his speech to my response, back and forth. Finally, when he finished, I went ‘Phew!’ It was like watching an impossible act happen, and when he concluded with such a gracious speech, finishing with a perfect manner and words, it was ‘Bravo!’ for all that it meant.

When they finally announced my name, the first thing I said graciously and profoundly is that I was overwhelmed by listening to that great man speak. Sometimes, when they replay my Oscar acceptance, they play back that moment when I’m moved by Olivier as though it was my response to getting the Oscar. But it wasn’t. My response to getting the Oscar was to put my head down and say, ‘OK.’ I took a real long pause and made my way to the stage eventually. I didn’t have that kind of emotion coming off the announcement of my name. It was quite a stirring moment.

My real focus was on Olivier. It took away from me a little bit, so I was a little bit more comfortable, and it put my award in perspective in some fashion. It was a great thing to see the great man in that moment and to know all the things that I knew about him. I wasn’t so moved by receiving the Oscar. I was moved by it, but the emotion of that evening was invested in watching Olivier take the stage.”—As told to Anthony D’Alessandro

Moments In Oscar History, Part 2: Actors & Actresses

In honor of the 85th Academy Awards, AwardsLine is spotlighting memorable moments and winners from the last eight decades. This is Part 2: Actors & Actresses. Part 3 will be The Directors.

Sidney Poitier (actor), Sidney Skolsky1963 (36th)Sidney Poitier, 1964: Academy Award winner Jack Lemmon hosted the 36th Academy Awards, which took place April 13, 1964, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Though the Academy still rarely awards comedies, best picture and director honors went to Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones. Hud claimed two of the acting trophies, for lead actress Patricia Neal and supporting actor Melvyn Douglas, while Sidney Poitier was best actor for Lilies of the Field and Margaret Rutherford was supporting actress for The V.I.P.s. Among the acting winners, only Poitier was on hand to accept his statuette at the ceremony.

“Because it is a long journey to this moment, I am naturally indebted to countless numbers of people, principally among whom are Ralph Nelson, James Poe, William Barrett, Martin Baum, and of course, the members of the Academy. For all of them, all I can say is a very special thank you.”—Sidney Poitier accepting his first Oscar for Lilies of the Field. He won a second honorary Oscar in 2001.

Barbra StreisandBarbra Streisand, 1969: The 41st Academy Awards took place April 14, 1969, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with a group of 10 hosts that included Ingrid Bergman, Sidney Poitier, and Burt Lancaster. The best picture Oscar went to Oliver!, and its director Carol Reed also took home a statuette. Cliff Robertson won the lead actor trophy for Charly, but the actress category was a tie—the second in Oscar history—between Katharine Hepburn for Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl. It was the first Oscar for Streisand, and Hepburn’s third— director Anthony Harvey accepted for Hepburn, who was not in attendance.

“Hello, gorgeous. And I’m very honored to be in such magnificent company as Katharine Hepburn. And gee whiz, it’s kind of a wild feeling… Somebody once asked me if I was happy. And I said, ‘Are you kidding? I would be miserable if I was happy.’ And I’d like to thank all the members of the Academy for making me really miserable. Thank you.”—Barbra Streisand accepting her first lead actress Oscar for Funny Girl. She earned her second in 1976 for writing “Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star Is Born)” with Paul Williams.

Tatum O'Neal (supporting) - 1973 (46th)Tatum O’Neal, 1974: The 46th Academy Awards took place at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on April 2, 1974, and was hosted by John Huston, Diana Ross, Burt Reynolds, and David Niven. Not only did three-time winner Katharine Hepburn make her very first appearance at the ceremony, but a first-timer, Tatum O’Neal, became the youngest Oscar winner in history that evening. Ten-year-old O’Neal earned a supporting actress trophy for playing opposite her father, Ryan, in Paper Moon. Her costar Madeline Kahn was nominated in the same category, along with another young star Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Candy Clark (American Graffiti), and Sylvia Sidney (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams). Jack Lemmon earned a lead actor Oscar for Save the Tiger, and Glenda Jackson was best actress for A Touch of Class. The picture and director trophies went to George Roy Hill’s The Sting. It was also the year of the infamous streaker…

“All I really want to thank is my director Peter Bogdanovich and my father. Thank you.”—Tatum O’Neal, whose grandfather accompanied her to the stage, accepting her first Oscar for her supporting role in Paper Moon.

Tom Hanks (actor) - 1993 (66th)Tom Hanks, 1994: The 66th Academy Awards took place March 21, 1994, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and was hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, the first African-American to host an Oscar telecast alone. All four of the year’s acting trophies went to first-timers, too. Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin earned lead and supporting actress honors for The Piano, while Tommy Lee Jones won supporting actor for The Fugitive. But the most moving speech of the night came from Tom Hanks, who won best actor for playing a man with AIDS in Philadelphia. Not only did he pay touching tribute to his wife and costars in the speech, he thanked a teacher and classmate who inspired him in the role. Steven Spielberg won his first directing trophy for Schindler’s List, which also gave him a second Oscar that night when it also took home best picture.

“I would not be standing here if it weren’t for two very important men in my life: Mr. Rawley Farnsworth—who was my high-school drama teacher, who taught me to act well the part, there all the glory lies—and one of my classmates under Mr. Farnsworth, Mr. John Gilkerson. I mention their names because they are two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age. I wish my babies could have the same sort of teacher, the same sort of friends.

“And there lies my dilemma here tonight. I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight. They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious creator of us all—a healing embrace that cools their fevers, that clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident, common-sense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent creator of us all and was written down on paper by wise men, tolerant men, in the city of Philadelphia 200 years ago. God bless you all. God have mercy on us all. And God bless America.”—Tom Hanks accepting his first best actor Oscar for Philadelphia. He won his second Oscar the following year for Forrest Gump.

Jessica Tandy (actress) - 1989 (62nd)Jessica Tandy, 1999: First-time Oscar emcee Billy Crystal hosted the 62nd Academy Awards, which took place March 26, 1990, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. And when the independent feature Driving Miss Daisy took home best picture without a directing nomination for Bruce Beresford, the Oscar-prognosticating rulebooks were forever altered. The film won a total of four trophies that night, including best actress for Jessica Tandy. Daniel Day-Lewis took home best actor for My Left Foot, and directing honors went to Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July. Supporting honors went to Brenda Fricker for My Left Foot and Denzel Washington for Glory.

“I never expected in a million years that I would ever be in this position. It’s a miracle. And I thank my lucky stars and Richard and Lili Zanuck, who had the faith to give me this wonderful chance. And also, most especially, to that forgotten man, my director Bruce Beresford. The cast that was with me, which made a wonderful, happy family. It was a pleasure to go to work with them all each day. And to Sam Cohn, who takes such good care of me. Thank you, the Academy, and all of you. I am on cloud nine!”—Jessica Tandy in accepting her first and only best actress Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy.