(NEXSTAR) – The Academy Award is generally regarded as one of the highest honors that an actor can receive — the key word being “generally.”
Over the years, plenty of nominees have failed to show up for the ceremony and, in some cases, publicly boycotted the show. In the history of the Oscars, however, there have only been three people who refused their awards: actors George C. Scott and Marlon Brando, and screenwriter Dudley Nichols.
George C. Scott
Scott, whose performance in 1970’s “Patton” earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in 1971, had announced ahead of the ceremony that he would not be attending. He reportedly told the press that he viewed the awards show as “a two-hour meat parade,” calling it “barbaric and innately corrupt,” according to an obituary penned by Roger Ebert. (He was a bit more polite in a letter to the Academy, where he said he would “respectfully request” they remove his name from the nominees, Time magazine reported at the time.)
Scott ended up winning anyway, and the film’s producer, Frank McCarthy, accepted the award on his behalf. McCarthy returned it to the Academy the following day as Scott had requested, IMDb noted.
Scott has also been nominated three other times — for his roles in “Anatomy of Murder” (1959), “The Hustler” (1961) and “The Hospital” (1971). Of those, he had only attempted to withdraw his nomination for “The Hustler.”
Marlon Brando had actually won and accepted an Academy Award for “On the Waterfront” at the 1955 Oscars, but he wasn’t as eager to attend the 1973 ceremony, which was taking place amid the Wounded Knee Occupation in South Dakota. Instead, he sent an actress and activist named Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, along with a prepared speech in the event that he won for his performance in “The Godfather.”
Littlefeather took the stage when Brando’s name was called, but she refused to accept the Oscar statuette from presenter Roger Moore.
“I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech, which I cannot share with you presently because of time but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards, that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather said, in part. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry — excuse me — and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee,” she continued amid booing and applause from the audience.
Brando later told Dick Cavett he was “distressed” by the audience’s treatment of Littlefeather amid the speech but ultimately felt that it was “a marvelous opportunity” to bring the issue to light.
“I don’t think that people generally realize what the motion picture industry has done to the American Indian, and as a matter of fact, all ethnicities, all minorities, all non-whites,” he told Cavett.
It’s unclear exactly what happened to Brando’s rejected Oscar, but a report published at The Wrap suggests that Moore himself remembers taking it home after bringing it to a few post-Oscar parties. He eventually returned it to the Academy, where it was repurposed and given to Charlie Chaplin to replace a damaged award, so the story goes.
Brando had been nominated for a total of eight Academy Awards throughout his career, winning twice.
Scott and Brando might be the most notable celebrities to turn down their awards, but screenwriter Dudley Nichols was the first person to refuse an Oscar in 1936. Nichols won that year for his work on “The Informer,” but told the Academy that he couldn’t accept his award amid an ongoing feud between Hollywood’s studio heads and talent unions, in which the Academy had become caught up.
“As one of the founders of the Screen Writers’ Guild, which was conceived in revolt against the Academy, and born out of disappointment with the way it functioned against the employed talent in any emergency, I deeply regret I am unable to accept this award,” he wrote in a letter to the Academy, as reported by the Associated Press in 1936. “To accept it would be to turn my back on nearly 1,000 members of the Screen Writers’ Guild.”
Unlike Scott or Brando, however, Nichols relented and accepted the award years later, according to the American Film Institute. He collected the statuette at the 1938 ceremony and would go on to be nominated three more times for screenwriting.