For most industry professionals in the world of filmmaking, there is no higher honour than an Academy Award. Affirming your work on any given film with an artistic seal of approval, the Oscars is an annual celebration of the greatest films of the last 12 months, where directors, actors, screenwriters, special effects experts, sound designers and many more receive the necessary plaudits.
But, there are some people who’d rather receive nothing than get their mitts around an Oscar statuette, with three individuals over the years turning down their win for a variety of reasons. The actor to do so was the American star George C. Scott who refused his Academy Award for ‘Best Leading Actor’ after his work in the seminal war flick Patton, released in 1971 by director Franklin J. Schaffner.
Scott had warned the Academy before the event that he would turn down the award if he were to win, believing that dramatic performances were totally unique and couldn’t be compared. The actor even wrote a letter to the Academy, which read: “The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don’t want any part of it”.
Only two years later, the influential Hollywood icon Marlon Brando would also turn down an Oscar for his starring ‘Best Actor’ role in the Francis Ford Coppola classic, The Godfather. Despite shining alongside Al Pacino and Diane Keaton in the seminal crime flick, Brando refused the award due to the “treatment of Native Americans today by the film industry”, famously sending the Native American Californian actress Sacheen Littlefeather to collect the Oscar in his place.
Clarifying Brando’s decision, she stated that Brando was absent due to the poor “treatment of American Indians today by the film industry…and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee”. Jeers drowned out her words, an act which the Academy apologised for decades later, penning: “The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration”.
Yet, long before Scott and Brando decided against receiving their due praise in the form of an Oscar statuette, a screenwriter named Dudley Nichols became the first to ever turn down an award.
Due to receive the Oscar for ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ for his part in bringing the 1935 John Ford film The Informer to life, Nichols decided against it due to a dispute between the Screen Writers Guild, of which he was one of many founders, and the Academy over union matters. Despite this, Nichols eventually caved in and accepted the award three years later, with the movie winning four Oscars overall, as well as a nomination for ‘Best Picture’.
Nichols was a longtime collaborator of Ford’s, working with the acclaimed filmmaker on such movies as 1939’s Stagecoach and 1934’s Judge Priest, but the writer also enjoyed a number of celebrated partnerships with Howard Hawks, working together on the iconic comedy flick Bringing Up Baby with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.