To paraphrase Cybill Shepherd, “Who doesn’t want to win an Oscar?”
In her autobiography, the entertainer owned up to rumors about feeling slighted for having never won an Emmy while Bruce Willis, her “Moonlighting” co-star, and Christine Baranski, who was honored after the first season of “Cybill,” both snagged trophies despite playing second fiddle to her.
“The grain of truth in this controversy was that of course I was envious. Who doesn’t want to win an Emmy?”
Well, the same thing can be said by Shepherd — and thousands of other actors — when it comes to an Academy Award, and the lengths they’ll go to secure one.
Shameless Oscar promotion is nothing new, and while sometimes they work in the actor’s favor — congrats, Melissa Leo — most often they fall flatter than a pancake.
Here are just a few of the more memorably shameless Academy Award campaigns:
The 2003 Best Actor race came down to a two-horse race between Bill Murray for “Lost In Translation” and Sean Penn.
Moments after the winner’s name was announced — Penn for “Mystic River” — Murray appeared to be a wounded duck blindsided by a decoy. Murray was no surefire bet to win that year. Johnny Depp shocked everybody by winning the Screen Actors Guild Award for “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and Penn and Murray both took home Golden Globes, for Drama and Comedy, respectively.
“The one time I got a bunch of prizes, I just assumed I’d win them all. Because I’d been winning them all,” said Murray after his 2003 loss. “I really saw something in myself and I thought, ‘Oh, my god. I really did want that thing!’ Some part of me was disappointed that I got tricked into thinking it was important.”
In 1961, longtime character actor Chill Wills received his first-ever nomination at the age of 58 for a comedic role in “The Alamo.” And his public relations team went to immediate work trying to curry voters.
The campaign’s first ad read, “We of ‘The Alamo’ cast are praying harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at the Alamo — for Chill Wills to win the Oscar. cousin Chill’s acting was great, Signed, Your Alamo cousins.”
Even John Wayne, the film’s star and producer, was appalled by Wills’ grandstanding and refused an outright endorsement.
Groucho Marx, an Academy Award voter, memorably replied with an ad of his own: “Dear Mr. Chill Wills: I am delighted to be your cousin but I voted for Sal Mineo.”
Mineo, who at the time was the youngest two-time Oscar nominee for “Exodus,” was the favorite going into Oscar night. He had been nominated four years earlier at the age of 17 in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
In a surprise, neither Wills nor Mineo took home an Oscar that night, but rather Peter Ustinov for his comically nuanced role in “Spartacus.”
After nearly two decades of supporting roles, Sally Kirkland was finally nominated for Best Actress for 1987’s “Anna.” The story no doubt resonated with Kirkland as an aging actress whose career is passed over by her young protege, played by Paulina Porizkova.
Sensing her one shot of Academy Award glory, Kirkland spared no expense to self-finance a massive Oscar campaign. She pleaded with Joan Rivers and Andy Warhol to appear on their programs. She ran print ads using quotes by Norman Mailer and film critic Rex Reed extolling her performance and attended the L.A. Film Critics Circle Awards.
Kirkland was a surprise Golden Globe winner which further emboldened her campaign. But her Oscar competition was a murderer’s row of talent — Meryl Streep, Cher, Glenn Close and Holly Hunter. If ever there were a year to say it was truly an honor just to be nominated, 1987 was it.