Yesterday, we posted an Oscar story from Eddie Deezen titled The Cruelest Oscar Award Presentation of All-Time. While rounding up photos for the article, I came across another moment from that very same awards ceremony that could be in the running for the cruelest. However, we don’t know that it was intentional, so let’s go with the “most embarrassing.”
When the 6th Academy Awards were presented on March 16, 1934, it had been 17 months since the previous Oscar ceremony, so movies from both the second half of 1932 and the entire year of 1933 were in contention. This was done to standardize the eligibility period to the calendar year. The big winner of the year was the movie Cavalcade, which won the Best Picture Oscar -even though most of the eight other nominated films are considered to be better movies 80 years later.
The ceremony was held during a banquet at the Fiesta Room at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Director Frank Capra, whose film Lady for a Day was nominated for four Oscars, reserved tables for 16 people, although three of them bowed out before the ceremony.
The nominees for Best Director were George Cukor for Little Women, Frank Capra for Lady for a Day, and Frank Lloyd for Cavalcade. When Rogers opened the envelope to announce the winner, he said,
“Well, well, well, what do you know. I’ve watched this young man for a long time. Saw him come up from the bottom, and I mean the bottom. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Come up and get it, Frank!”
Frank Capra jumped up from his seat and headed toward the stage to accept the award. However, the spotlight went around the room and landed on Frank Lloyd, who was the actual winner.
Will Rogers and Frank Lloyd.
By some accounts, Will Rogers tried to cover his gaffe and Capra’s embarrassment by calling George Cukor to join the other two directors onstage. Others say that Capra returned to his seat, humiliated, as soon as he realized that Lloyd was the winner. In his autobiography, Capra said,
That walk back -through applauding V.I.P.’s yelling “Sit down! Down in front! Sit down!” as I obstructed their view- was the longest, saddest, most shattering walk in my life. I wish I could have crawled under the rug like a miserable worm. When I slumped into my chair I felt like one. All my friends at the table were crying.
Lady for a Day ended up winning none of the four Oscars it was nominated for. Capra vowed that if he ever won an Academy Award, he wouldn’t show up to claim it.
Capra didn’t keep that vow, however. The very next year, he won an Oscar as Best Director for the film It Happened One Night (1934). He would add two more before the decade was over, for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and You Can’t Take It with You (1938).
Frank Capra with his Oscar for It Happened One Night.
Frank Lloyd won his second and final Oscar that night, although he was nominated for Mutiny on the Bounty in 1935.
George Cukor was nominated for Best Director a total of five times, finally winning the Oscar in 1965 for My Fair Lady (1964).
Will Rogers died, along with pilot Wiley Post, in an airplane crash in 1935.