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Oscar's Many Twist Endings

A look back at some of the more surprising winners in the academy's past.


One thing is certain about the Academy Awards: Nothing is certain. Although there are always front-runners, nearly every year there is a surprise winner. A dark horse candidate for best film ends up beating the favorite. A sentimental choice in an acting category is overshadowed by a younger talent or the critics' darling.

One of the funniest surprises occurred in March 1934 when Frank Capra was nominated for best director for "Lady for a Day" and Frank Lloyd for "Cavalcade." Humorist and actor Will Rogers was the presenter. Rogers chortled on in his folksy manner about his "good friend Frank," meaning Capra. Then after opening the envelope, he simply said, "Come and get it, Frank." Capra was halfway to the podium when he realized Frank Lloyd was actually the winner. Capra had to quietly return to his seat in what he later described as "the longest crawl in history."

With the Academy Awards only three days away--the telecast starts at 6 p.m. Sunday on ABC--here's a trip back in Oscar history to revisit some of the awards' greatest surprises:

Tie Games: Only twice in academy history have performers tied in the acting categories. Fredric March and Wallace Beery tied for best actor of 1931-32. (During the first year of the Oscars, the awards covered a two-year period.) Beery, though, actually received one less vote for his performance in "The Champ" than March did for "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." But the early bylaws stated that if any contender was within three votes of the winner on the final ballot, duplicate awards could be given out. The rules were later changed so that there had to be an actual tie for two Oscars to be awarded.

Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn did just that, tying for best actress of 1968. Streisand won for her first film, "Funny Girl," and Hepburn received her third Oscar for "The Lion in Winter."

The Write-In Quotient: There was doubt Claudette Colbert would win best actress of 1934 for "It Happened One Night." Academy members actually thought write-in candidates Bette Davis for "Of Human Bondage" and Myrna Loy for "The Thin Man" could actually be the evening's spoilers. (Write-ins weren't allowed after 1935.) However, the nominees on the official ballot prevailed. Colbert didn't think she had a chance of winning and was just about to board a train to New York when she was stopped by academy officials and whisked off to the Biltmore Hotel to pick up the Oscar. The Santa Fe train officials held the train for the actress.

The King Is Dethroned: The academy bestowed eight Oscars on 1939's "Gone With the Wind," and almost everyone thought the ninth Oscar would go to Clark Gable for his performance as Rhett Butler. But Hollywood's favorite leading man lost the statue to British actor Robert Donat for his touching performance as a schoolmaster in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," which, unlike "GWTW," was not a box-office hit.

"Mourning" Doesn't Become Rosalind: Rosalind Russell was considered the actress to beat in 1947 for her strong performance in the Eugene O'Neill tragedy "Mourning Becomes Electra." Veteran actress Loretta Young, however, was considered the darkest of horses for her role as a Swedish maid who runs for Congress in the comedy "The Farmer's Daughter." Upstart Young ended up taking home the Academy Award.

Stage Struck: Known primarily for their theater careers, Judy Holliday and Jose Ferrer ended up winning the 1950 Oscars for best actress and actor for roles they had performed on Broadway in, respectively, "Born Yesterday" and "Cyrano de Bergerac." Holliday beat such heavyweights as Anne Baxter and Bette Davis for "All About Eve," Gloria Swanson for "Sunset Boulevard," and Eleanor Parker for "Caged." Ferrer triumphed over the likes of such Hollywood stars as Spencer Tracy ("Father of the Bride"), William Holden ("Sunset Boulevard") and James Stewart ("Harvey").

Bogey, Brando and "Paris": Marlon Brando was considered the favorite for best actor of 1951 for his powerhouse performance as Stanley in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Although his co-stars Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter all took home Oscars, it was Humphrey Bogart's delightful performance in "The African Queen" that won.

Vincente Minnelli's charming musical "An American in Paris" also surprised the crowd when it won best film honors. Most bets were on either "Streetcar" or George Stevens' drama, "A Place in the Sun" to take home the gold.

Run of DeMille: Fred Zinnemann's landmark western "High Noon" and John Ford's glorious "The Quiet Man" were among the front-runners for the 1952 best film Oscar. But the dark horse candidate, Cecil B. DeMille's circus epic, "The Greatest Show on Earth," proved to be the evening's big winner--a choice that seems stranger and stranger as the years go on.

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