Each year, the Academy Awards ceremony is remembered not so much for those who walk away with Oscars during the three-hours-plus telecast but instead for the unexpected gaffes, controversies and spectacles that inevitably arise when thousands of show business types gather in one place. Why should this year be any different?
8:45 p.m.: Outside the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium, the crowd is stunned by the unexpected arrival of Native American Sacheen Littlefeather, marking her first return to the ceremony since 1973, when she turned down the Best Actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, who objected to the way American Indians are depicted by Hollywood filmmakers. At the entrance to the Shrine, reporters for the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com and American Film magazine are elbowed aside by E! Entertainment Television correspondent Joan Rivers, who asks Ms. Littlefeather: "Who designed your moccasins?"
9:01 p.m.: Host Steve Martin commences his opening monologue. Backstage, producer Gil Cates announces that the program is already running long and decides to cut Debbie Allen's planned choreographed tribute to the films of the late Werner Klemperer.
9:17 p.m.: The first Oscar is awarded to Benicio Del Toro for his supporting role in Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic." Del Toro thanks the audience, returns to his dressing room and, not much of an awards enthusiast, puts the statuette up for sale on eBay. Within seconds, a winning bid is placed by actress Marisa Tomei, who triumphantly tells the gathered media, "See, I told you I could get another one. . . ."
9:31 p.m.: After presenting the Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing, 1999 Best Actor-winner Roberto Benigni ("Life Is Beautiful") leaves the stage by pole-vaulting over the audience into the mezzanine, inadvertently leaving unsightly scuff marks on the white-maned head of Motion Picture Assn. of America President Jack Valenti. The Italian Embassy immediately issues an apology.
9:44 p.m.: Members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals begin picketing outside the Shrine to protest the "recklessly inaccurate number of black spots" adorning the canines in Disney's "102 Dalmatians." Also objectionable to PETA: the photographing of real dolphins for the Oscar-nominated documentary "Dolphins" and the "deliberate use" of two animal names--one real, one mythical--in the film title "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
10:00 p.m.: Precisely one hour into the program, comedian Billy Crystal gallops onto the Shrine stage atop a white horse. Informed that he is not, in fact, hosting this year's ceremony, Crystal returns home in a huff to resume work on his screenplay for "City Slickers, Part III." He is joined there by pal Robin Williams, who continues to boycott the Academy for its snub of his performance in the 1998 cancer-ward comedy "Patch Adams."
10:28 p.m.: Oscar-nominee Steve Kloves, who wrote the screenplay for the $35-million sleeper "Wonder Boys," is arrested for vagrancy outside the Shrine, where he is attempting to scalp his complimentary ticket for the price of a hot meal.
11:04 p.m.: The presentation of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award to producer Dino De Laurentiis is momentarily interrupted by a female streaker, hoping to re-create the infamous nude dash by a 33-year-old Californian at the 1974 ceremony. The young woman, however, goes largely unnoticed by audience members, who assume she is actress Jennifer Lopez wearing her latest Versace number.
11:46 p.m.: To the surprise of many, dashing Australian screen star Russell Crowe wins the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Ridley Scott's "Gladiator." In keeping with recent Oscar tradition, Crowe is in the ladies powder room when his name is called.
11:55 p.m.: In a stunning upset, the Best Picture Oscar is presented to Lasse Hallstrom's romantic comedy "Chocolat." Accepting the award, Miramax Films founder Harvey Weinstein borrows from Oscar acceptance speeches of the past, embracing his statuette and tearfully announcing to the crowd, "You like me! You really like me!" Without pause, the audience responds, en masse: "No, Harvey, we really don't."