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WATCH: Marlon Brando NOT accepting an Oscar for The Godfather

There was booing. There was cheering.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

DID YOU KNOW the man who made offers others couldn’t refuse once refused the movie industry’s heftiest honour?

On 5 March 1973, Marlon Brando declined the Academy Award for Best Actor for his gut-wrenching performance as Vito Corleone in The Godfather – for a very unexpected reason.

On the 41st anniversary of the extraordinary event, Business Insider takes a look back at the exactly what happened.

The movie that brought Brando back

In the 1960s, Brando’s career had slid into decline. His previous two movies  — the famously over-budget One-Eyed Jacks and Mutiny on the Bounty — tanked at the box office. Critics said Mutiny marked the end of Hollywood’s golden age, and worse still, rumours of Brando’s unruly behaviour on set turned him into one of the least desirable actors to work with.

Brando’s career needed saving. And The Godfather was his defibrillator.

In the epic portrayal of a 1940s New York Mafia family, Brando played the patriarch, the original Don.

Though the film follows his son Michael (played by Al Pacino), Vito Corleone is its spine. A ruthless, violent criminal, he loves and protects the family by any means necessary. It’s the warmth of his humanity that makes him indestructible — a paradox shaped by Brando’s remarkable performance.

The Godfather grossed nearly $135 million nationwide and is heralded as one of the greatest films of all time. Pinned against pinnacles of the silver screen — Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole — Brando was favourite to win Best Actor in 1973.

Drama at the awards show

On the eve of the 45th Academy Awards, Brando announced that he would boycott the ceremony and send Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. A little-known actress, she was then-president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee.

On the evening of 5 March, when Liv Ullman and Roger Moore read out the name of the Best Actor award recipient, neither presenter parted their lips in a smile. Their gaze fell on a woman in Apache dress, whose long, dark hair bobbed against her shoulders as she climbed the stairs.

Moore extended the award to Littlefeather, who waved it away with an open palm.


She set a letter down on the podium, introduced herself, and said:

“I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you … that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry…”

The crowd booed.

Littlefeather looked down and said “excuse me”.

Others in the audience began to clap, cheering her on. She continued,  only briefly, to “beg” that her appearance was not an intrusion and that they will “meet with love and generosity” in the future.

Watch the spectacular scene unfold:

(YouTube: Oscars)

Read: Angelina Jolie and Bill Murray announced among this year’s Oscar presenters

Related: The Oscar nomination letter that shows you should never worry about failure

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