Worst Best Actor Acceptance Speech in Hollywood History

It’s standard form for Oscar winners to thank their colleagues, and also those to whom they owe everything — a mother, teacher, friend or wife who offered help or inspiration at exactly the right moment and in just the right way.  And perhaps briefly reflect upon their their career journey or whatever combination of fate, luck or happenstance may have contributed to this.  And  it never hurts to apply a drop or two of emotion. Keep it real, of course, but give that shit up. 

By the measure of these criteria,  Humphrey Bogart blew it when he won a Best Actor Oscar for his African Queen performance in the spring of 1952.

The 52 year-old Bogart had been a star for a little more than a decade, having broken through at age 41 (at which point actors are almost never waiting for lightning to strike) as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (’41), and had received his big Hollywood break only 15 years earlier when Leslie Howard insisted that reluctant producers of The Petrified Forest (’36) cast him as Duke Mantee. By any measure Bogart had just barely made it into the club, and by the skin of his teeth.

And yet when the big moment arrived Bogart, obviously unprepared and nervous and interested in exiting the stage as quickly as possible, could only thank Queen director John Huston and costar Katharine Hepburn and rather curtly at that, and mention that accepting the Oscar was more pleasant than shooting The African Queen in the “Belgian” Congo.

No thanks to Howard (who had died in ’43 when his plane was shot down by the Germans), no mention of how dicey Bogart’s life might have been if fate hadn’t intervened, no thanks to wife Lauren Bacall (who was there all through the African shoot as a cook, nurse and clothes washer, and about whom Bogart later said “I don’t know what we’d have done without her…she luxed my undies in darkest Africa”), and no musing about how short anyone’s life can be (Bogart would be dead from lung cancer less than five years hence) and how glorious it is when things somehow work out despite the odds.

No feeling, no humility, no eloquence — just a rote “thanks” or two and lemme outta here. On top of which he didn’t wear his rug. Every would-be Oscar winner should study this acceptance speech to remind themselves what not to say or do.

  • brenkilco

    Not quite as perfunctory as the acceptance speech by Alfred Hitchcock on receiving his honorary Oscar. He said simply thank you and walked off. This has been interpreted as a polite fuck you to the academy who had failed ever to grant him a competitive Oscar while numerous lesser lights- which would include pretty much everybody- had been rewarded.

    • Bob Strauss

      The truly talented ones know how much the Oscars suck.

    • Jeff

      What’s weird is the Hitchcock thing would never happen now, the campaigning and they are “due” would have kicked in. If Cruise ever tries again he’ll win, ditto Fincher or even someone like Malick who the Academy would love to hand a DGA award and a Best Director statue.

  • Zach

    Wrong. Unless you’re going to say something that will ruffle feathers, all speeches should be this brusque. The most boring part of the show, hands down. Crew, co-stars, family, God, tears, music, blah blah blah blah blah.

  • otto

    What jumps out at me is the haughty, faux-elitist accent of the actress that introduced him. What exactly is that? It’s like like Ms. Hathaway of the Beverly Hillbillies. When did that become a thing?

  • Dave Billet

    My all time favorite first Academy Award acceptance speech line.

    “Billy Crystal God I crap bigger than him” Jack Palance

    • z2knees

      Jack’s real acceptance speech lunacy far more preferable than Rylance’s faux acceptance speech lunacy.

  • bentrane

    Well, it really was the Belgian Congo back then. Why the quote marks?

    • Because European colonialism is more or less over in Africa, and because it sounds quaint and dated.

      • bentrane

        So from now on East Germany is just Germany? Are you into rewriting history these days?

        • Charles Peligro

          You may call it Germany but it’ll always be Prussia to me.

      • Bob Strauss

        But it was the Belgian Congo when they shot African Queen. Would you prefer “the former Zaire”?

  • TheRealBadHatHarry

    Between the Bogie approach and the Anne Hathaway, God grant me Bogie, every time.

  • Jeff

    Ironically a quote from Bogart about the Oscars is one whose idea I always remember best, paraphrasing but:

    They should just have all five of perform Hamlet and whoever is the best wins.

  • azmoviegoer

    I see your Humphrey Bogart and I raise you a Joe Pesci.

    • z2knees

      Genuine, it seemed.

      • azmoviegoer

        Agreed. In using Joe Pesci I was referring to the fact that he thanked no one specific and showed little or no emotion-the two things Jeff complained were lacking with HB’s speech.

  • Joe.Leydon

    Consider: Matt Damon has been a movie star longer than Humphrey Bogart was a movie star.

    • brenkilco

      So has Adam Sandler.

  • Kristopher Tapley

    Maybe he knew Brando was supposed to be up there.

    • Good point.

    • austin888

      Immediately came to my mind as well. Probably expected the young, virile, and dynamite realistic portrayal of Brando to blow him away. On the other hand, Bogart was brilliant in Treasure of the Sierra Madre and should have won then, but didn’t. The Oscars are always a kind of shell game, often rigged.

      • Mr Sheldrake

        Even more than the fact that Bogart didn’t win for “Treasure”, the fucker wasn’t even nominated. Talk about a miscarry of justice!

    • Jeff

      They all (the old movie stars) kind of knew right? Didn’t Grant famously say he felt like his style of acting left with Brando and the method.

      • filmklassik

        Brando was an extraordinary actor whose influence on the craft cannot be overstated but the question is, would he have done a better job than Grant did in NORTH BY NORTHWEST or CHARADE? (It would have been easy enough to rewrite either or both parts to accommodate him)

        My point, of course, is that this notion that Brando’s highly interior, Method-style of acting is automatically “better” than Grant’s old-school presentational style is just silly.

        Either style can be effective, depending on the actor, and the role.

        • cinefan35

          That’s my general feeling about Method acting as well. Olivier’s approach of working from the outside in to access his characters is just as valid and legitimate an acting approach as Brando’s beginning with the interior and working outwards.

  • Aaron B

    That was a hell of a lineup that year.

  • filmklassik

    Where was it that Matthew McConaughey went on and on about how, after much deliberation, he decided that *he* was his own personal hero and favorite role model? Was that at the Oscars or the Golden Globes?

    And didn’t he in the same speech also neglect to mention his wife, or am I misremembering?

    Very good actor but in life he comes across as a bit of a jackass.

  • Grampappy Amos

    He was ill prepared because he thought (and knew) Brando should have gotten it.

    • Mr Sheldrake

      Everyone is so sure it was Brando’s Oscar that Bogie took home that night {and he gave a great perf, no doubt}, but Montgomery Clift was just as compelling in {maybe} his best screen perf in A Place in the Sun. The biggest crime was that Sun didn’t get best pic.

      • Kat