Oscar Speeches: Hoffman, Dustin–Kramer Vs. Kramer

Dustin Hoffman attended the Oscar ceremonies when he was nominated for “The Graduate,” in 1967, but he claimed to have been uncomfortable about it. “I hope to God I don’t win an Oscar,” he said at the time. “It would depress me if I did. I really don’t deserve it.”

Hoffman received a second Best Actor nomination in 1969, for “Midnight Cowboy” (along with co-star Jon Voight), but the winner was John Wayne, a sentimental choice, for the old-fashioned Western “True Grit.”

In 1974, Hoffman received his third nomination, for playing Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse’s biopic, “Lenny.” In a taped interview, which aired on CBS a few hours before the Oscar show, Hoffman voiced his contempt for the award, calling the Oscar “ugly and grotesque.” Frank Sinatra, one of the Oscar show’s emcees, scolded him publicly for these remarks. For his part, Hoffman made a point not to show up at the awards presentations for his next two nominations.

Hoffman created another uproar, when he questioned the validity of awards at the 1980 Golden Globe ceremonies. “I think that awards are very silly,” Hoffman said, accepting an acting award for “Kramer vs. Kramer.” “They put very talented and good people against each other and they hurt the hell out of the ones that lose. And I think they relieve us that win.”

Addressing his fellow-nominees, Hoffman asserted “awards make more sense when they are given for a life achievement to a man like Mr. Fonda (recipient of the Globes Cecil B. DeMille Career Achievement Award), and particularly to a man like Mr. Lemmon, who recently gave one of the great performances of his life in “The China Syndrome.”

Hoffman’s criticism was similar to George C. Scott’s, deploring the demeaning effects of the Oscar race on the nominees. Both thespians protested the fact that actors felt obliged to enter into a competition with each other that has nothing to do with acting. They also resented the idea that actors have increasingly become award conscious.

However, unlike Scott, Hoffman didn’t refuse the Oscar award, though he repeated his criticism in his Oscar speech, expressing resentment over the Academy’s spotlit competition among fellow artists. He said: “I refuse to believe that I am better than Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, and Peter Sellers, and I refuse to believe that Robert Duvall lost. We are part of an artistic family and I am proud to share this award.”

There is no doubt that Hoffman meant what he said, and there is no doubt that he expressed the opinions of many other artists. Yet it is doubtful that this kind of criticism will change the Oscar’s operations or effects. The excitement over the Oscar depends and even thrives on individual competitiveness in all its nasty and cruel manifestations.