Oscar Actors: Scott, George C. (Patton)

Dudley Nichols’s negation of the Oscar (for “The Informer” in 1935) was a minor incident compared with the controversy over George C. Scott’s rejection.

In 1971, upon notification of his nomination for “Patton,” Scott sent the Academy a telegram requesting that his name be withdrawn from the nominees. “I mean no offense to the Academy,” wrote Scott, “I simply do not wish to be involved.”

Scott had not denied his first (supporting) nomination for “Anatomy of Murder”; many believed he gave the year’s best performance, but the winner was Hugh Griffith for “Ben-Hur,” which swept most of the 1959 awards. Scott’s friends said it was important for him to win, but after witnessing the fierce campaigns for votes by his peers, Scott determined never again to have anything to do with the Oscar “meat parade.”

In 1962, Scott was nominated again for a Supporting Actor in “The Hustler.” This time, however, he asked the Academy to withdraw his name from the nominees. But his request was denied by Academy President Wendell Corey. “You were nominated by a vote of your fellow-actors,” Corey stated, “and the Academy can not remove your name from the list of the nominated performances. The Academy nominates and votes awards for achievements as they appear on the screen. Therefore, any one person responsible for achievement cannot decline the nomination after it is voted.”

Scott was told he could refuse the award, if he won. But Scott again lost, again undeservedly; the winner was George Chakiris in “West Side Story,” which, like “Ben-Hur,” received most of the Oscars.

Scott regarded Oscar politics as “offensive, barbarous, and innately corrupt,” a prize that encourages the public to think that awards are more important than the work itself. Thus, when he received his third nomination for Patton he declined it again: “Life isn’t a race, and because it is not a race, I don’t consider myself in competition with my fellow actors for awards or recognition.”

“I don’t give a damn about the Oscar,” Scott later told the New York Daily News, “I’m making too much money anyway.” Daniel Taradash, then Academy President, ignored Scott’s protests and made it clear that it was not Scott but his performance that was nominated. Taradash felt that to agree to Scott’s demand would be demeaning to his fellow artists. Many actors believe that this was one of the Academy’s finest hours, demonstrating that the vote was not personal but dispassionate and professional, “the kind of vote that could not have happened during the studio system.”

Scott’s attack on the film colony, thumbing his nose at the awards, had no damaging effects. He won for “Patton” and a year later was nominated for “The Hospital,” which has been interpreted as a positive sign of the Academy freeing itself from personal favoritism. Scott claimed he did not really mean to create a furor by his conduct.

Indeed, when the scandal grew to unprecedented proportions, he decided that if he would ever be nominated in the future, he would accept it. It was too much trouble not to accept.