Oscar Gaffe Brings Back Memories of SF Award Blunders

Bonnie & Clyde’s 50th anniversary moment at the Oscars was overshadowed when Best Picture presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land instead of Moonlight, the correct winner.

Beatty told the audience that they had read the wrong envelope, saying that he saw that Emma Stone won for La La Land, who was actually the winner for best actress. Dunaway had read the winner before Beatty could stop her.

“I opened the envelope and it said ‘Emma Stone, La La Land.’ That’s why I took such a long look at Faye, and at you. I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Beatty assured everyone, after admitting to the mistake and explaining that they had the wrong envelope

Fans immediately took to Facebook telling their friends it reminded them of the big mistake made during the Hugo ceremonies at Magicon in 1992.

As I wrote in my Worldcon report:

…The committee showed slides of the nominees’ names on the auditorium screen intended to be synchronized with Spider Robinson’s reading. But Spider appeared completely unrehearsed in this. After cycling through the Best Fanartist images twice while Robinson stood by obviously confused, Marty Gear as the “voice from above” had to explain the concept. It was an omen….

The ceremonies derailed when Spider ripped open an envelope and read that Lan’s Lantern won the Best Fanzine Hugo. While Robinson was placing the trophy in George Laskowski’s hands, on the screen behind him flashed a slide that the winner was Mimosa, edited by Dick and Nicki Lynch. Beside me, Janice Gelb cringed just like at Raiders of the Lost Ark when I warned her the face-melting scene was coming. Laskowski briefly said, “Thank you,” and got offstage because he’d seen Mimosa on the award plaque, too.

As [convention chair] Joe Siclari and others excused themselves from the audience and headed backstage to investigate, several more Hugos were given. Locus won Best Semiprozine. Michael Whelan accepted the Best Professional Artist Hugo, confessing “With so many artists in the field doing so much excellent work I feel like a thief taking this award. Nevertheless I accept it.” Gardner Dozois received another Best Professional Editor Hugo.

Now, a shaken Spider Robinson revealed that Mimosa was the correct Hugo-winning fanzine and was joined by Laskowski to turn over the trophy to Dick and Nicki Lynch. The mistake was reminiscent of the year Asimov accidentally announced Gene Wolfe’s “Island of Dr. Death” had won the Nebula, disbelieving that No Award (the correct result) had finished first and naming instead the second item listed. The only remotely comparable mistake at any other Hugo ceremonies happened in 1985 when the slide operator (of course) flashed that John Varley’s short story won before the emcee even announced the nominees. Laskowski has won two Hugos in the past — and showed extreme grace in surrendering Magicon’s Hugo to the Lynches.

Not that the comedy of errors was over. Completely in shock, Dick Lynch reached the stage alone and gazed at the shadowy auditorium doors hoping to see his wife, Nicki, who had made a quick trip out of the room after the fanzine Hugo had been given. “I wish my wife could be here. What do I do?” Dick seemed even more lost without his spouse than did Samantha Jeude [when she received the Big Heart Award], which permanently endeared him to women who commented about it later.

Another couple of Hugos were given. A representative of James Cameron’s company accepted the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo on behalf of Terminator 2. Michael Whelan claimed another Hugo in the Best Original Artwork category for the cover of Joan Vinge’s The Summer Queen.

When Spider Robinson paused to find his place our claque of fanzine fans sitting in the VIP seats noticed Nicki Lynch was back. “Bring back Nicki Lynch!” shouted Moshe Feder, and Janice Gelb. Some stood up to yell. My God, even Andy Porter stood up and shouted through cupped hands, “Bring up Nicki Lynch!” It was like a Bud Greenspan documentary, like the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. Spider agreed, “That’s an excellent idea,” and both editors of Mimosa finally had their proper moment together at the Hugo Awards.

When the Best Nonfiction Book Hugo went to The World of Charles Addams Spider tried to recover his humorous stride. “The award will be accepted by ‘Hand’….”  Yelled the audience, “That’s ‘Thing’!”

…People surged out of the awards looking for Laskowski, the Lynches and Spider, to console, congratulate or cross-examine. Robinson spent the evening wearing the erroneous card, listing Lan’s Lantern, around his neck on a string to prove it wasn’t his fault. Reportedly, calligraphers had specially prepared cards with every nominee’s name and title. They were told to do all of them, since the actual winners were a secret — and somehow the wrong card got included in the award-winner envelopes delivered to Spider.

The 1992 drama reminded everyone of what happened to Gene Wolfe at the 1971 Nebulas because it was a well-known story, having been retold by Harlan Ellison in Again, Dangerous Visions. A few years ago I pulled together people’s accounts of that night

However, nothing can rival Isaac Asimov’s ghastly mistake at the 1971 Nebula Awards ceremony. Nor has any other gaffe worked out better for the injured party in the long run.

On Saturday, April 3, 1971 the leading science fiction professionals were seated around banquet tables in New York’s Les Champs Restaurant watching Asimov hand out the Nebulas.

Asimov had been pressed into service at the last minute. While that was not a problem for anyone who loved an audience as much as the Good Doctor, it meant that he had little time to study the handwritten list of results. In those days the emcee was not only given the names of the winners, but the names of the runners-up, which he also announced.

When Asimov came to the Short Story category his eyes slipped over “No Award” and he read the first real name on the list — which was Gene Wolfe, author of “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories.”

As Wolfe stood up a SFWA officer promptly whispered a correction to Asimov. Asimov went pale and announced he’d made an error. There was “No Award” in the Short Story category. Wolfe sat back down.

Eyewitness Harlan Ellison (writing in Again Dangerous Visions) says everyone felt awful –

Around him everyone felt the rollercoaster nausea of stomachs dropping out of backsides. Had it been me, I would have fainted or screamed or punched Norbert Slepyan of Scribner’s, who was sitting next to me. Gene Wolfe just smiled faintly and tried to make us all feel at ease by a shrug and a gentle nod of his head.

Fortunately, the mistake was eventually redeemed. As the author explained:

A month or so after the banquet I was talking to Joe Hensley, and he joked that I should write “The Death of Doctor Island,” saying that everyone felt so sorry for me that it was sure to win. I thought about that when I got home and decided to try, turning things inside out to achieve a different story.

He did, and his novella “The Death of Doctor Island” won a Nebula in 1974.

While, while we now know how Asimov made his mistake, we probably don’t have the full and complete explanation for the Oscar mixup because Beatty’s on-camera explanation is being disputed.

Backstage, Stone claimed she had the card that announced her as best actress win “the entire time.”

“I don’t mean to start stuff,” she said. “But whatever story that was … I had that card. I’m not sure what happened.”

13 thoughts on “Oscar Gaffe Brings Back Memories of SF Award Blunders

  1. Price Waterhouse apparently prepared 2 Best Actress envelopes instead of 1 Best Actress and 1 Best Picture. You can see in the screenshot that Beatty is holding an envelope which reads “Actress in a Leading Role”.

    I’m pretty sure that someone is going to be sending out resumes tomorrow.

  2. What seems to have happened is this:

    The presenters were coming on from both stage left and stage right.

    In order not to have a situation where the presenter was on one side and the envelope on the other, two sets of envelopes were prepared.

    The Best Picture presenters came on from the opposite side from the Best Actress and the envelope person gave them the spare Best Actress envelope instead of the Best Picture envelope.

    Lesson for all awards: Write the name of the award on the outside of the envelope, then someone can spot that it’s the wrong envelope!

  3. Enjoyed reading about the memories. Worldcon seems to have had more fun with its mistakes than last night…

  4. There have been other mistakes made by the Hugos and the Nebulas during the nominations process, such as a few years ago when Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was originally announced as a nominee and was removed because of a tabulation error, replaced by Pan’s Labyrinth (which eventually won).

    And, of course, this year’s Nebula ballot originally had Cat Rambo’s short story erroneously placed in the Novelette category

  5. Chuck Tingle has already managed to write Pounded By The Sentient Manifestation Of My Incorrectly Announced Best Picture Winner

    That might be a record even for him.

  6. PhilRM: Really? The Island of Doctor Death lost to No Award?

    It was a tougher audience back then. Plus, they had to walk 20 miles through the snow — uphill in both directions! — to get to the Nebula banquet.

  7. @Richard Gadsden: Look at the screen capture JJ linked to. The name of the award was written on the outside of the envelope! Seems like that didn’t help.

  8. Robert Whitaker Sirignano: I can’t speak to what Reeve thought; I was backstage for the Masquerade, but not the Hugos. But when he came out, he practically apologized for picking up the award — a real example of grace under pressure.

  9. The “No Award beats Gene Wolfe” situation apparently happened because the Old Guard wanted to punish the New Wave/Orbit writers, who they thought were dominating the awards, so they block-voted No Award.

    The Oscar situation has, as I see it, two culprits: the PriceWaterhouseCooper accountant who handed Beatty the wrong envelope, and the backstage person who was supposed to double-check every envelope before the presenter got on stage to make sure they had the right one.

    The Oscars had anticipated this problem, put a step in place to make sure it didn’t happen, and it happened anyway.

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