If I hadn't come across the following note from Audrey Hepburn to George Cukor, I never would have known about this interesting bit of Oscar trivia. Audrey wrote to Cukor after the 37th Academy Award Ceremony (which took place in April 1965), where Cukor was presented with the Oscar for Best Director for My Fair Lady (1964). In her letter, Audrey first talks about Cukor's Oscar and then continues to say that she just woke up from a small nightmare: "... the idea that I might have hurt Pat.... is agonizing."
So what happened?
Patricia Neal ("Pat") had won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Hud the year before, and as the Oscar tradition goes, the previous year's winner of the Best Actress Oscar presents the Oscar to the current year's Best Actor. However, Patricia had suffered three strokes earlier that year (at age 39 while pregnant) and at the time of the Oscar ceremony was still recovering at home. To present the Best Actor award, Audrey was asked to replace Patricia. So when the time came for Audrey to give out the award to her My Fair Lady co-star Rex Harrison, Patricia, who was watching the Oscar ceremony on television with then-husband Roald Dahl, expected Audrey to say something about her. In her 1988 autobiography As I Am, Patricia recalled: "I had been told that Audrey Hepburn would bestow the honor in my place and I couldn't wait to hear all the nice things she would say about me. "There! There!" I pointed to the TV when Audrey was introduced. ... But suddenly she was handing Rex Harrison his award, and she hadn't said a thing about me. It had to be a mistake. I pounded on the table with my good hand. "God! God! Me! Not me!""
|Audrey Hepburn and Patricia O'Neal on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), their only film together. During production of the film the two had gotten along well.|
Patricia was very angry and upset about Audrey's failure to mention her. Husband Dahl later told the press: "She thought it bloody well stunk. She and Audrey have known each other for a long time. And Audrey didn't even call until the day after the ceremonies— and that was after I think someone told her Pat was hurt. Audrey had to leave on a one o'clock plane so she didn't have time to see Pat either. Had we not sent the telegram to Bob Hope from Pat at the awards, there probably would have been no mention of her at all."
When she learned about Patricia being hurt, Audrey was naturally devastated. She called Patricia to apologise and also sent her a gift to make amends. According to Audrey biographer Barry Paris, Patricia said years later: "The incident at the Academy Awards occurred under enormous pressure and has long since been forgotten. Audrey sent me a fabulous porcelain rose, which was very good of her. I guess it just didn't occur to her that night. I suppose she was distracted. One never knows how these things happen." Audrey was indeed under a lot of pressure that night, handing out the Best Actor Award while being greatly upset about not having been nominated herself. She had been in doubt whether to go to the ceremony or not, but when asked to replace Patricia she simply couldn't refuse.
So here is Audrey's note to her dear friend George Cukor which made me aware of the incident in the first place. Audrey first expresses her happiness over Cukor's first and only Oscar win before briefly mentioning the incident with Patricia. (Incidentally, after having been nominated for an Oscar four times, i.e. for Little Women (1934), The Philadelphia Story (1941), A Double Life (1948) and Born Yesterday (1951), with My Fair Lady Cukor finally got his prize.)icollector
Once again there are no words to discribe [sic] the joy of staying with you—and what made it really great is that you now have a permanent solid gold houseguest Oscar by name—I wonder if you know the happiness you gave all your friends by winning it.
I must tell you that I am only just emerging from a small nightmare…. the idea that I might have hurt Pat…. is agonizing. Who was right or wrong did not seemed [sic] to matter, only she mattered to me. So…. I am sorry that I did not once again thank you during our last minute talk. Would you darling George give this note to Irene? I send you all my love. Audrey