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And the Oscar for Strangest Academy Award History Goes To . . .

Anyone who has ever followed the Academy Awards knows that major snubs happen all the time. Talented people or stupendous films somehow end up garnering no awards. In retrospect, some of the people or films snubbed can look a little silly. People like Alfred Hitchcock and Judy Garland never won a competitive Oscar, for instance. The list of snubs and strange decisions could go on forever. But one man stands out as having the strangest history of the Academy Awards. The man is Charles Chaplin, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like Chaplin fared too badly at the Academy Awards. He won three Oscars, and was nominated for three more. Take a look at these wins and nominations, though, and many of them are more than a little odd. Consider the following information about his wins and nominations:

  • Two of his three “wins” were honorary Oscars, 43 years apart.
  • His one competitive Oscar win came 21 years after the film was originally released.
  • Although he personally didn’t receive the nomination, another one of his films received a nomination 16 years after its initial release.

So what exactly went on here?

Chaplin’s strange path began with that first honorary Oscar, which actually took place at the initial Academy Awards. That year, the Academy took the unusual step of honoring two different films outside of the regular categories. The Jazz Singer was one, and Chaplin’s The Circus was the other. The official reason for the honorary Oscar was listed as “for versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus.”

Although some of the films that followed, City Lights and Modern Times, are some of the greatest of all time, Chaplin wouldn’t get his first traditional nomination until The Great Dictator at the 1941 awards. Nominated for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, Chaplin won neither and would have to wait over thirty years to win his only competitive Oscar.

He didn’t have to wait long, though, for another one of his films to be nominated again. One of Chaplin’s films received a nomination in 1943, which is pretty remarkable considering the film in question had been originally released before the Academy Awards even existed. The re-release that year of The Gold Rush garnered the 1925 film a nomination for Best Sound Recording and for Best Musical Score. Chaplin’s new release of the film featured new music, sound, narration and some plot changes. He personally didn’t receive credit for the two nominations, but anything like this happening is pretty rare.

Chaplin received another Best Original Screenplay nomination for his out of character dark comedy Monsieur Verdoux (1947). By this point in his career, Chaplin produced new films at the same speed as continental drift. With that in mind, it took five more years before his next film, Limelight, came out. Most Americans wouldn’t end up seeing the film until 20 years later, as a result of Chaplin’s falling out with the United States. After traveling to London to attend the film’s premiere, Chaplin was informed that he would not be allowed re-entry into the country without being submitted to questioning. Chaplin opted to simply not return to the U.S. instead of submitting to such a thing. By this point, Communist accusations had hung around him for years, and this turn of events led to most theaters in the country not showing Limelight.

It wasn’t until 1972 that the olive branch was finally extended to Chaplin. The Academy offered him his second honorary Oscar, which Chaplin did end up accepting. It marked the first time he’d been in the United States since he left for the premiere in 1952. The full moving acceptance speech can be viewed here:

After finally vindicating Chaplin, his final three films, including Limelight, finally got wide release in the United States. As Limelight only premiered in Los Angeles in 1972, it was still eligible for Academy Award nominations and took home an Oscar for Best Score (which was written by Chaplin). For one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, it took until the 45th Academy Awards for him to win a competitive Oscar and it came with a film over two decades old.

As strange as it is, Charles Chaplin did end up getting the recognition he so well deserved, especially after the way he was shunned later on in his career. Ultimately, that’s what really matters and Chaplin’s reaction in the video above says it all.

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One response to “And the Oscar for Strangest Academy Award History Goes To . . .

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