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Brando's Apache Lambastes Hollywood

By Patrick Mondout

March 27, 1973 was the night of one of the most bizarre moments in Academy Awards show history. That night at the 45th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, an aspiring actress purporting to be an Apache refused the Best Actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando and then read an excerpt from the 15 page (!!!) speech Brando had prepared for her denouncing the treatment of Native Americans in Hollywood.

Brando was up for Best Actor for his work in The Godfather and in the weeks leading up to the show rumors floated about whether he'd show up or if he'd pull a George C. Scott and refuse the award. At the last moment, Brando announced that he would not appear but would have a stand-in accept on his behalf.

Brando's stand-in was not your usual celebrity buddy though - as Hollywood Reporter writer Rona Barrett discovered - she was an actress. "Sacheen Littlefeather", as she called herself on Oscar night, was actually Mexican actress Maria Cruz, former Miss American Vampire 1970.

The producer of the Academy Awards that night was Howard Koch. Recalling rambling protest speeches of the past few years and aware Brando was doing this as stunt, Koch made it clear to Ms. Littlefeather that she had 45 seconds to make the statement but that if she went over by even a second, he'd have her "forcibly removed from stage - I promise you I'm not afraid to do that!"*

Best Actor is one of the last three awards of the show, so viewers were treated to a relatively uneventful show (by early-Super70s standards) until Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann announced the winner for Best Actor. As expected, Brando knocked-off his competition. Sacheen Littlefeather, complete in Apache costume, came to the podium and held her hand up to decline the statuette a perplexed Moore was attempting to hand her. She then turned to the audience and gave the following speech:

"Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I am an Apache and I am the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee.

I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you, in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently, because of time, but I will be glad to share with the press afterward, that he must very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry... [audience gasps] Excuse me... [some boos and some clapping] and on television in movie re-runs, and also the recent happenings at Wounded Knee.

I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will, in the future, in our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity.

Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando."

Littlefeather left the stunned audience and headed to the press area to read Brando's entire 15 page speech. She then faded into obscurity, later claiming the FBI had "white-listed" her and prevented her from working in Hollywood. The FBI did not, however, stop Littlefeather from parlaying her 15 minutes into an October 1973 Playboy pictorial nor did it prevent her from appearing in several movies including Winterhawk, The Trial of Billy Jack, and Shoot the Sun Down with Margot Kidder and Christopher Walken. Sacheen Cruz Littlefeather, as she is now know, claims she is half-Native American (and thus not a "fraud") and remains a professional activist, recently protesting Indian team mascots such as the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins.

Reaction after the show by the Hollywood elites was mixed. Charlton Heston, a co-host whose late arrival forced stand-in Clint Eastwood to read Charton's scripted Moses and Ten Commandments jokes from the cue cards until Heston finally showed up, said, "It was childish. The American Indian needs better friends than that." Others thought Brando should have been man enough to make his political speech himself instead of having "some poor little Indian girl" - as Michael Caine referred to the 26-year-old actress - take the boos. Jane Fonda disagreed saying, "I thought what [Brando] did was wonderful."


* As reported by Variety.

 

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FILM FACTS

Best Picture: The Godfather

What: 45th Annual Academy Awards

Date: March 27, 1973

Hosts: Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston and Rock Hudson

Location: Dorothy Chandler Pavillion (Los Angeles)

Network: NBC


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