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Who gets mentioned most in Oscars acceptance speeches? We counted

David Wharton – Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Clint Eastwood had just won an Oscar for directing “Unforgiven” and, with golden statuette in hand, was struggling through a long list of people he needed to thank. Studio executives. His crew. His agent.

“You get a little flustered,” he said on that night in 1993.

Acceptance speeches are a big part of the Academy Awards, every bit as iconic as the red carpet and the In Memoriam montage. They can also be nerve-racking for winners. Even a famous tough guy such as Eastwood fretted: “I’m leaving out a whole mess of people I’m gonna regret when I sit down again.”

As the motion picture academy reconvenes for its 96th annual Oscars ceremony on Sunday, who will the winners remember — and forget — to mention?

Mom? Spouse? God?

The Times sifted through an academy database of more than 1,500 speeches, using various keyword searches, in a wholly unscientific quest to determine who gets the most shout-outs.

The academy itself — as in “I’d like to thank the academy” — topped the list with 864 mentions. After that, things got a little more interesting.

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Back when the Oscars were broadcast on radio and in news reels, speeches tended to be brief. A quick thanks and not much else.

Greer Garson (1943 best actress for “Mrs. Miniver”) offered a hint of things to come when she reportedly rambled for nearly six minutes, acknowledging a multitude of people, including the governor of California, and quoting from “Alice in Wonderland.”

Verbosity became more of a problem with the advent of television coverage in the 1950s. As millions of viewers watched from around the world, actors and directors — also cinematographers, sound editors and costume designers — often lingered in the spotlight.

The academy eventually instituted a 45-second time limit and directed the orchestra to play garrulous winners off stage.

Long speeches tended to be more personal, with mentions of family and friends. At the 1956 ceremony, Ernest Borgnine (best actor for “Marty”) felt obliged to apologize.

“At the sake of sounding repetitious,” he said, “I just want to thank my mother.”

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When the 2003 Oscar for best picture went to “Chicago,” producer Martin Richards made sure to thank his cast, director and studio bosses. Then he put a hand to his head.

“And, God, I’m forgetting someone,” Richards said.

Someone from the audience yelled: “Your wife!”

To no surprise, wives have been thanked a whopping 338 times over the past 80-some years. Geoffrey Rush (1997 best actor for “Shine”) voiced a common sentiment when he said: “I wouldn’t be standing here without you.” Eddie Redmayne ( 2015 best actor for “The Theory of Everything”) gave his wife a heads-up.

“We have a new fella comin’ to share our apartment,” he said, holding up the statuette.

Husbands have been acknowledged only 70 times, probably because men are historically nominated far more often than women. Still, Meryl Streep (2012 best actress for “The Iron Lady”) didn’t forget.

“First I’m going to thank Don,” she said, “because when you thank your husband at the end of the speech they play him out with the music.”

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The infamous Greer Garson speech included a nod to her “wonderful little mother.” In the decades since, mothers — along with moms, mamas and mums — have been mentioned 295 times.

Steven Spielberg (1994 best director for “Schindler’s List) called his mother “my lucky charm” and Charlize Theron (2004 best actress for “Monster”) said, “there are no words to describe how much I love you.”

Dads, much like husbands, appear in fewer speeches at 219. Matthew McConaughey (2014 best actor for “Dallas Buyers Club”) honored his late father “who I know is up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He’s got a lemon meringue pie over there. He’s probably in his underwear and he’s got a cold can of Miller Lite. And he’s dancin’ right now.”

Robert De Niro (1981 best actor for “Raging Bull”) covered all the bases.

“I want to thank my mother and father for having me,” he said. “And my grandmother and grandfather for having them.”

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God shows up in the academy’s database as early as 1940 when Hattie McDaniel (supporting actress for “Gone With the Wind”) concluded her speech with an exclamation: “God bless you.”

A trend was established. Since then, only 32 of 162 “God” mentions have been overtly religious, as in Cuba Gooding Jr. (1997 supporting actor for “Jerry Maguire”) raising his arms and saying “God, I love you. Hallelujah.”

The rest have been exclamatory or idiomatic. Think “Oh, My God,” “God bless” and “Thank God.”

Though not quite as omnipotent, Hollywood agents have also made their way into speeches with a total of 48 mentions.

Tilda Swinton (2008 best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton”) noted that her agent resembled the Oscar statuette in “the same shape head and, it has to be said, the buttocks.” Julia Roberts (2001 best actress for “Erin Brockovich”) thanked the agent who had been by her side “since God was a boy.”

But when it comes to more recent Oscar ceremonies, an even higher power has sneaked into acceptance speeches. Winners have uttered his name, with appropriate reverence, almost every year.

Steven Spielberg has been mentioned 46 times.

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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