A pop music diva wins an Oscar for her big-screen breakthrough as a performer who overcomes doubts about her looks to become a superstar. If that happens for Lady Gaga, whose turn as a rising singer-songwriter in “A Star Is Born” has made her a leading contender for best actress at the 2019 Academy Awards, history will have repeated itself. Nearly 50 years ago, Barbra Streisand took home that honor for “Funny Girl.” Only there was a jaw-dropping twist: She tied with Katharine Hepburn for “The Lion in Winter.”
After a stunned Ingrid Bergman announced the two winners in 1969, Streisand famously opened her acceptance speech by greeting the statuette with a saucy “Hello, Gorgeous!” — echoing her ironic first line in “Funny Girl.”
“I didn’t plan to say, ‘Hello, Gorgeous,’ because, quite frankly, I didn’t plan to win,” Streisand said in an email. “Just being nominated for my first film along with four of Hollywood’s most extraordinary actresses, Patricia Neal, Vanessa Redgrave, Joanne Woodward and the magnificent Katharine Hepburn was great!”
“It was as humbling as it was exciting,” she continued. “Then how could you ever plan to be sharing an award with Katharine Hepburn? It was a thrill you can’t anticipate. And when I was holding that beautiful gold statue in my hand, ‘Hello, Gorgeous’ just popped out … and seemed to capture the moment!”
(Streisand told Variety this year that she was so unprepared for her win, as the Ziegfeld Follies comedian Fanny Brice, that when it was announced, “I had to take out my gum and put it on the bottom of the chair and think about what the hell I was going to say.”)
“She’s one of only a handful of people who has delivered a phrase in an Oscar speech that’s still quoted today,” the Turner Classic Movies host Dave Karger said in a recent telephone interview, adding that the few other quotable winners included Sally Field (“You like me!”) and James Cameron (“I’m the king of the world!”).
Hepburn had earned her record-breaking 11th acting nomination for playing the feisty Eleanor of Aquitaine, but she was not attending, as was her custom. Instead, the film’s director, Anthony Harvey, accepted her award, quoting her as saying, “I suppose if I’ve lived as long as I have, anything can happen.” (Hepburn was 60 at the time; Streisand was 26.)
Actors had tied only once before in Oscar history, when Wallace Beery (“The Champ”) and Fredric March (“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) were both named best actor in 1932. At that time, nominees within three votes of each other were considered tied, and Beery had received one vote fewer than March. The rules were later changed, and Hepburn and Streisand were actually deadlocked.
“I assure you, it was a precise tie,” Frank Johnson of the accounting firm Price Waterhouse, said. “We always do at least one recount, but you can imagine all the recounts we did on that one.”
The 1969 tie proved controversial because the academy had broken with the tradition of inviting only actors who had at least two credits to join; it admitted Streisand as a member, even though she had acted in only one film. (The practice of not offering admission after only one credit still holds.) If she hadn’t been able to vote for herself — which she presumably did — she wouldn’t have tied with Hepburn.
Gregory Peck, then the academy’s president, justified the membership decision by citing Streisand’s Tony-nominated Broadway turn in “Funny Girl”: “When an actress has played a great role on the stage and is coming into films for what will obviously be an important career, it is ridiculous to make her wait two or three years for membership.”
Streisand also raised eyebrows with her Oscar night attire: an Arnold Scaasi sheer pantsuit with bell bottoms (which she tripped over on her way to the podium) and strategically placed fabric patches to maintain a modicum of modesty. “I had no idea when I wore it to receive the Academy Award that the outfit would become see-through under the lights,” Streisand said when Scaasi died in 2015. “I was embarrassed, but it sure was original at the time.”
She could have gone with a safer look. “I was choosing between two different outfits — one was lovely but very conservative, then there was the pantsuit with plastic sequins,” Streisand told W in 2016. “I thought to myself, I’m going to win two Oscars in my lifetime, and I’ll be more conservative next time.”
Her prophecy came true. Streisand shared the award for best original song with Paul Williams for “Evergreen,” the love theme for her 1976 version of, yes, “A Star is Born.” She wore her own design, a red gown with a capelet, which stirred no controversy.
Hepburn, who had won best actress the year before, in 1968, for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” would go on to become the sole actor to earn four Oscars (including her wins in 1934 for “Morning Glory” and in 1982 for “On Golden Pond”).
Yet that star appeared live at the awards only once, to present her friend and producer Lawrence Weingarten (“Pat and Mike,” “Adam’s Rib”) with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1974. “I’m the living proof that a person can wait 41 years to be unselfish,” she said during the ceremony. Hepburn’s math was off by a year: She made her film debut in “A Bill of Divorcement,” in 1932.
In 1969, Streisand told reporters backstage at the Oscars, “I know you won’t believe it, but honestly, my work is my reward.” The comment echoed something Hepburn had said when she was nominated for best actress for “The Philadelphia Story,” in 1941, but lost to Ginger Rogers for “Kitty Foyle”: “As for me, prizes are nothing. My prize is my work.”
It’s such a good line that Lady Gaga might want to borrow it.