For many years, urban legend had it that Marisa Tomei didn’t actually win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1992 for My Cousin Vinny. If the rumor (of which there is many versions) is to be believed, a confused Jack Palance (the previous year’s Best Supporting winner for City Slickers) wasn’t able to make out the name on the envelope’s card and announced Tomei as the winner since her name was the last to appear on the TelePrompter. Did Tomei really win an Oscar for her breakthrough performance? Was the award actually intended for Vanessa Redgrave, nominated that year for Howards End? Did the Academy launch a massive cover-up to hide their biggest blunder?
There is one major problem with this rumor, still circulating
today, namely, you can’t doubt the accountants. The venerable
representatives from Price Waterhouse (those buttoned-up individuals
trotted out onstage at every Oscar ceremony) take their
responsibilities very seriously. In fact, representatives from the firm
are stationed in the wings should such a gaffe occur. Executive
director of the Academy Bruce Davis told Roger Ebert in 1997, “If such
a scenario were ever to occur, the Price Waterhouse people backstage
would simply step out onstage and point out the error. They are not
Then how did the rumor get started? Two sources helped propagate
it: Critic Rex Reed, who discussed the rumor on Geraldo’s TV show, and
a mysterious “former son-in-law of an Academy Award winner” who
reportedly gossiped in Hollywood circles. Also adding fuel to the fire
was the late Jack Palance’s eccentric behavior. (Who could forget his
one-armed push-ups from the 1991 ceremony?) Lastly, there’s the reason
that the rumor likely began circulating in the first place: The
pedigree of Tomei’s fellow nominees. While critically acclaimed for her
performance, Tomei was up against not only Redgrave, but also Judy
Davis (Husbands and Wives), Joan Plowright (Enchanted April), and Miranda Richardson (Damage).
Tomei’s win as a relative unknown against these heavy hitters came as
quite the upset, no doubt adding fuel to the rumor mill. Though it
still persists today, the story is seen as mostly sour grapes in light
of Tomei’s continuing career.