‘Furious’ John Wayne held down by six guards during Marlon Brando’s Oscar win | Films | Entertainment

It was 51 years ago today when The Godfather would go on to win three of its 10 Academy Award nominations, but not without controversy.

James Bond star Roger Moore announced Marlon Brando as the winner of the Best Actor Oscar, but the Don Corleone actor didn’t turn up to accept the award.

Instead, a 26-year-old Native American civil rights activist and actress took to the stage in traditional dress, but what happened next shocked the room – and the world.

Just half an hour earlier, Sacheen Littlefeather – who died two years ago at 75 – had been at Brando’s house, where The Godfather star had written an eight-page speech that she wasn’t able to read in the one-minute time slot for his Oscars acceptance.

Instead, she took a moment to tell the Academy and the 85 million people watching at home that the actor could not accept the award due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry…and on television and movie re-reruns and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”

The 26-year-old was referring to the occupation of Wounded Knee by Native American activists on the site of the 1890 massacre by the US army. In response, half the crowd cheered and the rest booed, while the biggest Western star in the world raged and planned an attack.

John Wayne, whose cowboy characters regularly killed Native Americans in his movies, was watching from the wings. Speaking with The Guardian a year before her death, Littlefeather recalled: “During my presentation, he was coming towards me to forcibly take me off the stage, and he had to be restrained by six security men to prevent him from doing so.”

In her documentary Sacheen, she further elaborated: “I was escorted off of that stage by some armed guards. And luckily so, because John Wayne was waiting in the wings ready to go on to pull me off the stage, and he had to be held back by six security men because he was so outraged about what I had said.”

Despite the incident, the Western star who won the Best Actor Oscar for True Grit three years earlier was able to keep his awards. After her speech, Littlefeather headed backstage and discovered to her dismay people doing stereotypical impressions of Native Americans, miming tomahawk chops and doing war cries.

The activist, whose family members and journalists have questioned native American heritage since her death, claimed that Hollywood blacklisted her after the incident. Nevertheless, she was proud to have drawn attention to Wounded Knee and its media blackout. Shortly after her speech, Clint Eastwood came out on stage to present the Best Picture Oscar, which also went to The Godfather.

Wayne’s fellow Western star and Hollywood conservative started by chiming: “I don’t know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowboys shot in all the John Ford westerns over the years.” Duke later said of Littlefeather’s speech: “If [Brando] had something to say, he should have appeared that night and stated his views instead of taking some little unknown girl and dressing her up in an Indian outfit.”

Brando himself said a few months later to Dick Cavett: “I was distressed that people should have booed and whistled and stomped, even though perhaps it was directed at myself. They should have at least had the courtesy to listen to her.”

On becoming friends with The Godfather star, Littlefeather said: “He was extremely intelligent, and always entertaining. He had a great sense of humour. He would put on tons of different voices. We used to have a great time, laughing till tears were coming out of our eyes.” However, she denied that they were ever romantically linked saying: “No, no, he was far too old for me. He was my mother’s age, for God’s sake!”

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