Feb. 25, 2007 — -- "I would like to thank the Academy, but I can't. This award could ruin my career!"
While it's unlikely you'll hear those words at the 79th annual Academy Awards tonight, dozens of actors have blamed Oscar for ending a successful career.
The legend of the Oscar curse is believed to have originated with actress Luise Rainer. Rainer was the first actress to win back-to-back Oscars for her performances in "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936) and "The Good Earth" (1937). When her career failed to live up to post-award expectations, she blamed Oscar for her downfall.
Tom O'Neil, awards columnist for TheEnvelope.com, said the Oscar curse unnerves Hollywood to this day.
"Stars dating back to Louise Rainer all the way up to Gwyneth Paltrow have all said that the Oscar was a curse on their career, and many in between," said O'Neil. "The Oscar is another phony in Hollywood. It's just a gold-plated statuette that doesn't live up to its promise."
But others in show business say it's the stars themselves who are to blame for a career that tanks after an Oscar.
"Actors like to work, and they have a tendency to accept any role that's offered to them," said Timothy M. Gray, editor of Variety Magazine. "After they win an Oscar, they're offered a ton more money than they were before, and that can be hard to resist."
It takes much more money today to get a name actor in a role than it did in the days when studios controlled the stars. Bette Davis automatically got the best roles the studio had to offer after her Oscar win.
"Winning an Oscar is supposed to be the ultimate, the meal ticket for life," O'Neil said. "But now everybody's a free agent, so it all works differently today."
Studio heads no longer tell the stars what roles they will take. In today's Hollywood, anyone with enough cash can have an Oscar winner in their film. The actors may be tempted by the paycheck to take parts that won't do anything for their careers.
"Actors don't have as much control as they'd like," said Gray. "We all have something in our closet that we think looks great, but a week later you look at it and say, 'Why did I buy this? What was I thinking?'"
Actress Halle Berry won best actress in 2001 for "Monster's Ball," making her the first black woman to win the award. Shortly after, she accepted the title role in "Catwoman" for a whopping $14 million. The picture was a flop and Berry hasn't had a role since that brought any hint of Oscar buzz.
"I would've played 'Catwoman' for $14 million," joked O'Neil. "A lot of actors have made terrible decisions. Supporting actors get offered leading roles, and many are offered a lot of money to accept the wrong roles."
But O'Neil admits some good offers may dry up after an Oscar win, since the quality studios may feel they're priced out.
"What Gwyneth Paltrow said was [that] winning an Oscar made her unapproachable and too expensive in the minds of studio execs -- not that she wouldn't have accepted a smaller paycheck," O'Neil said.
Variety's Gray agreed.
"I think winning the Oscar sets the bar too high, because people assume once you win the Oscar you have first choice at anything, and that's not necessarily true," he said.
But Gray does not believe in the Oscar curse.
"You can always find enough examples to back up your theory," he said.
And O'Neil, who's a firm believer in the curse, admitted Oscar has been a blessing for many.
"It turned Kevin Spacey into an A-list star when he won in the supporting category," he said. "It often lives up to its promise, but it often doesn't."
Tonight may offer the best test of the curse. Martin Scorsese, who has no Oscars on his mantelpiece after a long and successful career, is favored to finally win best director for "The Departed." If he does, will his career be over? Does he believe in the curse?
We'll wait to see whether Scorcese is the first to say, "Thanks, but no thanks," to the Academy.