Oscar Podium Meltdowns

Deep in everyone's fantasy life, maybe while standing before a mirror with a shampoo bottle for a microphone, they've thanked friends, family and everyone they've ever met for some great award. Why then on Oscar night are so many glamorous stars reduced to babbling idiots?

An Academy Award is supposed to be Hollywood's crowning achievement. But nobody denies that a major screw-up at the podium is worse than losing -- or never even being nominated.

Sally Field has been living down her 1985 best actress acceptance speech for more than two decades, and sadly, it might loom over her like the ghost of the Flying Nun. In the glow of her victory for "Places in the Heart," she stood before a clapping audience of showbiz elite and told the world, "You like me! … Right now, you really like me!"

Perhaps that's just the fun of watching a live -- or almost live -- event. It's the chance for that unscripted moment when stars let down their guard -- the possibility of seeing the rich and famous fall on their silicone-sculpted butts.

No one's quite sure what a 26-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow was even saying with her tearful ramblings in 1999, when she won for "Shakespeare in Love."

"I would not have been able to play this role had I not understood love with a tremendous magnitude," she said, spurring million of TV viewers around the world to collectively utter "Huh?"

Then there's the unrestrained hubris. "I'm king of the world," James Cameron proclaimed in 1998. "The Titanic" director, of course, was quoting the big line from the film that would garner a record-tying 11 Oscars, so he had reason to celebrate.

But Cameron also takes himself very seriously, and he wanted us all to acknowledge that his movie was based on a real-life tragedy, so he called for a moment of silence "in remembrance of the 1,500 men, women and children who died when the great ship went down."

Then, the giddy director reverted back to hyperventilating hysteria and yelled, "Now let's party till dawn!"

Will Clooney Ruffle as Many Feathers as Littlefeather?

Of course, Oscar Night offers winners a chance to speak their minds. Who can forget Michael Moore's infamous "Shame on you, Mr. Bush" tirade of 2003, just days after American troops entered Iraq. Moore achieved what some may have considered impossible -- getting a largely Democratic Hollywood crowd to boo.

This year you can probably count on triple nominee George Clooney to say something, if he reaches the winner's circle for "Good Night, and Good Luck" or "Syriana." He already made a crude Jack Abramoff joke at the Golden Globes and joked recently that Vice President Dick Cheney would be his Oscar date.

With the stars of "Brokeback Mountain," "Crash," "Munich" and "TransAmerica" up for awards, we could be up for an evening of celebrities weighing in on gay cowboys, Los Angeles race relations, Middle East politics and transsexuality.

And that comes on top of the usual ego bath that comes when celebrities gather to toast one another and hand out awards.

Political controversies have long been a staple at the Oscars, especially when winners are called to the podium and can say whatever they like. When Marlon Brando won best actor for "The Godfather," he famously sent a woman who called herself Sasheen Littlefeather to the podium to reject the honor in protest of Hollywood's treatment of American Indians.

It was later discovered that Littlefeather's real name was Maria Cruz, and she wasn't an Apache. She was, however, winner of the 1970 Miss American Vampire contest.

At least Brando gave the ceremony a few laughs. A few years later, Vanessa Redgrave won best supporting actress for "Julia" and used her acceptance speech to rail against "Zionist hoodlums."

Dozens of police officers had to quell a protest outside the theater. Playwright Paddy Chayefsky, who followed Redgrave onstage, quipped, "A simple 'thank you' would have been sufficient."

Stars can usually say whatever they like, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences simply takes a grin-and-bear-it approach. In 1974, however, when producer Bert Schneider read a greeting from the Viet Cong delegation, Oscar organizers enlisted Frank Sinatra to issue a disclaimer:

"We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening."

If Stars Don't Leave, Strike Up the Band

More often, the academy is simply worried that stars won't stop blabbing, cause the show to run too long and force most of the country to tune out before the best picture is announced. That's when the Kodak Theatre orchestra stands ready to drown out the winners who bask in the spotlight too long. This works, sometimes.

Julia Roberts certainly wasn't going to take a hint when she won best actress. The "Erin Brockovich" star simply ignored the 45-second acceptance speech time limit, and spoke directly to conductor Bill Conti, when his band began to play, to let the broadcast cut to a commercial.

"Sir, you're doing a great job, but you're so quick with your stick," Roberts said from the podium, clutching her statue. "So why don't you sit because I may never be up here again. … I'm so happy … I love it up here."

At the 2004 show, Will Ferrell and Jack Black wrote lyrics to the Oscar orchestra's unofficial drown-out music -- a song they sang in great harmony called "You're boooorringgg!" Winners, however, are willing to take that risk.

'I'm Practically Unprepared'

As longtime host Johnny Carson once observed, the Academy Awards are "two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over four hours." Oscar organizers have fought for years to curb the length of the show, but it's hard to stop the stars once they've got a microphone and start thanking their manager, publicist and everyone else on their checklist.

Cuba Gooding Jr. undoubtedly set the record for saying "I love you" a total of 14 times, thanking everyone from Tom Cruise to God, when he won best supporting actor for "Jerry Maguire."

Even after the orchestra interrupted him, he continued, "Everyone who was involved in this, I love you! I love you! I love you!"

Today's marathon shows make it impossible to even consider the crisis of 1958, just six years after the Oscars became a TV event, when the show ran 20 minutes short, and host Jerry Lewis had to ad lib his way through the rest of the evening, getting the winners to dance together and sing "There's No Business Like Show Business."

There was even a time back in the late 1920s when the Oscar shows were held in private. "There is something embarrassing about all these wealthy people congratulating each other," Cary Grant said of the ceremony, as if he'd had a crystal ball.

Perhaps the first actress to take a serious public relations beating for monopolizing the microphone was Greer Garson. Some claim the seven-time nominee spent 90 rambling minutes on stage after winning best actress in 1942 for "Mrs. Miniver."

Cooler heads recall Garson's speech lasting about seven minutes. Predictably, she began it by saying, "I'm practically unprepared," and she went on to mention just about every person she'd ever met, including "the doctor who brought me into the world."

Still, contemporary stars regularly regret their podium performances, sometimes almost immediately after they've become Oscar winners.

"It was like I was out of my body, but the next morning when I saw it on tape, I thought, 'Oh my God! I was out of control,'" Halle Berry told Entertainment Weekly shortly after the 2002 ceremony.

"I felt like a babbling idiot."

The following year, Berry was a presenter, and when she handed the best actor award to Adrien Brody, he surprised everyone -- including Berry -- with a big kiss that made it seem as if he and Berry were lovers, and that became the most talked about incident of the evening.

Similarly, Angelina Jolie was forced to explain the relationship with her brother James Haven after she won best supporting actress for "Girl, Interrupted" in 2000. The full-lipped actress was seated next to her sibling and planted a big kiss on his lips before emerging onstage. "I'm in shock," she told the crowd. "And I'm so in love with my brother right now, he just held me and said he loved me."

Days later, she offered this clarification: "I didn't snog my brother," she said. "Me and my brother had a very difficult upbringing. We both survived a lot together and it meant a lot that he supported me my whole life. And in that moment, you reach to kiss somebody, and you end up kissing their mouth. Who cares? It wasn't like we had our mouths open, it wasn't some romantic kiss."

A year earlier, Roberto Benigni had played such hyperventilating enthusiasm for laughs. The Italian star of "Life Is Beautiful" climbed over theater seats, filled with dapperly dressed stars to receive honors for that film.

"My body is in tumult," he proclaimed in broken English. "I would like to be … lying down and making love to everybody … I am-a so happy, I want to wag-a my tail!"

Oscar's Loneliest Walk of Shame

In that frantic rush to the stage, Barbara Streisand tore her outfit in 1968, when she won best actress for "Funny Girl." Streisand actually had to share the honor that year with Katharine Hepburn -- one of the few ties in Academy Award history.

Perhaps she assumed that the trophy would go to whichever actress arrived first. She beat Hepburn, then 61, and regained enough composure to greet her Oscar like a new boyfriend, famously saying, "Hello, gorgeous!"

Indeed, Oscar night has seen many stars take the walk of shame, but the saddest might have come at one of the first ceremonies, back in 1934. Director Frank Capra was so certain he would win for "Lady for a Day," he began his back-slapping, bear-hugging march to the podium as soon as presenter Will Rogers said, "Come on up and get it, Frank."

"Over here! Over hear!" said Capra, when the spotlight was thrown on the other side of the auditorium.

Capra suddenly found the real winner was another Frank -- Frank Lloyd -- who directed "Cavalcade." Capra called his return to his seat "the longest, saddest, most shattering walk in my life."

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.