It's possible that the list of motion picture artists who haven't won competitive Academy Awards might be more prestigious than those who have. Legends such as Stanley Kubrick, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Montgomery Clift, and Yasujirō Ozu were snubbed throughout their brilliant careers. So when John Wayne, perhaps the most consistently popular star of his generation, attended the Oscars ceremony at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on the evening of April 7, 1970, he wasn't exactly hopeful.

There were numerous reasons for Wayne's pessimism. At the age of 61, he was up against three of the hottest young actors in Hollywood (John Voigt and Dustin Hoffman for "Midnight Cowboy," and Peter O'Toole for "Goodbye, Mr. Chips") and a celebrated thespian who'd been denied five times previously (Richard Burton for "Anne of a Thousand Days"). Wayne was also coming off arguably the worst film he'd ever make in "The Green Berets," which earned critical opprobrium for being both lousy and ludicrously supportive of the Vietnam War.

But Wayne had rebounded splendidly with "True Grit," an enormously entertaining adaptation of Charles Portis' Western novel. His portrayal of the cantankerous U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn was a self-deprecating departure from the swaggeringly confident cowboys and deputies on which he'd made his movie star reputation. Even though it was only his second nomination (his first Best Actor nod came in 1949 for "Sands of Iwo Jima"), he entered the evening as the sentimental favorite. Still, Wayne believed he would lose.

The Duke's Beginner's Luck

According to Scott Eyman's biography "John Wayne: The Life and Legend," Wayne was certain that Burton would emerge triumphant. During the Awards rehearsal, the two men encountered each other and resolved to tie one on together at the Beverly Hills Hotel post-show regardless of the outcome.

When Barbara Streisand announced The Duke's name near the end of the evening, the visibly moved star gave a gracious speech that wryly acknowledged his lack of awards success. After whispering "Beginner's luck" in Streisand's ear, he delivered the following:

"Wow. If I'd known that, I'd have put on that patch 35 years earlier. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm no stranger to this podium. I've come up here and picked up these beautiful golden men before, but always for friends. One night I picked up two – one for Admiral John Ford, and one for our beloved Gary Cooper. I was very clever and witty that night – the envy of even Bob Hope. But tonight, I don't feel very clever, very witty. I feel grateful, very humble. And I owe thanks to many, many people. I want to thank the members of the Academy. To all you people who are watching on television, thank you for taking such a warm interest in our glorious industry."

Wayne And Burton Booze It Up

Though Wayne was surely in demand for interviews and afterparty appearances, he was a man of his word and showed up at Burton's hotel room with Oscar in hand. When Burton opened the door, Wayne told his colleague, "You should have this, not me." The two then got to drinking, an activity to which neither man was a stranger. According to Burton, The Duke was "very drunk but, in his foul-mouthed way, very affable."

Had I been voting that year, I would've had a very difficult time deciding between Voigt and Hoffman. I probably would've split the difference and opted for Wayne, which was probably what most Academy members did as well, considering that "Midnight Cowboy" won for Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay. Wayne was certainly more deserving than Burton this year. The British actor was the beneficiary of a pricey awards campaign mounted by Universal Pictures, which resulted in 10 nominations for the period snoozefest.

Alas, Burton went on to have a lousy 1970s, rousing himself for one last tour de force in 1977's "Equus" before passing away in 1984 at the far-too-young age of 58. Burton was richly deserving of the Oscar that year, but Richard Dreyfuss was simply too darn charming in "The Goodbye Girl." Instead, he joined that distinguished list of greats inexplicably denied by the Academy.

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