The Show Must Go On: A Brief History of Oscars PR Mishaps

It’s the biggest lie you tell your friends and family. A shameful secret, that you believe is yours, and yours alone. You tell yourself that it’s silly and you can stop whenever you want, but your undying love of tabloid celebrity drama is always right there, waiting to pull you back in. Well fear not gossip-obsessed reader, because entertainment news magazines stay in print for a reason! Everyone, at one time or another has been swept up in the awesome power of celebrity screw-ups, and no time is riper for a hilarious on-screen blunder than the Oscars. While they do offer up plenty of Hollywood tea to spill, the Oscars have presented PR firms with several fascinating public relations nightmares to examine and learn from, throughout the years.

One of the most well-known Oscars blunders occurred in 2014. Many of you have probably guessed where I’m going with this, but for those who haven’t, I’ll give you a clue, it was a “Wicked” big mistake… When introducing the Broadway star for her performance of “Frozen”’s “Let It Go,” John Travolta mangled Idina Menzel’s name, introducing her as Adele Dazeem. Later during an interview on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”, Travolta explained that the show had changed the spelling of her name to the phonetic version (not the way it had been rehearsed) causing him to panic and mispronounce it.

Even more recently, we were gifted a double whammy during the 2017 Oscars. For starters, during the in-memoriam section of the evening, the touching slideshow of talents now passed had a glaring error. One of the women pictured was busy watching the Oscars! Jan Chapman was appalled when her image appeared next to the name of her friend Janet Patterson, whom she had apparently been mistaken for. As if that wasn’t enough to sour the evening, when it came time to announce best picture for the night, the presenters were handed the wrong envelope! La-La Land was proclaimed the winner, instead of the actual recipient of best picture, “Moonlight”.

To make matters worse this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Long before the “La-La Land/Moonlight” mix-up, Sammy J. Davis presented the wrong winner during the 1964 Oscars. When announcing the award for best music score, he was handed the wrong envelope and announced a winner not even nominated in the category. His announcement of John Addison as the winner for Tom Jones, spurred confusion from the crowd and the realization from Davis himself. He quickly ran back to the microphone saying to the crowd, “They gave me the wrong envelope. Wait till the NAACP hears about this.” One would think they would have learned their lesson the first time, but third time’s the charm, I guess?

At this point, you’re pobably wondering what lesson a PR firm could possibly glean from these TV trip-ups. Well, in typing out the question we’ve given you the answer. We obviously know how to spell the word “probably,” but the fact remains that it’s easy to make small mistakes, like missing a letter or grabbing the wrong envelope. What we as PR firms recognize is that all these little missteps are as easily avoidable as fixing a misspelled word and should never be overlooked.

PR firms, their clients, and Oscar nominees all strive to maintain the right image. One little mistake in the wrong place (like on live television) is enough to topple all that hard work in a single evening. That is why it is imperative that for every task, whether it be writing a blog post for your firm, or presentations at the Oscars, that you always, ALWAYS double check your work. Otherwise all that tea you love to spill could end up landing in your lap.

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