With or without the help of Cirque du Soleil, Oscar evening has always been the Biggest of Big Nights, full of more drama -- both real and contrived -- than the competing films. Here, highlights of the TV era.

By Scott BrownKaryn L. Barr and Missy Schwartz
March 21, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

— 1954 Before John Travolta, Hollywood’s biggest comeback king may have been Frank Sinatra. In a career slump since the late ’40s, the knee-weakening crooner is desperate to reestablish himself as a bona fide actor. He gets his chance with his role as Pvt. Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity, and the Academy rewards him accordingly — with the Best Supporting Actor trophy. Ol’ Blue Eyes is back.

— 1969 ”It’s a tie!” exclaims Best Actress presenter Ingrid Bergman: The Lion in Winter’s Katharine Hepburn and Funny Girl’s Barbra Streisand both claim the top prize, marking the first time in Oscar history two women would share the honor. Hepburn is a no-show, and a visibly overwhelmed Babs steals the spotlight by cooing ”Hello, gorgeous!” to her first golden guy.

— 1972 After a self-imposed 20-year exile, Sir Charles Chaplin returns to Hollywood to accept an honorary Academy Award — as well as a little tramp hat and cane — from presenter Jack Lemmon. When the star takes the stage, the crowd of dignitaries raises the roof, giving the legendary Chaplin one of the longest standing ovations in Oscar history.

— 1971 George C. Scott, who had already declined a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Hustler in 1962, waves off his Best Actor nomination for Patton, calling the ceremony a ”meat parade.” He wins in absentia and, true to his word, does not accept the honor — despite the wiles of comely presenter Goldie Hawn.

— 1973 Not even the Don can strong-arm Marlon Brando into attending the ceremony. So when The Godfather star wins Best Actor, his proxy, Apache Sacheen Littlefeather, declines the award, citing the actor’s opposition to ”the treatment of American Indians…by the film industry.” Littlefeather turns out to be an aspiring actress named Maria Cruz.

— 1974 As David Niven introduces Best Picture presenter Elizabeth Taylor, a nude streaker dashes behind him flashing a peace sign. The man (later identified as Robert Opal) is apprehended and dragged to the pressroom for photos. Not to be upstaged, Niven quips, ”Probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.”

— 1977 A long-shot Best Actor nominee for the boxing drama Rocky, Sylvester Stallone probably wasn’t expecting any golden trophies. He definitely wasn’t expecting to be joined on stage by heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali. ”I’m the real Apollo Creed!” Ali exclaims, pseudo-sparring with the Italian Stallion. ”Show me what you can really do!”

— 1978 Best Supporting Actress winner and Palestinian sympathizer Vanessa Redgrave (Julia) causes an uproar by taking a political stance. ”You should be very proud… that you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums.” The remarks infuriate audience members. ”A simple thank-you,” sniffs presenter Paddy Chayefsky, ”would have sufficed.”