The Conspiracy Theory That Says Marisa Tomei Won An Oscar By Mistake

When Marisa Tomei won an Oscar for best supporting actress in 1993 for her comedic role in "My Cousin Vinny," she beat out four other esteemed actresses in serious roles (per Gawker). A rumor circulated the following year that Tomei had won her Oscar by mistake – that award presenter Jack Palance had read the wrong name from a teleprompter, and that actress Vanessa Redgrave was meant to win the award. The rumor persists, and was named by Esquire to be one of "the greatest celebrity conspiracy theories of all time." However (spoiler alert), the theory has been disproven by Snopes, Entertainment Weekly, and Gawker.

According to the rumor that apparently started in Manhattan, near Tomei's hometown of Brooklyn, actor Jack Palance, presenting the award that night, could not read the card onstage at the awards ceremony, and did not ask for help (per Snopes). Instead, he (depending on which version of the rumor you hear) arbitrarily picked a name, or read the last nominee's name from the teleprompter as it was still scrolling by. According to the rumor, the Academy allowed the Oscar to go to the wrong actress in order to avoid the embarrassment of correcting Palance on live television.

Rumor says Jack Palance read the wrong name

The rumor that actress Marisa Tomei won her Oscar by mistake in 1993 was refuted by the Academy itself in 1994. The Academy issued a statement (via Gawker): "In the event a presenter should err in naming the correct winner in any category, [an] official has been instructed to immediately go to the podium and announce that a mistake has been made." 

According to Time, viewers saw this system in action during the 2017 Oscars, when Oscar presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong card and named "La La Land" as best picture, when the Oscar really went to "Moonlight." According to Time, the cast and crew of "La La Land" had already assembled on the stage by the time producers from the Oscars ceremony ran to the stage to inform them a mistake had been made. Thinking quickly on his feet, "La La Land" producer Jordan Horowitz took the mic to announce to the public that "Moonlight" had really won best picture. "This is not a joke," he said, adding he would be happy to hand the Oscar over to "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins. Despite the confusion, the Oscar went to the correct recipient in the end.

Putting a rumor to rest

As for that 1993 Oscars ceremony, Snopes pointed out that footage of the event shows presenter Jack Palance reading from a card, not a teleprompter. To quote the 1994 statement issued by the Academy (via Gawker), "So Marisa, stand assured that Oscar is adamantly yours, no matter what rumor may sayeth to the contrary." 

Tomei herself joked about the conspiracy theory later when she hosted "Saturday Night Live," stating in her opening monologue (via Gawker), "I won the Academy Award, fair and square, and I was just the happiest I'd ever been, since, um, since I was named Ms. Teenage America, thank you, back in 1987, the year it was hosted by Jack Palance. Or three years later when I stepped up on stage to receive — though I didn't think I was eligible for it — the Heisman Trophy from Jack Palance." Drawing laughs from the studio audience was how the actress chose to put the rumor to rest.