Every actor has practiced his or her ”I’d like to thank the Academy” speech so often in front of a mirror that it’s almost unheard of for a performer to turn down an opportunity to grab an Oscar. Nonetheless, that’s what seven-time Oscar nominee Peter O’Toole seems to be doing. Days after the Academy announced it would be granting the 70-year-old actor his first trophy in the form of an honorary Oscar, Variety reports that he responded with a handwritten letter that said he was ”enchanted” by the gesture, but asked that since he is “still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright, would the Academy please defer the honor until I am 80?”
Academy president Frank Pierson challenged O’Toole’s apparent perception of the honorary award as a consolation prize for Oscar-less performers whose careers are over. ”The board unanimously and enthusiastically voted you the honorary award because you’ve earned and deserved it,” he wrote back. ”As to being ‘in the game,’ nobody ever thought you were out of it. The award is for achievement and contribution to the art of the motion picture, not for retirement.” He also pointed out that Henry Fonda and Paul Newman both won competitive Oscars after receiving honorary ones.
In the 1970s, George C. Scott and Marlon Brando famously refused to accept competitive Oscars for ”Patton” and ”The Godfather” (Brando had accepted one 20 years earlier for ”On the Waterfront”), but no one is known to have declined an honorary Academy Award. Nonetheless, Pierson told Variety, the award is O’Toole’s, whether or not he shows up to claim it. ”We will have the Oscar for him and if he cares to pick it up, that would be great,” he said. If not, he said in his letter, the trophy ”will be at the Academy for you to pick up when you’re 80 or whenever you’re ready.”