LIFE at the Oscars: Classic Photos From Hollywood’s Biggest Night

Elizabeth Taylor walks through a crowd of admirers at the Oscars in 1961.
Grey Villet—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Elizabeth Taylor walks through a crowd of admirers at the Oscars in 1961 — the year she won her first Academy Award, for her role in BUtterfield 8.
Celebrity
1942
1972

Audrey Hepburn. Marlon Brando. Elizabeth Taylor. Kirk Douglas. Grace Kelly. Bogart and Bacall . . . you get the picture. And during the Golden Age of Hollywood, when it came to the Academy Awards, LIFE got the picture, too — over and over again.

In fact, from the red carpet to the stage to the after-parties (where tuxedos and gowns were de rigueur) there were few noteworthy Oscar moments that LIFE missed. Here, in honor of Hollywood, actors, actresses and the magic of movies in general — we’re fans, after all — LIFE.com offers a selection of Oscar photos that capture not only the familiar glitz and glamor of the proceedings, but those far rarer moments when a superstar drops his or her guard and, for an instant, we see someone who seems remarkably like us — albeit better-looking, richer, and with more charisma than most of us could summon in a lifetime of trying.

[MORE: See what movie TIME readers picked as the best Best Picture winner ever.]

(Trivia note: There are various, competing stories around the origin of the name “Oscar” as a designation for the coveted statuette. Some historians believe that Bette Davis, of all people, coined the term because the statue resembled — so the story goes — her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. Another creation myth has it that a secretary to the great Golden Age studio head Louis B. Mayer saw the very first Academy Award statuette and pronounced it a dead ringer for Norway’s King Oscar II. No one, however, has ever definitively nailed down who first uttered the name Oscar in connection with the Academy Awards. And part of us hopes no one ever does.)

– Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com
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