LIFE at the Oscars: Rare Rehearsal Photos From 1958

Leonard McCombe—TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images
Leonard McCombe—TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images
Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster with choreographer Jack Cole, practicing a mock-bitter song-and-dance number called "It's Great Not to Be Nominated"; the tune ribbed many of the year's Oscar contenders.

Back in the day, being a genuine Hollywood star entailed more than just acting (or looking good while sort of acting): leading men and women had to sing, dance, play it straight, play the clown — in short, they had to know how to entertain.

Little wonder, then, that in 1958, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences planned its 30th Oscars ceremony — the fifth ever to be televised — it called upon the town’s multi-talented screen icons to do what they did best: namely, put on barn-burner of a show.

LIFE photographer Leonard McCombe was a fly on the wall that year as stars from Paul Newman and Zsa Zsa Gabor to Kirk Douglas and Mae West dropped in to rehearse for the big event. As it turned out, however, only a handful of McCombe’s marvelous photos were published in the magazine. Here, 55 years later, are the pictures that ran in LIFE, and many more that didn’t.

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