It was 36 years ago today, March 27th 1973, when California actress Maria Cruz presented herself as "Sacheen Littlefeather" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the live Academy Award telecast and declined the Oscar for Marlon Brando (who won for The Godfather).
Brando had written a fifteen-page speech to be given at the awards by Cruz, but when the producer met her backstage, he threatened to physically remove her or have her arrested if she spoke on stage for more than 45 seconds. Her comments on stage were improvised (see it on You Tube). She then went backstage and read the entire speech to the press. Exactly what became of the Oscar is unknown. Cruz posed for Playboy magazine (October 1973 issue) and appeared in a few films of 70s and 80s.
Cruz (of Apache, Yaqui, Pueblo, and European ancestry) spoke on behalf of Brando who was upset about the mistreatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government and in Hollywood westerns:
Hello. My name is Sasheen Littlefeather. I’m Apache and I am president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee.
I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening, and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently, because of time, but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards, that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award.
Brando's speech contained the line:
What kind of moral schizophrenia is it that allows us to shout at the top of our national voice for all the world to hear that we live up to our commitment when every page of history and when all the thirsty, starving, humiliating days and nights of the last 100 years in the lives of the American Indian contradict that voice?
Seven months later, in October 1973, the pop song "Half-Breed" topped the United States Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, becoming Cher's second number one hit.
The song's chorus went:
Half-breed, that's all I ever heard
Half-breed, how I learned to hate the word
Half-breed, she's no good they warned
Both sides were against me since the day I was born