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February 25, 2012

Rare Photographs From the 1958 Oscar Rehearsals

During Hollywood’s Golden Age, being a star entailed more than just 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 silver-screen icons to do what they did best, and 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 ever published. Until now...

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.

Inside Los Angeles’ RKO Pantages theater, home of the Academy Awards from 1949 through 1959, Janet Leigh and Shirley MacLaine practiced a tune.

Zsa Zsa Gabor arrived at the 1958 Oscar rehearsals in pearls and a fur stole.

Paul Newman appeared to wait for a cue, as fellow Oscar presenter Doris Day consulted with a director (gesturing toward the audience). On the big night itself, Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward won Best Actress for The Three Faces of Eve.

Mae West and Rock Hudson rehearsed the flirty pop standard, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as Academy president George Seaton looked on.

Clark Gable, 1958.

Shirley MacLaine, 1958.

Doris Day and Clark Gable prepared to present the winners of the writing awards, 1958.

Bob Hope, who hosted (or co-hosted) the Academy Awards 19 times over his long career, appears to pick something off Betty Grable’s sweater; standing above them on the steps are Shirley Jones —then famous for the movie musicals Oklahoma! and Carousel—and MGM idol Van Johnson.

Debbie Reynolds, 1958.

Russ Tamblyn (center, in dark jacket and shirt with huge lapels), 23-year-old Best Supporting Actor nominee for Peyton Place, stands in a group with other unidentified young actors; to the lower right of the frame are Rock Hudson and Mae West.

Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster checked out the scene from the seats. On March 27, 1958—the day after the Oscars ceremony—their war film, Run Silent, Run Deep, was released.

Shirley MacLaine checked in with the orchestra, 1958 Oscars rehearsal.

Just a few months away from the release the Hitchcock classic, Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart (a co-host in 1958) popped up at rehearsals.

Top row, from left: Shirley Jones, Van Johnson, Mae West, Rock Hudson, and husband-and-wife dancing team Marge and Gower Champion. Bottom: Janet Leigh, Rhonda Fleming, Bob Hope, and Shirley MacLaine.

Bob Hope during the rehearsals for the 1958 Academy Awards.

(Photos by Leonard McCombe, via the LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock)


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