Zbigniew Rybczynski Zbigniew Rybczynski

The Worst Oscar Night Ever, or “American Pig, I Have Oscar!”

Winning an Oscar is supposed to be a night you’ll always remember. For Polish animator Zbigniew Rybczynski, it was a night he’d rather forget. In 1983, he earned the dubious distinction of being the only person to win an Academy Award, and within minutes, arrested and jailed.

The troubles began the moment that presenter Kristy McNichol tried to announce his name as a nominee in the Best Animated Short category for the film Tango:

She gave up due to the difficulty of his name, and when she had to announce his name again as the winner, she butchered it into something that sounded like “Zbigniewski Sky.”

Rybczynski, dressed in a tuxedo and sneakers, came onstage with his translator. He began his speech, “Distinguished members of the Academy, ladies and gentlemen, I made this short film so I will speak very short. I feel honored to receive this award. I am dreaming that someday I will speak longer from this place…” At that moment, the orchestra cut off his speech with the ignominious Looney Tunes theme.

His translator pleaded to the audience, “It’s not over yet. He has important message.” But McNichol and co-presenter Matt Dillon were already trying to escort Rybczynski offstage. Rybczynski insisted that he couldn’t leave yet, saying, “No, no.” Rybczynski gave McNichol a kiss as she backed off. “That is Slavic custom. We are very warm people,” the translator told the confused audience. Then, continuing via the translator, Rybczynski attempted to make a point that was garbled in the translation: “And on the occasion of the film like Gandhi, which will portray Lech Walesa in solidarity.”

After speaking with reporters in the press room, Rybczynski briefly stepped outside of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to enjoy a victory smoke. When he tried to walk back into the building, holding an Oscar no less, a private security guard denied him entry. The overaggressive guard’s behavior escalated into a physical altercation and the police were called.

Two officers arrived, Sgt. Richard Longshore and another detective. “I had a female detective with me who spoke about 15 languages,” Longshore said. “She explained the situation to him.” A frustrated (and according to the police, intoxicated) Rybczynski looked at Longshore and yelled, ‘American pig, I have Oscar.’ Then—if you believe the police account—Rybczynski tried to kick him in the groin.

Rybczynski was arrested, and his Oscar was booked as “property.” In jail, he asked to speak to celebrity ‘palimony’ lawyer Marvin Mitchelson, the only American lawyer whose name he’d ever heard. Mitchelson later quipped that when he was first contacted, he said, “First bring me an interpreter, and then tell me how to pronounce his name.”

The district attorney’s office declined to prosecute Rybczynski, saying there had been a language problem. Rybczynski later offered his own opinion of the event, saying that “success and defeat are quite intertwined.”

“Success and defeat are quite intertwined.”

While Rybczynski’s special night was special for all the wrong reasons, the story has a happy ending. After the Oscar, he had a successful career directing dozens of experimental shorts and MTV music videos, and also spent many years developing new technologies like hi-def TV.

After years of living in the US, Rybczynski recently returned to Poland where he is heading the Wroclaw Visual Technology Studios, a hybrid school/production studio that focuses on applying new technologies to film production. Future confrontations with American law enforcement are perhaps less likely nowadays because, as this video shows, Rybczynski has also learned how to speak English.

Sources used in this story: Oscars.org, LA Times. Tango’s IMDB page, “Behind the Oscar: The Secret History of the Academy Awards” by Anthony Holden
  • wever

    ………. insightful and rather amusing, even though I cannot think of a reason why this story was shared on CB today. It seems like a very random subject to post about.

    • tommy

      Amid recently compared Tango to that video of airplanes, which is maybe why he’s been thinking about Tango.

      • Exactly, Tommy. I’ve written about Zbig twice in the past week—both in the post you mentioned as well as the Dave Brubeck obit. Once I read this story about him, I had to find out more and share it with everyone.

      • Mariana Rybczynski

        This is some what hard to come out and say. This person everyone is talking about is my cousin. Yes he may have done all the work but if it wasn’t for my father Jan F. Rybczynski he would have never been heard of.

  • This may be your best post ever, Amid; very well told and quite funny in a dark sort of way. I’m glad Mr. Rybczynski is still with us; he sounds like the Ralph Steadman of animation!

    • Glad you enjoyed the story so much, Scott! You’re right, there’s a comical absurdity to experiencing one of the greatest moments possible for a short filmmaker, and then immediately having it ruined by a couple of assholes.

  • Okay, this made me laugh. Thanks for sharing.

    (And how DO you pronounce his name??)

    • Crystal[RB]
    • Tim


    • I once saw the artist on TV explain the pronunciation by pointing to his chest “rib”, then his his “chin” then pointing upward to the “sky” but his pronunciation was more like “skee”

      • Steve, THAT’S awesome.

        • Iritscen

          He’s the real-life version of a certain Superman character: “Mix”… “Yes”… “Spit”… “Lick”!

    • Bryba


  • Pedro Nakama

    Seriously… he needs to animate this story. He might win another Oscar.

  • Polecat

    I remember this story! I bent over double laughing the first time I read about it. But I never heard the “American pig” quote, and I never got to see the actual film. Thanks Amid! :D

  • Joel

    I really enjoyed reading this! Any similarly interesting anecdotes would always be welcome! ^_^

  • Doz Hewson

    I didn’t know that that had even happened.
    Thanks for unearthing this!

  • jordan reichek

    American Pig!
    gotta love that!

  • Brent

    What I remember from that night was a famous Canadian radio show host castigating McNichol and Dillon for mangling such a simple name as Zbigniew Rybczynski. His name? Peter Gzowski.

  • joe horne

    Heavy…man….. it happens too much….

  • beamish13

    Wonderful anecdote! Rybczynski is a creative force to be reckoned with. He shot and essentially co-directed a German horror film in the early 80’s called ANGST that anticipates many of the aesthetic choices that became commonplace in music videos and feature films decades later (e.g. Darren Aronofsky’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and Gaspar Noe’s ENTER THE VOID).

  • Keith Blackmore


  • I never thought I’d see at the CB a story of polish animator. It’s nice of you :)

  • Douglas Frederick

    I loved his incredibly innovative, diverse and technically brilliant music videos in the 80’s. The USA network show Night Flight did an entire special on him and his work around 1986. Tango I found on an animation festival collection on laserdisk back in the 90’s. There’s something very surreal and even disturbing about the increasingly layered repeated animation clips all occurring in the same room. Zbig also gave us the bullet penetrating a heart scene (inside body view) in the movie Three Kings.

  • Zib ZAB ZO

    He also made my favorite music video. Close to the edit by art of noise.

  • Phred_P

    Updated video link: