Elizabeth Taylor walks through a crowd of admirers at the Oscars in 1961.
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.Grey Villet—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Elizabeth Taylor walks through a crowd of admirers at the Oscars in 1961.
Grace Kelly and Clark Gable arrive at the 26th annual Academy Awards.
Kirk Douglas, elegant in white tie, smiles and waves as he enters the RKO Pantages Theater in 1954.
Television actress Sandra White laughs while arriving late at the 1953 Academy Awards.
Humphrey Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall arrive at the 27th annual Academy Awards at the RKO Pantages Theater in 1955.
Natalie Wood primps for the 1962 Academy Awards.
Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly wait backstage at the RKO Pantages Theatre during the 1956 Academy Awards.
John Wayne accepts the Best Director Oscar from Olivia DeHavillan for an absent John Ford during the 25th annual Academy Awards in 1953
The great, inimitable Charlie Chaplin — who had been living in self-imposed exile in Switzerland for two decades — blows a kiss to the crowd while accepting an honorary Oscar in 1972 for "the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century."
Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty attend the 1962 Academy Awards.
At the 1942 Academy Awards, Joan Fontaine gazes at the Best Actress Oscar she won for her role in Suspicion -- an achievement that made her, incredibly, the only actor or actress to ever win an Oscar for a performance in an Alfred Hitchcock film.
The one and only Audrey Hepburn cradles the Oscar she won for her role in Roman Holiday.
John Wayne holds Oscars for Gary Cooper and John Ford (Best Actor for High Noon) and Best Director for The Quiet Man, respectively) backstage at the 25th Academy Awards at the RKO Pantages Theatre, Hollywood, 1953.
Academy Award-winner Olivia de Havilland
Photographers snap their cameras Oscar winners Ingrid Bergman and Bing Crosby
Presenters Ginger Rogers and George Murphy dance together while holding an Oscar backstage at the RKO Pantages Theatre in 1950.
Marlon Brando (right, with French singer and actress Line Renaud) casually holds his Best Actor Oscar for On The Waterfront at the 1955 Academy Awards at the RKO Pantages Theatre.
Joanne Woodward dances with her husband, Paul Newman, at the Governor's Ball following the Academy Awards where she won the Oscar for Best Actress in Three Faces of Eve
Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed hold their Oscars as Best Supporting Actor and Actress in From Here to Eternity — a film that won eight statuettes in 1954, including Best Picture.
Producer Buddy Adler's Academy Award
Elizabeth Taylor walks through a crowd of admirers at the Oscars in 1961 — the year she won her first Academy Award, for
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Grey Villet—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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LIFE at the Oscars: Classic Photos From Hollywood's Biggest Night

Feb 23, 2012

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.)

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

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