A Beautiful Time
She needn't have worried. Even as the clock struck 12 on the East Coast -- and then 12:53, when the longest Oscar ceremony on record (a whopping four hours and 23 minutes) finally wrapped up -- Berry remained the undisputed belle of the ball. Sobbing, shaking and seizing her historic Best Actress Oscar -- the first ever awarded to an African-American actress -- the Monster's Ball star provided the emotional high point of an otherwise subdued 74th Annual Academy Awards. "I thought I wasn't gonna make it up the steps," said a still-reeling Berry, 35, who dedicated her victory to "every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened." Upon taking the stage, "I thought, 'God, just don't let me embarrass my mother!' "
Plenty of moms had reason to be proud at the March 24 ceremony, hosted by a relatively restrained Whoopi Goldberg at the brand-new Kodak Theatre in downtown Hollywood. If the show sometimes lacked spontaneity -- several winners, including Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), read directly from prepared speeches -- it was still one for the history books, thanks to ground-breaking wins by Berry and Best Actor Denzel Washington. "Am I excited?" asked honorary Oscar recipient Sidney Poitier, previously the only African-American to win a Best Actor award (in 1963 for Lilies of the Field). "What an understatement! I am thrilled."
Ditto for Washington, 47 -- even if he appeared far more sanguine than Berry. "I was very calm all day today," said the Armani-attired Training Day star, who won an '89 Best Supporting Actor trophy for Glory. "I've been to the dance a few times, and I knew it was out of my hands."