Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Like much of the early Seventies, 1971 was a very good year for film aficionados who prized variety in the movies as highly as they valued quality. A Clockwork Orange, The Last Picture Show, The French Connection, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Klute, McCabe & Mrs. Miller the titles released in that single 12-month span are among the most revered and influential of the entire decade.

Of course, for even the most artistically minded filmmakers, all the accolades in the world can quickly pale beside an Oscar nomination or, the summit of happiness, an Oscar win. That thrilling, glitz-fueled night in Los Angeles, meanwhile, when much of the world seems to hold its breath waiting for the words, “And the Oscar goes to …” (or, as it was put in 1972: “The winner is …”) has become a cultural touchstone in its own right, with the show’s production values, jokes, performances and, of course, clothes as closely analyzed as the films the Academy honors each year.

In March 1972, LIFE magazine sent photographer Bill Eppridge to Los Angeles to photograph behind the scenes during the run-up to that year’s Oscar night, capturing images of everything from the dead-of-night delivery (by station wagon!) of the nomination lists to the destruction of the Price Waterhouse typewriter ribbons on which ballots were tallied.

Here, LIFE.com presents a gallery of both published and unpublished photographs from Eppridge’s fascinating, revealing assignment, an insidery piece titled, a bit acidly, “The Oscar Game.”

As for the April 10, 1972, ceremony itself, which took place weeks after Eppridge’s shoot and was hosted by the powerhouse lineup of Sammy Davis, Jr., Jack Lemmon, Helen Hayes and Alan King the big winners were The French Connection (five Oscars, including Best Picture, William Friedkin for Best Director and Gene Hackman for Best Actor); Fiddler on the Roof (three statuettes); Jane Fonda (Best Actress for Klute); and Peter Bogdanovich’s beautiful, profoundly heartfelt Last Picture Show, which scored a rare win when Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman won Best Supporting Actor and Actress awards for their roles in the film.

Price Waterhouse delivers Academy Award nomination lists to the theater

Original caption: “At 2 AM Price Waterhouse delivers 10,000 copies of the nominations lists to the Academy Award Theater.”

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

While nominations are being tallied, studios inundate the Academy with photographs and biographies of actors, directors and films they hope will be nominated.... Material on those not nominated is stacked away and later returned.

Original caption: “While nominations are being tallied, studios inundate the Academy with photographs and biographies of actors, directors and films they hope will be nominated…. Material on those not nominated is stacked away and later returned.”

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Members of the Academy enter an auditorium for a screening of an Oscar nominated film, 1972.

Members of the Academy enter an auditorium for a screening of an Oscar nominated film, 1972.

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

From a "caption guidance" memo sent to New York from L.A., meant to provide editors with a quick take on specific frames from the rolls and rolls of shot film: "Photographers shooting the honorary announcers who were there to read nominees for benefit of TV."

Photographers shooting the honorary announcers who were there to announce the nominees on television.

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

00818272.JPG

Original caption: “As the list of nominees is read, TV cameras and dozens of reporters jam the morning press conference.”

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Each night during the ballot counting at P.W. [Price Waterhouse], even the used portions of typewriter ribbons are sealed in a lockbox.

Original caption: “Each night during the ballot counting at P.W. [Price Waterhouse], even the used portions of typewriter ribbons are sealed in a lockbox.”

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Peering forlornly at near-full screening schedule, a studio rep tries to find a time to show a nominated film

Original caption: “Peering forlornly at near-full screening schedule, a studio rep tries to find a time to show a nominated film.”

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

00818270.JPG

Original caption “The $200 ‘beefed-up’ metal cabinet holding ballots and worksheets is locked in a specially secured room.”

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Rehearsing for a production number prior to the 1972 Academy Awards.

Rehearsing for a production number prior to the 1972 Academy Awards.

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Rehearsing for a production number prior to the 1972 Academy Awards.

Rehearsing for a production number prior to the 1972 Academy Awards.

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Envelope used by Price Waterhouse to enclose the name of Academy award winner

Envelope used by Price Waterhouse to enclose the name of Academy award winner

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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