Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Back in the day, being a genuine Hollywood star entailed more than just acting (or looking good while sort of 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 screen icons to put on a barn-burner of a show.

LIFE photographer Leonard McCombe was a fly on the wall that year as stars such as Paul Newman, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Kirk Douglas and Mae West rehearsed for the big event. Only a handful of McCombe’s marvelous photos were published. Here, decades later, are the pictures that ran in LIFE, and many more that didn’t.

Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, 1958

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.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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

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

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 1958 Oscars

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

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Paul Newman, 1958 Oscars

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 .

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Mae West and Rock Hudson

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

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Clark Gable, known for years as "The King of Hollywood," chats with the band during a break in rehearsals, 1958.

Clark Gable, 1958.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Shirley MacLaine shows off the pixie-cute style that helped make her a "mascot" of the Rat Pack throughout the Fifties and early Sixties.

Shirley MacLaine, 1958.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Doris Day and Clark Gable

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

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Bob Hope, Betty Grable, Shirley Jones and Van Johnson

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.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Debbie Reynolds, 1958

Debbie Reynolds, 1958

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Russ Tamblyn at the 1958 Oscars

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.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster

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.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Shirley MacLaine

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

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Jimmy Stewart, 1958

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

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Shirley Jones, Van Johnson, Mae West, Rock Hudson, Marge Gower Champion, Janet Leigh, Rhonda Fleming, Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine

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.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Bob Hope, photographed in a quiet moment at the 1958 Oscar rehearsals. According to notes taken during Leonard McCombe's photo shoot, Hope cracked up the likes of Clark Gable and Cary Grant with new material: "Tovarich Hope, newly returned from Moscow, unlimbers his Russian jokes."

Bob Hope reportedly cracked up his fellow stars with jokes during the rehearsals.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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