The Atlantic's Eleanor Barkhorn spoke earlier this month with Academy Awards photographer Art Streiber, who has been shooting behind the scenes photos at the ceremony for the past decade. The images he's captured are as iconic as they are glamorous—Julia Roberts laughing backstage with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington; Nicolas Cage smoking on the loading dock with Jack Nicholson. The opportunities for a photographer to capture such candid celebrities moments are rare, requiring a level of access that Streiber acknowledges hasn't existed for decades:
Those kinds of opportunities don't exist because the celebrities and actors and actresses are very managed and handled and presented. So yes, they're in gowns and jewels, yes, they're in tuxedos, but the moments are all real, they're not manufactured.
MORE LIFE GALLERIES:
Oscars: Best Actress Winners Since 1960
Oscar Photos: 2000-Present
Grace Kelly's Big Oscar Night
But in those classic Hollywood years—the '50s and '60s—LIFE magazine did have that unprecedented behind the scenes access, photographing stars like Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, and Elizabeth Taylor looking more genuine than you've ever seen them. The photos of these screen legends at Academy Awards ceremonies that were held over 50 years ago serve as the perfect bookend to Streiber's collection of modern photos: as the years have gone by, the magic of Hollywood's biggest night has remained the same.
See the full gallery at LIFE.com.