LOS ANGELES, March 4, 1997

When the envelopes are finally opened and the 68th Academy Awards bestowed Monday night, the honors can bring millions of dollars in earnings and indelible fame to the recipients.

Or perhaps the winners could receive a flurry of media attention and merely resume their careers as before.

Such are the vagaries of Oscar history, and sometimes the statuette proves not so golden. The outcomes of the awards for best actor and actress might be outlined in five categories:

The Cinderellas

Audrey Hepburn is the classic example of a virtual unknown who soars immediately to top stardom by winning the award. In her first American film, Roman Holiday (1953), her elfin charm and beauty enthralled Academy voters and moviegoers everywhere. She enjoyed a brilliant career thereafter.

Daniel Day Lewis was a little-known English actor before he was chosen as best actor in 1989 for his stunning performance in My Left Foot. American producers recognized his appeal, and he scored in The Last of the Mohicans. Although he has been selective in his projects, he remains a much sought-after actor.

Ernest Borgnine seemed destined for a career as a film heavy when his sensitive portrayal in Marty took the Oscar in 1955. He enjoyed star status for several years and has continued as a character actor.

With her first film, Mary Poppins (1964), Julie Andrews won Academy accolades and soon reigned as one of the most popular film actresses.

The one-shots

A survey of Academy history reveals several performers who have won awards for the performances of their lives but never achieved the same heights as others. This may have been caused by the special nature of their talents or because their careers didn't fit the normal pattern of film stars.

Paul Scofield took the Oscar for A Man for All Seasons in 1966. The reticent Englishman has remained a theater star, but he never again sought or achieved prominence in films.

Ben Kingsley stunned the film world with his award-winning lead performance in Gandhi (1982), and now appears in character roles.

Others whose awards appear to be one-shots: Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God, (1986); F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus, (1984); Art Carney, Harry and Tonto, (1974).

The question marks

After being long dismissed as a pop singer with an eccentric lifestyle, Cher proved her acting talent with Moonstruck in 1987. Her film career has been virtually nonexistent ever since. Hard to cast? Personal problems? It remains a puzzlement.

Louise Fletcher was carried along by the sweep for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975. Although she remained a talented actress, her career dwindled into pale imitations of her nasty Nurse Ratched.

The sunset salutes

Actors sometimes give remarkable performances after long and distinguished careers. Those performances might not have been their greatest, but Academy voters may have judged them on a body of work.

John Wayne had only been nominated once before (The Sands of Iwo Jima) when he was finally accorded the Oscar for True Grit in 1969.

Henry Fonda was honored for his last film, On Golden Pond, (1981). He was too ill to attend the ceremonies and died soon afterward.

Jessica Tandy climaxed her long, distinguished career in theater, films and television with her award for Driving Miss Daisy in 1989. She was 81.

In her eighth nomination, Geraldine Page finally won her Oscar for The Trip to Bountiful in 1985. She died a year afterward.

The status quos

Many actors receive Academy Awards at the peak of their careers, when even Hollywood's highest honor can't improve their positions.

Among them: Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice, (1982); Jodie Foster, The Accused, (1988) and The Silence of the Lambs, (1991); Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman, (1992); Michael Douglas, Wall Street, (1987); Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, (1988); Robert DeNiro, Raging Bull, (1980); Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, (1975). Tom Hanks made the record books with his back-to-back wins for Philadelphia in 1993 and Forrest Gump in 1994.

Copyright 1997 USA Today.