Oscar hosts: the good, the bad and the weird

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2011 at 6:50 am

Oscar hosts: the good, the bad and the weird
By Martin Morrow, CBC News Posted: Feb 22, 2011

Most durable Oscar hosts:

Bob Hope

The host who hosted the most, comedian Hope was first recruited to pilot the awards in 1940. He MCed the ceremony on and off throughout the ’40s and ’50s — including its first telecast, in 1953 — and by the ’60s he’d become as symbolic of the Oscars as the golden statuette itself. When he finally bowed out in the ’70s, he had played host a record 18 times.

You can credit Hope with setting the lighthearted tone that, on the best Oscars shows, steers a course between gentle mockery and genuine respect. Most of Hope’s humour was at his own expense, built on recurring jokes that his own acting efforts never got nominated. His most famous gripe, uttered at the 1968 ceremony: “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or, as it’s known at my house, Passover.”

Billy Crystal

With eight shows to his credit, Crystal is the closest rival to Hope for repeat duties. He ushered in the Oscars six times in the ’90s and again in 2000 and 2004. In 2003, a USA Today poll ranked him the most popular host in Oscar history. He certainly brought an air of goofiness to the occasion, whether making an entrance riding hisCity Slickers horse or inserting himself into clips from the year’s nominated films.

Most disrespectful Oscar hosts:

Chris Rock

In the 1970s, thanks to political actors like Marlon Brando and Vanessa Redgrave, the Oscars were a magnet for controversy. By the 2000s, the Academy had to go looking for someone controversial to give the show an edge. Rock, hosting in 2005, was razor-sharp — his monologue comparing then-president George W. Bush to a Gap store manager was wickedly hilarious. But his digs at the thespian talents of Tobey Maguire, Colin Farrell and Jude Law weren’t as welcome. Sean Penn, for one, was not impressed, taking an onstage opportunity to say that Law “is one of our finest actors.”

David Letterman

Playfully ribbing the Oscars is one thing — treating them as a farce is quite another. Letterman learned that the hard way during his much-criticized hosting gig in 1995. He set the lowbrow tone early with his infamous “Oprah, Uma” joke, a childish attempt to make fun of the actresses’ unusual names. The nadir of the evening, however, was his notorious Tom Hanks Stupid Pet Trick

Most ‘animated’ host: Donald Duck

Disney’s incomprehensible canard shared hosting duties with Hope, David Niven, Jack Lemmon, Rosalind Russell and James Stewart at the 1958 awards.

Ellen DeGeneres carries an Oscar in a Snugli at the 2007 Academy Awards. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Most humble host: Ellen DeGeneres

Picked to MC the 2007 awards, DeGeneres played up the “dream come true” aspect of the job. She fawned over the celebrity audience like a star-struck fan, at one point even getting Steven Spielberg to take her picture with Clint Eastwood. She continued to milk the experience with a teary postmortem on her TV show the following day.

Most unfortunate host: Jerry Lewis

Believe it or not, there was a time when the Oscars ran short. In 1959, the ceremony wrapped up 20 minutes earlier than broadcaster NBC had planned. Arch-doofus Jerry Lewis was hosting and tried to fill the gap by adlibbing frantically. After he attempted to conduct the show’s orchestra and began squawking on a trumpet, the network had had enough. It axed his tomfoolery and filled the remaining airtime with a sports documentary.

Most unflappable host: David Niven

In 1974, at the height of the streaking craze, the Academy was braced for a likely “cameo” by a naked runner. Sure enough, a prankster named Robert Opel made a full-frontal dash behind co-host David Niven as he was in the process of introducing the presenter of the Best Picture award. The suave British actor let the shock and laughter die down before smoothly firing off a punchline about Opel’s “shortcomings.”

Most fish-out-of-water host: Jon Stewart

Popularity aside, the hip political satirist was an odd choice to front the Oscars gala in 2006 and ’08. While his jokes jibed with Tinseltown’s liberal sympathies, Stewart never seemed entirely comfortable with the task. Witness his awkward 2006 opening monologue.

Best visual gag by a host: Whoopi Goldberg as Elizabeth I

Few hosts have topped Goldberg’s showstopper at the 1999 awards, when she appeared onstage decked out in ruffles and whiteface as the 16th-century British monarch. It was the year that both Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench were nominated for playing the Virgin Queen. Goldberg’s accompanying line: “I am the African Queen. Some of you may know me as the Virgin Queen, but I can’t imagine who.”

Worst visual gag by a host: David Letterman’s Stupid Pet Trick

When he hosted in 1995, Letterman insisted on bringing the flea-circus antics of his talk show to the ceremony. Best Actor nominee Tom Hanks — likely a bundle of nerves at the time — was reluctantly pulled onstage to assist Dave in a routine involving a dog that chased its own tail.

The Academy Awards will be presented in Los Angeles on Feb. 27.

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