When the first televised Academy Awards ceremony took place on March 19, 1953, I, a bedazzled 15-year-old movie fan, sat in front of our black and white TV set, riveted and no doubt pledging to never forget that moment as long as I lived. Since then I have never (and I mean NEVER) missed a telecast.
It was the 25th such award ceremony but the first one televised. (“The Greatest Show on Earth” won over “High Noon” and “The Quiet Man”. Go figure.) Bob Hope was the first TV host and of course we all thought he was just funny enough and perfect for the part. But year after year he was the host, and, as you might expect, even the great Bob Hope lost his edge. But I watched. Every year. No matter how long into the night they went on, I watched.
They began televising the awards in color in 1966 but we still had a black and white TV, so I missed seeing it in all its glory until much later. But since movies were still mostly in black and white it wasn’t like we knew what those stars looked like in color, anyway.
Off the top of my head, here are my highlights over the years: (I’m doing this without looking anything up; I just want to see what’s still in my memory bank.)
Eva Marie Saint blurting “Oh, shit” into the microphone when she won for “On the Waterfront”. Big news in the day, that cussing. Especially coming from a woman and a PG one at that. (Pregnant, but nobody said the word out loud then. It was always PG. Or, in certain circles, knocked up.)
John Huston drunk as a skunk accepting a special award for something.
The actress in the indian costume un-accepting the award the Academy gave Marlon Brando for some movie.
A streaker running across the stage, stealing David Niven’s thunder for a second until Niven recovered and commented on the guy’s physique. I remember it was Niven and not the streaker who got the standing ovation.
Laurence Olivier giving a speech that made me and almost everyone in the audience cry. It was splendid. Jon Voight’s reaction, caught by the camera, is etched into my mind. (I don’t know what happened to that Jon Voight.)
Sammy Davis Jr.’s last appearance on that stage when everybody, including him, knew he was dying.
Elizabeth Taylor talking about aids when nobody was talking about it.
The year “Gandhi” swept the awards, winning almost all the big categories, and Ben Kingley’s speech. I don’t remember a word of his speech, of course, but watching him up there accepting a most deserved award gave me chills.
Billy Crystal’s opening bit where he was wheeled on stage wrapped in restraints and hidden behind a Hannibal Lecter mask. Brilliant.
Madonna’s astonishing stage fright night, where she sang shakily and off-key and danced as if she’d just had knee surgery. I almost felt sorry for her.
Michael Moore talking against the Iraq war.
Rob Lowe “singing” with Snow White.
The little Italian actor who leaped over the seats to get to his Oscar. (See? I remember that but can’t remember his name. So much for Oscar antics.)
I know there are many more if I really thought about it, but that brings me to last night, when Seth McFarlane hosted the 85th Academy Awards ceremony. I watched the entire thing, from the red carpet to the sign-off, and there are a few moments that stand out for me. Daniel Day-Lewis’s irreverent and funny acceptance speech, Michelle Obama’s opening of the envelope and announcement of best picture (Argo), Ben Affleck’s not-so-subtle smack at the Academy for snubbing him in the Best Director category.
The opening bit was–oh, my GOD–so, so, long. And bad. Really bad. Even Captain Kirk couldn’t save it. It made James Franco’s performance as host in 2011 look just okay, which is, I hate to say, some feat.
The “We Saw Your Boobs” song might have been funny in a shortened version, but, as with everything in the McFarlane script, it went on into the realm of the interminable.
The musical performances are what saved the night for me. Adele, Shirley Bassey, Jennifer Hudson, Barbra Streisand–sublime, those ladies.
(Notice I’ve left out the last song–the duet between McFarlane and Kristin Chenowith. Yes, well. . .)
But speaking of Franco. (We were, weren’t we?) this is what I wrote about Franco’s stab at hosting on the morning after that event two years ago:
If I could have timed my naps to James Franco’s appearances, I would have been almost as happy as I was when “The King’s Speech” won best picture. I like the guy and I hate to add to the pile-ups on whatever the heck he thought he was doing up there, but man, he was dreadful. (Anne Hathaway clearly saw she was in the middle of a train wreck and was trying not to panic, but there were moments when I thought she was going to tear off one of her many dresses and run screaming out of the theater.)
But for Franco, it wasn’t over even when it was over. He got into a Tweet war with a 20-year-old fellow Yalie (He’s working on a Doctorate in English at Yale), and she posted this about him in her blog: “Combined with his Oscars hosting performance and in accordance with the opinion of commenter’s [sic] on my last blog, I’m becoming convinced that James Franco’s whole life is a form of postmodern performance art. In that context, his Twitter fits right in.“ Oh, ouch. That’s harsh.Okay, maybe the hardest job in the world is hosting the Oscars. It shouldn’t be, but considering the fails over the years with talent that should have been talented, I will cut those hosts some slack. Because I love the Oscars, even when they’re bad. There is nothing else like them at all.
I do love the Golden Globes and they’re my second best, as long as Ricky Gervais is nowhere in sight. (I know, I know–you like him; I just find his attempts at out-ickying himself feeble and far from funny.) I love that everybody can drink at the tables, so that by the end of the night anything can happen.
But this is about the Oscars. Any thoughts about the Oscars? I’m all ears. As you can tell, I can’t get enough of that wonderful stuff. I’ve been at this for 60 years. I can’t quit now.