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Best And Worst Oscar Hosts

Michael Juliani |
February 24, 2012 | 3:57 p.m. PST



Last year, James Franco and Anne Hathaway rekindled America’s understanding of what makes a bad host.  Forced and flaccid bits,

Billy Crystal with Oscar statue (creative commons)
Billy Crystal with Oscar statue (creative commons)
including Franco appearing in a dress and Hathaway in a tuxedo, not only alienated the old but also the young, their target audience.  

Two years ago, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin provided one of the best-hosted Oscar nights of the new millennium.  Martin’s line, “Hosting the Oscars is like making love to a beautiful woman—it’s something I only get to do when Billy Crystal’s out of town,” played just right. 

What makes or breaks an Oscar host is the fine-lined mix of class, irreverence and originality delivered with aplomb.  Billy Crystal, this year’s replacement host, returns for a ninth time.  He’s considered one of the best because of this ability to mine the egos and humilities of the awards’ culture, as well as an adroit sense of theatrics.  Jack Nicholson allegedly attends every Crystal-hosted Academy Awards because he knows Crystal will have a joke about him that he’ll love.

Bob Hope and Johnny Carson both had humor a generation tamer than Crystal’s but are considered the all-time best.  Both hosted the show many times—Hope 19 and Carson five.  

The Oscars’ worst hosts—like Franco and Hathaway—lack the ease that these others have.  

David Letterman, the 1995 host, has never lived down an unexplainable joke he tried in his monologue.  “I’ve been dying to do something all day, and I think maybe we can take care of this…”  He went on to introduce Oprah to Uma Thurman, going from side of the stage to the other to where the two were sitting.  Presumably playing off their unusual vowel-y names, Letterman kept the gag going.  Now he routinely razzes himself on the Late Show for his poorly received night at the Oscars. 

In 1959, the Oscars actually finished 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and host Jerry Lewis had to fill the time with impromptu singing and dancing performances from some of the night’s winners.  Even then, reportedly, they still fell short a few minutes. 

This year, with Crystal back again, nobody’s anticipating much more than a good, familiar show, one that finishes right on time.       

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