Hollywood’s big night is slated to go forward without an emcee for the first time in 30 years.
Barring some eleventh-hour intervention, the host of the 2019 Oscars will be … drumroll please…
While there’s always a chance that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could find someone at the last minute, the previously announced host Kevin Hart definitely won’t be keeping the gig. Hart confirmed as much on January 9, following a weeks-long fiasco involving homophobic tweets and jokes he made in the past, Hart stepping down amid an extended controversy over what many see as his refusal to truly apologize for those tweets and jokes, and a misguided attempt by Ellen DeGeneres to help rehabilitate Hart’s image and reinstate him as host.
(Representatives from the Academy now also say that DeGeneres, who hosted the show in 2007 and 2014, misrepresented her conversation with an Academy official about Hart.)
Meanwhile, the February 24 live broadcast is about six weeks away, there’s no replacement host in sight, and sources close to the process have told Variety that the Oscars’ producers are now planning a host-less ceremony for the first time in decades. Instead of a single host tying the show together, that job will fall to various celebrity presenters who will likely step in throughout the night to introduce segments, hand out awards, and, according to Variety’s sources, perform skits and musical numbers.
Reportedly, “the Avengers will make an appearance, too” — which is perhaps to be expected, given that ABC, the network airing the ceremony, is owned by Marvel’s corporate overlords, Disney.
But has a host-free Oscars ever happened before? Why not just find someone else to helm the show in 2019? And is there any good reason to go host-free, even aside from Kevin Hart’s self-immolation?
Has there ever been a host-free Oscars? Yes, and it was a disaster.
At the 61st Academy Awards, held on March 29, 1989, much of the evening was business as usual. Various celebrities, many of whom were real-life couples, presented the statuettes: Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. There were some family acts, too: Beau, Jeff, and Lloyd Bridges presented, as did Donald and Kiefer Sutherland. Cher gave out the award for Best Picture, to Rain Man. Bob Hope and Lucille Ball — for whom the ceremony marked her last public appearance before her death on April 26 of that year — showed up to introduce a musical number entitled “I Want to Be an Oscar Winner.”
But nobody served as host, opening with a monologue and stitching together the sections with connective patter. The show just moved from one bit to the next. And most of it was fine.
The “I Want to Be an Oscar Winner” musical number, however — along with a much more famous one, a disastrous opening piece that replaced the traditional monologue to have Rob Lowe duet with Snow White — might be part of the reason a host-free Oscars never happened again.
Here’s the Rob Lowe/Snow White:
In the bit, Snow White make the trip out to glittering Hollywood, which she’s been missing since her heyday in the late 1930s. Upon her arrival, she’s shown a good time at a version of the pre-Prohibition Cocoanut Grove club, where Merv Griffin, singing a variation on his hit “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” introduces various old-timey Hollywood celebrity couples who are sitting at the tables, like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Vincent Price and Coral Browne.
Eventually Snow is introduced to her blind date for the evening, Rob Lowe, and they sing and dance their way through an interminable tribute to Hollywood, singing “Rollin’, rollin’, keep the cameras rollin’.”
It was surreal, weirdly scripted, produced badly in spots (the cameras couldn’t quite figure out where to point at times), and it ended with a showgirl-style chorus line of dancing theater ushers, which felt like something right out of a fever dream, but not in a good way. Also, Rob Lowe definitely did not have the range.
The skit is still remembered as an infamous disaster, one that mortified the fresh-faced actress playing Snow White, Eileen Bowman, who was 22 at the time and said she’d just “fallen off the turnip truck” when she auditioned for the role. According to Bowman, she was strong-armed into signing a gag order afterwards.
Lowe was 24, and struggling to rehabilitate his image after a sex tape involving him and two girls, one of whom was only 16 years old, had surfaced. Someone clearly thought that having him play a kind of Prince Charming would help. He’s continued to poke fun at it in the decades since.
(Lowe went on to have a successful career; Bowman, not so much.)
Lily Tomlin came on stage after the sketch and cracked that “more than a billion and a half people just watched that, and at this very moment they’re trying to make sense of it.”
And here’s “I Want to Be an Oscar Winner,” which was supposed to introduce Hollywood’s “stars of tomorrow,” most of whom have more or less disappeared in the years since (Melora Hardin, Patrick Dempsey, Corey Feldman, Chad Lowe, and Ricki Lake notwithstanding):
The number is an unfocused mess that wanders on and on, seemingly as a showcase for various young starlets’ singing and dancing ability, except some of them are definitely better than others. And in retrospect, it feels like a bunch of upstarts begging the Academy to pay attention to them — something the Academy then deigned to do. Yikes.
After the ceremony, 17 Hollywood luminaries, including Billy Wilder and former Academy president Gregory Peck, wrote an open letter to the show’s producer, Allan Carr, declaring that the broadcast was “an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture …read more
Read more here: Why no one wants to host the Oscars