Oscars done worse? Go back to 1989's show

Fordham Law School in St. Petersburg Times, March 03, 2010

No matter how good or bad Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin are as masters of ceremonies for Sunday’s Academy Awards, they needn’t worry about surpassing the infamy of shows from yesteryear.

The co-hosts haven’t given too many hints about their plans for the evening, other than Baldwin promising a Fordham Law School crowd that it will involve plenty of wardrobe changes and be “very metrosexualized.”

But short of hitting the stage in blue body paint and reading the nominations in the alien language of Avatar’s Na’vi, Martin and Baldwin will easily escape the shame and horror of the opening number at the 1989 Academy Awards. Yes, the year of the “Snow White Debacle.”

Oddly enough, the Web has been full of Oscar watchers recollecting that unusual evening lately. How much do you remember?

No host: The 61st Academy Awards took place March 29, 1989 at Los Angeles's Shrine Auditorium … with no host. That in itself isn't totally bizarre. The Oscars had been held six times previously with no host, but not since the early '70s. It hasn't been done since. After 1989's edition, Billy Crystal would host them four years in a row.

And the winner is … Stop right there. Again, 1989 was the year the Academy abandoned the traditional "And the winner is" intro before each award in favor of the gentler "And the Oscar goes to." And so begins the era of political correctness in Hollywood.

The second-worst moment: A musical number in the middle of the show featured a group of young actors — including Joely Fisher, Keith Coogan, Tyrone Power Jr., Carrie Hamilton, Ricki Lake, Patrick Dempsey, Chad Lowe and Corey Feldman (dressed as Michael Jackson!) — singing about winning an Oscar some day. What do they have in common today? Not an Oscar among them.

The lowlight: So no host, no traditional greeting for winners, a cheesy musical piece. But what exactly made this show so infamous? Its opening number, conceived by flamboyant movie producer Allan Carr (Grease, Grease 2 and the infamous flop/Village People star vehicle Can't Stop The Music.) It began with the late Merv Griffin singing I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts before surrendering the stage to Snow White and Rob Lowe, who serenaded the Disney heroine with a bizarre version of Proud Mary.

The lyrics were changed, horrifically, to "Now you made it big in the movies / Came to Hollywood, learned to play the game / You became a star/ Miss Animated Mama! / Earned yourself a place in the Walk of Fame / Klieg lights keep on burnin' / Cameras keep on turnin'!" (Don't sing along at home. You'll just get angry.)

The aftermath: Hollywood's royalty were not amused. An open letter penned by 17 legendary stars (including past Academy president Gregory Peck) called it "an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry." The Disney empire threatened a lawsuit — use of the Snow White outfit hadn't been approved in advance — but later settled for a public apology. The ever-resilient Lowe saw his career survive. Carr, on the other hand, wouldn't be so lucky. He wouldn't mount another major project before his death in 1999.

The lesson: Always watch the Oscars, because you never know when history will be made again.

This report contains material from the Chicago Sun-Times, CNN, the Associated Press, People and the Hollywood Reporter.

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