When The Times awarded me the coveted assignment of reviewing Monday night's Academy Awards telecast on ABC, I was deeply moved and overwhelmed.
"You like me," I cried out. "You really like me!"
As I was about to accept this honor, however, reality set in.
How could I handle such an important task on my first day back from vacation?
I'd be rusty. I'd be unequal to the challenge.
I'd have to watch the traditional
tars-and-tell-them-they're-beautiful-and-then-ask-them-if-they-are-excited pre-Oscar show on KABC-TV Channel 7.
What if co-hosts Chuck Henry and Tawny Little (in her last assignment for Channel 7 before becoming a news anchor at KCAL-TV Channel 9) were idiotic?
I'd have to be on my toes in case Henry greeted Audrey Hepburn this way: "This woman has stole my heart in more films--Chuck Henry, how are you?" Like . . . she would care. And in case Little said, after addressing Hepburn as Audrey as if they were best buddies: "I felt funny calling her Audrey. It should have been Miss Hepburn, don't you think?"
And I'd have to be on the alert in case Henry said to Jodie Foster: "This is a woman who dearly loves film. And you're in the right occupation for it."
If Henry and Little did these things, would I be able to do my job and recommend them for Hannibal Lecter masks? I was doubtful.
What if host Billy Crystal's wit turned out to be the highlight of the Oscar telecast? I'd have to be courageous enough to point that out.
What if whispery Jack Palance won the best supporting actor award, and then proceeded to execute perhaps the most unusual acceptance in the history of the Oscars and provide evening-long grist for Crystal's jokes by doing one-arm push-ups in front of the camera after first using a crude term for moving his bowels?
I'd have to be perceptive enough to pick that up.
What if the telecast featured a message from the crew of the Atlantis space shuttle congratulating George Lucas on winning the Irving Thalberg Award?
Would I be observant enough to identify this as the first cue card reading from outer space?
Self-doubt was creeping in.
What if most everything else in the telecast, except for a spirited production number choreographed by Debbie Allen, seemed almost perfunctory?
What if, compared to the rest of the telecast environment, even Jack Valenti seemed exhilarating?
What if the Gilbert Cates-guided telecast were crisp and businesslike to a fault, almost as if it had been hatched in an attache case?
What if things got so tedious that I began pulling for the gay activist group Queer Nation to follow through on its vow to do something-- anything --to disrupt the program and give it some life?
Would I be able to mention this?
And, finally, what if the heroine worship of unnominated Barbra Streisand (for directing an unjustifiably nominated movie, "Prince of Tides") became the overkill of the evening?
Would I notice it?
My editors told me not to worry, that they'd get someone else to write the review.