In the year of "Dances With Wolves," Oscar show emcee Billy Crystal arrived onstage to open the ceremonies atop a horse; last year, he was wheeled out wearing a Hannibal Lecter-style mask and restraints, parodying "The Silence of the Lambs." But this year, with dour or talky or less well-known art-house films up for awards, Crystal's entrance is proving to be something of a challenge for his writers.
Here's one idea that'll never make the air--although one of Crystal's writers, Robert Wuhl, thinks it would get a big laugh: "Maybe we'll have him come out in drag with an Oscar statuette (substituting for part of his anatomy)." The reference is to 1992's freakiest movie moment, when Jaye Davidson reveals his true sex in "The Crying Game." The independent British production is up for six awards, including Davidson as best supporting actor.
But seriously, folks, the last thing that the people who put on the Oscars want is to reveal any jokes before the curtain rises Monday night.
"It's a little more difficult this year because you don't have a single image of anything (dominating the movies). So, I suppose if people have no expectations, we'll exceed them," said Wuhl, who, with David Steinberg (Crystal's manager, not the comedian) and Bruce Vilanch is collaborating with Crystal on his material.
The theme of this year's Academy Awards is "Women and the Movies," a subject that will be handled in a more reverential manner by the show's non-gag writers. There will be several short retrospectives of women's behind-the-scenes contributions in the fields of editing and costume design (special attention will be focused upon doyenne Edith Head, with 2,000 movies to her credit), among other crafts. Need anyone wonder, there will, of course, be lots of looks back at famous actresses as well.
According to the show's producer, Gil Cates, the theme has caught the fancy of a number of Oscar-winning actresses who will be presenters: Jane Fonda, Anjelica Huston, Kathy Bates, Whoopi Goldberg, Liza Minnelli and first-timer Diane Keaton.
As for the gag writers, Crystal included, their focus now is on deciding which 15-20 of the 200 jokes already written will become part of the comedian's on-air repertoire--not counting the ad-libs.
Wuhl uses a lot of sports analogies in explaining how the foursome plans the show's rundown: "We go in with a game plan, not unlike the San Francisco 49ers. The first five to six minutes are ready to go (scripted) and then we have a playbook for the rest . . . we respond to what the room is giving us." Meaning, what the academy-invited audience is giving Crystal in the way of response.
Wuhl assures the hometown crowd that there will be a lot of industry insider jokes.
"We don't look at it as a TV show, we look at it like we're playing to the guy growing up in New Jersey who enjoys sneaking into the Oscars for a look. It's one of the few shows where you are allowed to be silly and sophisticated."
The writer-actor--last seen in "Mistress," that other funny satire on Hollywood released in 1992--also hinted that this may be the final Oscars for the both of them.
"From my point of view, this one's special. I would only work with Billy and we've worked together for seven years on either the Grammys or Oscars. This may be the last time; it's just a lot of work. A great collaborative experience, but writing an awards show is not my goal in life."
If the ratings continue to go up on the telecast, as they have in recent years with Crystal as host, maybe they'll reconsider. Meanwhile, we await the jokes.