I was watching the news the other night, getting more depressed by the minute. There are so many problems in this world and I feel so helpless. The worst part is, I don't even know what I would do if I was in a position to help. I imagine someone in Waco has already tried yelling, "Of course you're not Jesus--now put those guns down and come out of there" into a megaphone over the compound wall. Clearly, it didn't work.
Just when I was feeling that the world's problems are beyond my ken, there was an interview on the news with Jeff Margolis about directing the Oscars. He said when he thinks of the Oscars, the word that comes to mind is "family." (Oh yeah, me, too. I was up for Best Sibling once.) Well, that explains a lot. Suddenly, the heavy feeling of hopelessness that descends after a few minutes of the news was lifted. "The Oscars," I thought. " That I think I could fix."
If I could choose anybody to host the Academy Awards, I'd want Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Margaret Dumont. I mean early Groucho, before "You Bet Your Life" and certainly before he wouldn't eat his peas. He had a particular way of wearing a tux that the Oscars deserve.
I think Billy Crystal is great; he's gone a long way toward making the Oscars less embarrassing to watch, but I'm choosing from dead or alive. Leave me alone, I'm trying to have a fantasy.
I heard this year's theme for the gala is to be "The Year of the Woman." I might throw up. Last year was the year women in a film shot people and drove off a cliff. Why is this our year? Maybe we should take turns. Maybe we should go back and forth everyday, so that Saturday, Jan. 1, 1994, is the day of the woman and Sunday, Jan. 2, 1994, is the day of the man and whatever day the Academy Awards falls on that's how we know what the theme is.
The year I produce the Oscars the theme will be "Announcing the Academy's Choices for the Best Work in Film for the Year While Being Entertained by Film Stars We Like to Have Talk to Us Because They Make Us Laugh, They Say Things Like We Wish We Could or We Just Like Looking at Them." That way we could have presenters like Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, W. C. Fields, Sidney Poitier, Thelma Ritter and Jack Lemmon.
Academy Awards night is the only night of the year that Hollywood dresses worse than Washington. The men do just fine, but the women are out of control. I'd like to be able to use the honor system and just ask them not to look totally silly, but I know at least one person would come wrapped in designer plastic and ruin it for everyone. The year I produce the Oscars everyone will wear usher uniforms and we'll put the money saved in gowns into low-income housing. If someone had an absolutely fabulous gown in mind, she is welcome to bring a picture and show everyone. I'd like to leave it at that, but this lack of emphasis on attire may cause women to overcompensate with their hairstyles and someone is likely to get hurt.
Therefore, like those signs at carnivals indicating how tall you must be to go on a ride, as the stars arrive at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to greet their fans and quickly take their seats inside, there will be a silhouette of a head at the door. If their hair is too big they cannot enter. With the energy and money we save on hair mousse, we can go a long way toward relief efforts in Somalia.
The last celebrity butt will have hit its seat, we hope, when the red velvet curtain lifts to cue a chorus of "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" and reveal a set like the one the Marx Brothers entered on in "Animal Crackers." After our four hosts come to the front of the stage the curtain is lowered and a podium is wheeled out. That's the big production number--I hope you enjoy it. From then on, people come out the side of the curtain or the center of the curtain, like we did in the school play--no long stairs.
It's important that the presenters not be concerned with negotiating long stairways balancing on high heels or monitoring their straps and cleavage, because there aren't going to be cue cards or writers. I am going to supply people like Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr. and Ed Wynn to present and some new rules:
Rule 1: The presenters have to memorize the names of the nominees. I love Judy Garland, but if she locks herself in her trailer and says she can't work that way, then she can't do the show this year. These people memorize entire movie roles, but they have to read five names off a prompter?
Rule 2: The presenter runs the clips that identify the nominees' work. When Ed Wynn comes out and says "the nominees for best sound are . . ." he can pop a tape into a machine or push a button so that the right film clip comes on at the right time; if it doesn't, he doesn't have to just stand behind the podium and look helpless. In this modern world there's gotta be a way to bring that off better than when Mrs. Kastler, my junior high home ec teacher, showed "The Cranberry: How Does It Get to Your Holiday Table?" with a filmstrip projector and a narration record with a bong sound when it was time to turn to another frame.
Rule 3: No dancing. I don't want to seem like the mean dad in "Footloose," but this dancing thing at the Academy Awards almost always gets us in trouble. The people we are supposedly honoring are threatened with being drummed out of the business if they don't keep their acceptance speeches short, and meanwhile the best costume nominations are displayed in a totally unrelated dance number. Remember the guys in loincloths creeping across the stage in a presentation for "Dances With Wolves"? You know, they had families and friends they had to face again.
I will make an exception and have the Nicholas Brothers do a number while Jack Valenti says whatever he insists on saying each year, but that's it.
I've eliminated the show's writers in order to make it a night of fairly sincere tribute. If a guy can't come out and say "It's nice to be here" without squinting at his lines just below the camera lens, then it's probably not nice to be there at all and he should begin with that.
Rule 4: No fake witty banter between the presenters. I'm gonna have Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke present the award for best song and if complying with Rule 4 seems difficult for them then perhaps they should avoid seeing one another ahead of time so that a simple "nice to see you" falls naturally and believably off their lips. I believe it's called "method presenting." (All of the nominated songs will be sung by Aretha Franklin, because she will do it beautifully.)
The time we shave off in phoniness we'll spend enjoying a tribute to the Three Stooges as well as clips of the great work of the presenters. Since they will include people like Myrna Loy, William Powell and Cicely Tyson, I know the evening will be richly entertaining. I don't want to break the spell by leaving the stage, so Cher will do her Equal commercials live.
Another happy effect of losing the show's writers will be that when Maggie Smith and Humphrey Bogart present the best screenplay award, they won't be forced to read the obvious line about how "without the writer there are no words . . ." and "the loneliness of staring at a blank page." Since we all pretty much know what a screenwriter does, we can just move right to the award and then have a real movie usher come onto the stage and explain that plastic drink lids at the movies can be recycled.
Rule 5: No cameras at honorees' bedsides. If we want to recognize publicly someone who has made important contributions to the film industry, but is too sick or weak to appear at the event, we may not have them on camera. We can film a nurse or a loved one standing outside their closed door and they can take a message.
The enforcement of Rule 5 will allow us time to have Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing "Summertime" before Louis Armstrong eases forward to the podium and, with that wonderful voice, makes an impassioned plea for the L.A. Times to stop running commercials in movie houses.
Hollywood is such a tough audience. I almost feel bad for the stars when I see how nervous they are speaking in front of one another. I would, therefore, forbid the camera operators to cover Jack Nicholson's reactions so frequently. I love Jack Nicholson's work, but the poor guy gets a camera shoved in his face every time we want to know if something is hip. Unless he wants to actually sit on stage and give "The Jack Nicholson Report," I would prefer, if it's OK with her, that the camera turn to a reaction shot of Imogene Coca when we're not sure what to feel. She is grace and charm personified.
After Katharine Hepburn and Alec Guinness bestow the best actor and actress awards, we show a little film. It begins with a clip of:
* Tom Hanks scraping the caviar off his tongue in "Big."
* The grown-up Salvatore watching the kissing montage from "Cinema Paradiso."
* W.C. Fields looking for his gun in "The Man on the Flying Trapeze."
* A whole series of movie shootings.
* News footage of the scene of the high school shooting in Chicago and the new metal detectors.
* News footage of the schoolyard in Stockton.
* News footage of the Luby's incident in Texas.
* The grandfather talking to Lukas Haas about the gun in "Witness."
* And closing with a black screen with the daily gun-related U.S. death toll in white.
That way, if Charlie Chaplin gives away the Oscar for best picture to "Unforgiven," someone somewhere might notice that something's not right.
Poundstone as dream producer: "Academy Awards night is the only night of the year that Hollywood dresses worse than Washington." Shot on location at the Grill in Beverly Hills; tweed suit by Joseph Abboud from I. Magnin; cellular phone from Ace Cellular; hair and makeup by Eric Barnard; styling by Joanna Dendel