Whoopi Goldberg was named Sunday to host this year's Academy Awards show, ending a difficult search to replace its previous popular master of ceremonies, Billy Crystal.
Once Crystal declined to front this year's event for a fifth straight year, one of the biggest guessing games in Hollywood was who producer Gil Cates would call upon. Cates was mum and would not confirm reports that such entertainers as Bette Midler, Johnny Carson, Tom Hanks and Steve Martin had also declined.
One veteran Oscar insider connected with a major studio said that the five nominees for best picture (which will be announced Wednesday morning) has been easier to predict than guessing who Cates would ultimately persuade to do the March 21 show.
Through her publicist, Goldberg said Sunday she is "thrilled about my date with Oscar. To go from watching to winning to hosting in one lifetime is major." The 44-year-old performer, currently shooting "Boys on the Side" in Pittsburgh, won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the 1990 romantic comedy, "Ghost."
The selection of Goldberg is a departure for the Oscar show, where white males have predominated as masters of ceremonies. Not only will Goldberg be the first woman solo host, she also will be the show's first solo African American host.
"I think it's a terrific choice and she'll do a wonderful job," Crystal said Sunday. "And I'm happy for her, the Academy and the fans of the show." Cates, who is in his fifth year producing the Oscar extravaganza, said Goldberg has "all the qualities of a great Oscar host," noting she is a highly recognizable star who has millions of fans. In an earlier interview, Cates told The Times, "I'll miss Billy. He was really wonderful. The parting was sad, but really amicable. I understand you do it for four years and it gets to be a grind. Last year they really struggled about how he would top his entrances of previous years. And I understand that problem. Each year I've said it's going to be my last, too."
With the exception of Crystal, Cates' "team" is returning: director Jeff Margolis, choreographer Debbie Allen and music director Tom Conti. Cates, the 59-year-old dean of UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, is an Emmy Award-winning producer who has directed for stage, TV and movies for more than 30 years.
In pointing to the importance of the host's role, Cates stresses the unique qualities of the Academy Awards presentations: "It's the oldest mass show in the country. It ties together events that have taken place all through the previous year. It's the reflection (of) how much impact movies and visual imagery have on our conscience. This is one of our culture's only mass events that appeals to children and grandparents alike."
One billion people worldwide are estimated to view the show.
The next event on the road to this year's Oscars is the Wednesday morning announcement of nominations.
Many film industry watchers believe the top film Oscar nominations will closely resemble the Directors Guild of America's field of five movies for its best director prize: "The Piano," "The Fugitive," "The Remains of the Day," "The Age of Innocence" and "Schindler's List."
Hollywood film companies are poised to take advantage of the prestige and publicity that nominations can bring to a movie, and thus give a boost to ticket sales.
The distributors of such likely Oscar-nominated movies as "The Piano," "Schindler's List" and "The Fugitive," among others, already have contingency plans.
"If we're lucky enough to get the nomination," said Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, the distributor of "The Piano," "you'll see 300 more prints on screens by Friday," bringing the film's total to 800 prints. That would compare to the number of theaters Miramax had for "The Crying Game," its 1992 multiple-nominated movie, at this time last year.
Weinstein said "The Crying Game" had grossed under $20 million and "The Piano" has taken in $24 million to date. But after its Oscar nominations, "The Crying Game" went on to reach $63 million.
"At this point, everyone recognizes that 'Schindler's List' is the favorite and a fantastic movie, but you never know," Weinstein said. "The race is just beginning."
A spokesperson for Warner Bros., which distributed "The Fugitive," said that no matter which way the nominations go, the popular summer film will be reissued nationally on Friday.
At Universal Pictures, the distributor of "Schindler's List," the plan had always been to slowly open the film from its December debut to the present.
"The public demand is reason enough to expand the movie," said Nikki Rocco, Universal senior vice president of distribution and marketing.
"We will continue increasing its play dates. We're in for a very long run." As of last weekend, the film was at 354 movie theaters, or the nation's top 150 markets. By this Friday, it will be in 750 locations, Rocco said.
The nominations themselves will be revealed in front of 500 credentialed members of the news media at the pre-dawn hour of 5:30 in order to maximize publicity opportunities, timing the announcements for the East Coast-based morning talk shows.
The 8:30 a.m. segment of those network shows will carry the reading of the nominees by Academy president Arthur Hiller and 1992 supporting actress winner Marisa Tomei, live from the Beverly Hills headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.