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OSCARS TAP JACKMAN AS HOST

King is a Times staff writer.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Friday that Hugh Jackman will be the host of the 81st annual Oscars on Feb. 22 at the Kodak Theatre.

The lanky Australian, who was recently named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, is best known for playing Wolverine in the “X-Men” franchise, including the upcoming “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and for his romantic adventure roles in the current period drama “Australia” and as a vampire hunter in “Van Helsing.”

Not exactly the wild and crazy comedy type that has been hosting the Oscars for the last 20 years, a list that includes names such as Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres.

In addition to looking great in a tux, the 40-year-old Jackman has TV hosting experience. He emceed both the 2004 and 2005 Tony Awards, and won an Emmy Award for his first go at hosting that award show.

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“He is so sparkling and personable, and he delivers,” said academy President Sid Ganis. “I saw him recently at a Motion Picture Home event on the Sony lot. He is charming and pleasant. The other thing is: He loves [being the host]. He loves the patter. He likes to wink his eye at an audience and have fun.”

While it’s been more than two decades since a non-comedian was one of the Academy Award hosts, the Jackman announcement is hardly unprecedented. Numerous actors, directors and even producers have served as master of ceremonies. Douglas Fairbanks, Laurence Olivier, James Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Claudette Colbert, Fredric March, Agnes Moorhead, Thelma Ritter, Fred Astaire and Charlton Heston have all played host on Oscar night.

“We’re sort of going back to the pre-Bob Hope days a little bit,” said Oscar producer Laurence Mark, explaining that the decision to return to an actor as host was influenced by a desire to change what he called the “late-night talk-show” feel of past programs.

“We wanted to take the show to another form,” Mark said. “Hugh seemed to be the perfect person. The lovely thing about the show is it is a TV show set in a theater about the movies, so the fact that he is a movie star . . . he’s also an extraordinary stage presence and he does actually have an Emmy Award for hosting the Tonys. He fits all three bills.”

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“Thirty years ago when I was in Sydney watching Johnny Carson host the Oscars with my family, I never imagined that I’d one day have the chance to be up on that stage myself,” Jackman said in a statement.

The academy is hoping that Jackman’s international appeal will help bring more viewers to the annual event that is telecast on ABC. Ratings for the Oscar telecast have declined sharply in recent years, especially among young-adult audiences. The 2008 telecast delivered 32 million total viewers, a 24% drop compared with the previous year’s ceremony, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research.

The most-watched Academy Awards in recent years was in 1998, when “Titanic” won best picture. A total of 55.3 million people tuned in to watch who took home the golden statuettes.

“We hope [Jackman’s] appeal is going to broaden us out,” Ganis said. “We all know the ratings are down, but we are going to have something pretty special.”

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susan.king@latimes.com

Times staff writer Scott Collins also contributed to this article.


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