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Entertainment & Arts

From the Archives: Review: The last time the Oscars had no host, the result was a show ‘devoid of magic’

1989 Academy Awards show, Rob Lowe and Snow White singing and dancing during Cocoanut Grove opening
In the 1989 Academy Awards show, Rob Lowe and Snow White sang and danced during Cocoanut Grove opening production number.
(Randy Leffingwell / Los Angeles Times)

Editors note: In light of Kevin Hart’s comments Wednesday that he will not host the 2019 Oscars, we take a look at what happened the last time the show went without a host. The story below is an archived article about the 1989 telecast, which ran in The Times on March 30, 1989.

It wasn’t hot, fiery, sizzling, flaming, broiling, roasting, smoking, fuming, igniting, kindling or incinerating.

It wasn’t Hollywood Burning.

It was Hollywood Lukewarm. Three hours plus of nice. Fairly nice. Fairly, fairly nice. All right, not great. But not bad, either.

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There’s no magic like movie magic. Even “Nightline” covered the Oscars Wednesday night. Ted Koppel doesn’t do that for the Emmys.

But Wednesday night’s show about the movies--the Academy Awards telecast on ABC--was surprisingly devoid of magic. It was on the musty side, and compared with last month’s Grammycast, absolutely moribund.

Producer Allan Carr paraded his promised orgy of stars, the golden oldies and golden youngies, his couples, co-stars, compadres and companions. You half-expected Merv Griffin to be followed by Donald Trump.

You got Kim Novak and James Stewart, Bo Derek and Dudley Moore, Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum, Lucille Ball and Bob Hope and so on and so on. Very pleasing, some of it very nostalgic. But you also got the usual goofy chitchat (Dudley to Bo: “I must say, it’s certainly a pleasure seeing you again. . . .”)--writing that should be made a capital crime. Ayatollah Khomeini, where are you when we need you?

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The predicted boffo opening was indeed the evening’s musical highlight, a wonderfully funky fantasy with a Snow White theme that was fresh and lively, even though Rob Lowe does sing as if he’s passing kidney stones.

There was a nice homage to movie musicals. But the very, very big and boisterous “Oscar Winners of Tomorrow” production number was very, very mundane and, talentwise, reminiscent of something you find in a Miss America Pageant. It was a swell idea, but to relinquish such a big moment to these people was a mistake.

RELATED: Kevin Hart is out as Oscars host. And there are plenty of worthy replacements »

At once traditional and untraditional, the Oscarcast had no host. So who needs a host? Except that Billy Crystal was so funny in his short time on stage that you had to wonder if Crystal as host would have somehow elevated this telecast beyond the humdrum.

This from Carr, the great maestro of glamour and glitter? The show needed something--more music, a streaker, a political speech, Cher in an even shorter dress, Jack Valenti in Cher’s dress. Something!

Actually, there was greater fun in watching the traditional pre-Oscar show on KABC-TV Channel 7, where Steve Edwards and Tawny Little did their usual fawning over nominees and other celebrities outside the Shrine Auditorium.

They never let you down.

Rarely has there been so much talk without communication. Edwards and Little, who continually babbled about being pregnant, made the chitchat inside the auditorium sound like George Will conversing with Alistair Cooke.

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Edwards (this time really going in depth) to Drew Barrymore (whose problems with drugs have been well publicized): “Drew, this may not be the place, but how are you?”

“I’m incredible,” she replied.

Later, Dudley Moore, who had been watching the Channel 7 show in his limo en route to the auditorium, said to Edwards: “Steve, I know this is not the time, but how are you?” Wicked.

A few minutes later, Edwards really outdid himself with Don Johnson: “Don, we hear you’re happier than ever. Is it true?”

Were you listening, Allan Carr? Now that was magic.


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