I’ve heard about how horrible the 8-minute-or-so opening number to the 1988 film year Academy Awards was practically dozens of times. (And mostly from the same book, no less – Inside Oscar). Yet, astonishingly, given that I only began taping the Oscars circa the 1991 film year, I did not have this priceless 8-minute bit in my collection. Over the years, I’ve made a few random, ad hoc attempts to gather the footage (which, of course, courtesy of the late producer Allan Carr, features, among other things, features such priceless bits as an actress-impersonator singing a takeoff of “Proud Mary” with Rob Lowe; singing and dancing tables at a tackily decorated set meant to be the Graumann’s Chinese Theater, replete with Carmen-Miranda lookalikes participating in the festivities, and Lucille Ball, in her last Oscar appearance, somehow thrown into the mix of all of this, for approximately three seconds, and….) without success. Today, I struck gold, so to speak. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9H3EMCjJGg
Through the magic of youtubecom, I was able to watch essentially the entire opening act (save for the last minute or so, which was the only part of the opening act that was not a downright debacle). Now, many things I’ve read about for many years as being worse than a skunk’s ass in heat bad, I end up finding, once I see them, that they are slightly better than they were described. Call it a reverse case of heightened expectations.
But not this time. The opening seven minutes of the 61st Academy Awards were every bit as horrendous as the unanimous verdict rendered upon those minutes declared: incomprehensibly, utterly beyond beyond awful, to the point that one cannot even begin to invoke the “so bad its good/it’s bad/it’s good/bad three times over” merry-go-round. I’ve seen fifteen Oscar shows and this opening segment takes the cake for sheer meretriciousness. It makes Debbie Allen’s dance sequences for “The Thin Red Line” and “Saving Private Ryan” look like Stravinsky’s “The Rites of Spring” in comparison.
The opening act was so bad, in fact, that Carr literally never worked in Hollywood again, and Disney sued the Academy for trademark dilution and copyright infrigement. The Academy knew it had a loser on its hands and settled out of court. The non-actress who played Snow White, Eileen Bowman, found that her non-career was runied. Rob Lowe – well, he’s still a joke.
Wanna know just HOW bad the opening act was? The show was supposed to have a host and the songs nominated for best song were supposed to be performed live. During the first commercial break, the Academy Board of Governors determined that Allan Carr presumably (yes, this is a joke) somehow developed the production numbers that were the nominated songs, and that these things must not be allowed to infect people’s TV screens, so the songs were ditched, just like that. The Board further determined that the presence of a host would add running time to the show, which the Board wanted over as quickly as possible. Didn’t think a show could make major impromptu alterations? It sure can, but only if something that gives off that bad a Carr-ma happens.
By the way, the following year, Gil Cates produced his first Oscar show, and Billy Crystal hosted his first Oscar show. The “modern Oscar format” as we know it was born, and as tired, and tiresome, as that format now sometimes seems, things were once worse. A lot worse. As Carr himself said the night of the show, “I have Oscar diarrhea.” If only he could have kept it in his pants.