Hooray for Hollywood!

An Oscar enthusiast waxes nostalgic about past Academy Award ceremonies.

By RUTH BELOFF
February 25, 2015 21:51
3 minute read.
Billy Crystal

FEW PEOPLE have more experience hosting the Academy Awards than actor Billy Crystal, who was the master of ceremonies nine times. (photo credit: REUTERS)

I love Oscar night. For as long as I can remember, I have watched the annual Academy Award ceremony, filled with awe and admiration for the glittering stars that grace the stage and occupy the seats.

I love to see what they’re wearing, hear what they have to say, and share in their moments of shining glory or artfully concealed dismay.

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Over the years, of course, some shows have been better than others. Some hosts have been more dynamic than others, some jokes and production numbers more memorable. But no matter what they put forth, I am an ardent fan of the award show that honors its own.

This year’s show was pretty good. Neil Patrick Harris is not my favorite as a host, but as some commentators have said, he is competent and confident, and you feel safe in his hands, knowing that he won’t mess up.

In his day, Bob Hope was the consummate Oscar host.

Poised, polished and utterly professional, he commanded the stage a record 19 times, ever armed with a quick wit and a wry smile. Johnny Carson also did a fine job of it – five times.

Cool and controlled, he also handled the stage like a master.

One of my favorite hosts is Billy Crystal, who has taken the reins nine times. Dynamic, energetic, clever and creative, he is always a pleasure to watch. I also liked Seth Macfarlane that one time he hosted in 2013. He was funny, charming, sophisticated and very talented.

And speaking of talent, at this year’s award show I was totally smitten by, of all people, Lady Gaga. She performed a medley of songs from The Sound of Music that actually reduced me to tears. With none of her usual over-the-top get-ups or special effects, she did a straight rendition of the award-winning film’s classic songs. Dressed in a sumptuous white gown, she sang songs such as “The Hills Are Alive,” My Favorite Things” and “Climb Every Mountain” so beautifully, with such power and passion, that the entire audience rose to their feet to give her a standing ovation.

Wow! What a wonderful surprise she was.

In past Oscar productions, there have been many formidable acts. In 1997, for example, Michael Flatley and the amazing Lord of the Dance troupe performed at the Oscars, and in 2012 the incomparable Cirque du Soleil dazzled the dazzling audience. One of my earliest recollections of a memorable act at the Oscars is still etched in my memory. I can see them now in my mind’s eye as they appeared on our black-andwhite TV set in Montreal in 1958: young and handsome, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, dressed in tuxedos, doing a song and dance number called “It’s Great Not To Be Nominated.”

It’s interesting, the kinds of things that leave a lasting impression, eh? I particularly remember the 2002 ceremony, when Halle Berry won the Best Actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball, becoming the first African American woman to garner that honor.

At that same ceremony, Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Oscar for Training Day, and Sidney Poitier received an Honorary Award. That was a good year.

And I remember when Roberto Beningni won the Best Actor Oscar in 1998 for his role in Life Is Beautiful. The award was being presented by Sophia Loren. When she opened the envelope and saw his name, she cried out, “Roberto!” So excited to have won, the limber Benign jumped up on his seat and jumped over several others on his way up to the stage.

Over the years, I remember watching Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, David Niven, Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn, Lana Turner, Tony Curtis, Humphry Bogart, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, James Stewart, Charles Boyer, Greer Garson, Gary Cooper, Natalie Wood, Charlton Heston, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman – all those magnificent Hollywood icons – swishing onto the stage, receiving or presenting awards.

Those were the days, my friend. And so are these. See you at the movies.


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