“Yes, I am hosting the Oscars,” Jimmy Kimmel tweeted in December. “This is not a prank. And if it is, my revenge on @TheAcademy will be terrible & sweet.”
Kimmel, a late-night veteran, will probably do just fine. And like many an Oscar host before him, he can take comfort knowing nothing could go as bad as the 61st Academy Awards on March 29, 1989.
The broadcast was produced by Allan Carr, a Hollywood marketing man and film producer known for his lavish parties. Carr came up with several ideas that, for better and for worse, had ramifications for decades to come. One was to do away with a host, a move that made room for more celebrity presenters but also robbed the show of coherence. (It would be the last time the Oscars went hostless.) Another idea was to scrap the renditions of best original song nominees. Instead, Carr included an extravagant opening number — inspired by the musical “Beach Blanket Babylon” — featuring a weird mix of Merv Griffin singing “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” (his hit from 1950) and Rob Lowe singing a spoof version of “Proud Mary” to an actress dressed as Snow White.
That mix of musty Hollywood and accidental camp turned the show into a widely panned disaster. Soon after, 17 film-industry heavyweights, including Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, wrote an open letter blasting the broadcast as “an embarrassment to both the academy and the entire motion picture industry.” What’s more, Disney sued the academy for its use of Snow White’s likeness.
Did Carr do anything right that year? Well, he was the first to hire a writer named Bruce Vilanch, who has written for the Oscars ever since. Carr also reworked the phrase that celebrities utter before opening their envelopes. They used to say, “And the winner is . . .” but now they say, “And the Oscar goes to . . . ” — a tradition that remains to this day.