For the very first ceremony, there were two.
For the second, there was one.
To mark the 20th anniversary, there were none at all.
Of thee I speak, Oscar host - ever-protean, and undeniably brave, you can make a show or break it, but typically you are up there on the stage all by yourself.
It's a lonely job and an almost comically stressful one - you are, after all, playing to the toughest house in the world - which may be why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has spread the wealth over the decades. Of 81 ceremonies, 19 had multiple hosts, while seven had no hosts at all.
On Sunday, the ceremony goes back to two hosts for the first time in 53 years - although there were three as recently as 1987. Why this sudden switch from the tried-and-(sometimes)-true solo format?
To the questions.
Why two hosts instead of just one?
There are a few reasons, including the inescapable conclusion that both Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin starred in "It's Complicated," which this year's ceremony producers hoped would be an even bigger hit than it turned out to be. But there is logic to the two-versus-one argument. Two can banter with each other. Two can play off each other. Two can bring more energy, zing and (ideally) fun. There are even two producers of Sunday's 82nd annual ceremony.
Bill Mechanic - who's co-producing with choreographer and "So You Think You Can Dance" judge Adam Shankman - told Advertising Age recently, "We have two goals - one is make it shorter; two is make it funnier." He added that by having different hosts "intersecting throughout the evening will make the show different in and of itself."
Fine, but why is "different" better?
Honestly, have you ever heard an Oscars producer exclaim with great enthusiasm, "We're going to be the same old program?" Over 81 editions, the academy's biggest show has symbolized a struggle of past versus present. The academy wants to honor (understandably) its rich tradition. The academy also wants to mount a brisk television show that will attract and hold the same young viewers who have spent money on movies - and will continue to do so.
This also may be a case of two hosts exceeding the sum of their individual parts. On his own, Martin would feel a bit like a throwback to yesteryear. He was the mostly well-regarded host of the 2000 and '03 ceremonies, even though he hasn't been a major screen star since the late '80s.
Meanwhile, Baldwin is nowadays more closely associated with the tube ("30 Rock") than his long, big-screen career in the minds of Oscar viewers. Together, Martin and Baldwin bridge the old with the new, the past with the present, the big screen with the small. You might call them Oscar's "fusion" hosts.
Gil Cates, the veteran Oscar producer, explains that as a "general rule, standup comics or actors with comedy experience have proven to be the best hosts because they're used to the surprise element of people doing things that are not expected. They can handle that surprise element, going back to Bob Hope and Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal. ... I always tried to find someone who had the ability to do what used to be called 'running a room,' assessing what could work and what could not work." While Baldwin is a comic actor as opposed to a standup, Cates says he has "an ability to be spontaneous."
OK, I'm sold. But why these two wonderful, past-middle-age dudes?
Ah, maybe you are not sold. Maybe you think they're a little too creaky, or a little too "past" versus future. Maybe you would have preferred Sacha Baron Cohen - reportedly the first choice of both Mechanic and Shankman until the academy bosses said, "No way." (He'll present, instead.) Or Steve Carell or Ed Helms or Zach Galifianakis or Tina Fey or ...
Tom O'Neil, the veteran Emmy/Oscar watcher and blogger for theenvelope.com, explains that the academy may have felt "they made the mistake of bringing in rent-a-clowns from New York, like Jon Stewart or Chris Rock" in recent past ceremonies. Instead, Baldwin and Martin "are Hollywood insiders, and this is a Hollywood family reunion."
Do the hosts really make all that much of a difference?
Perhaps a question for another day, but the role of one host - or two, three or six - is largely confined to just the opening monologue and a few points thereafter. Martin and Baldwin will have just a few minutes to win over this tough crowd. Of course, it will help extravagantly if they have anything approaching the material of five-time host Johnny Carson, who could handle the job all by himself.
A sampling (from 1984): "My personal life has been exactly like this year's Academy Awards. It started off with 'Terms of Endearment,' I thought I had 'The Right Stuff,' it cost a lot to 'Dresser,' then came 'The Big Chill' and for the last month I've been begging for 'Tender Mercies.'"
Oscar nights with a host of hosts
The concept of multiple Oscar hosts has waxed and waned over the years. Here's a look back:
1957 - Jerry Lewis and Celeste Holm
1955 - Bob Hope and Thelma Ritter
1954 - Donald O'Connor and Fredric March
1953 - Bob Hope and Conrad Nagel
1946 - Bob Hope and James Stewart
1945 - Bob Hope and John Cromwell
1929 - Douglas Fairbanks and William C. deMille