The good, the bad and the none: A look at Oscar hosts

By Mark Kennedy - AP Entertainment Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — The very first Oscars were held on May 16, 1929. They were only 15 minutes long, watched by only 270 people at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Guest tickets cost $5 and statuettes were handed out by Academy President Douglas Fairbanks, the first host. Here’s a look at memorable shows and Oscar hosts through the years:


Whoopi Goldberg made history as the first African-American to host the Academy Awards show in 1994, in addition to being the first woman to host the show solo. Goldberg kept the show moving at a brisk pace, poking fun at everyone from alleged Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss to Lorena Bobbitt. “Lorena Bobbitt, please meet Bob Dole,” Goldberg said of the Republican senator. She returned to host again in 1996, 1999 and, memorably, in 2002, just five months after 9/11. Despite such an unenviable position, that night she quipped: “This has been a hell of a year. America has suffered through a great national tragedy. But we have recovered: Mariah Carey has already made another movie.”


Ellen DeGeneres, who hosted in 2007, returned seven years later a little more relaxed and with a few new tricks up her sleeve. She not only successfully pulled off a tasteful joke about “12 Years a Slave” — if it didn’t win best picture “you’re all racists” — but also made history by taking the most retweeted picture of all time (at the time) when she posed with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey and several others. (That record has since been overtaken by the Twitter plea from a Nevada teen for a year of free chicken nuggets.) Speaking of food, DeGeneres also started a trend during the 2014 show by feeding the actors with a surprise pizza delivery — and taking up a collection to pay the pizza guy.


In 1989, the Academy tried to shake things up by having no official host for the ceremony. It didn’t go well. There was an infamous opening number in which Merv Griffin sang “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts!” and then the stage was turned over to Rob Lowe, who was trying to live down a real-life sex-tape scandal by dancing with Snow White to the tune of “Proud Mary.” The show was so bad that it prompted more than a dozen Hollywood’s figures — including Julie Andrews, Blake Edwards, Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, Billy Wilder and Sidney Lumet — to write an open letter saying the telecast was “an embarrassment” and that it was “neither fitting nor acceptable that the best work in motion pictures be acknowledged in such a demeaning fashion.” The next year, host Billy Crystal walked onstage to applause and asked: “Is that for me or are you just glad I’m not Snow White?”


The show in 1988 was gaseous and wordy — thanks to a strike by the Writers Guild of America that started 35 days before the telecast. Host Chevy Chase kicked off the night by insulting the crowd: “Good evening, Hollywood phonies.” Scheduled for 3 hours, the telecast dragged on slightly more than 3 1/2 hours and most reviews were withering. The Los Angeles Times called it “parched, drab and leaden” and The New York Times sniffed: “Oscar has seen livelier days.” When Sean Connery went up to collect his best-supporting actor trophy for “The Untouchables,” he said he’d give the trophy to his wife — and wished the strike would end. Chase was never asked to return as host.


Chris Rock, hosting his second Oscar show in 2016, didn’t shy away from discussing the lack of diversity crisis roiling the industry and not letting go all night long. He called the Oscars the “White People’s Choice Awards” and noted that if they had nominated potential hosts, “I wouldn’t have this job. You’d all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.” Interviewing black moviegoers in Compton, California, Rock had filmed a bit in which he played an astronaut left up on Mars (since it would cost 2,500 “white dollars” to bring him back) and quipped that the in-memoriam package was “just going to be black people shot by the cops on the way to the movies.”


Bob Hope hosted or co-hosted 19 ceremonies, often joking that he never won one of the statuettes he was handing out. “Welcome to the Academy Awards. Or as it’s known at my house, Passover,” he said at one telecast. At another, he cracked: “I think they ought to give me an Oscar just for attendance, don’t you?” Hope holds the record for most hosting gigs and his wit and savvy explained why. He once noted that the Oscars were “a night we set aside petty differences, forget old feuds and start new ones.” Perhaps his most memorable joke was in 1968: “I’ve never seen six hours whiz by so fast.” Hope may not have ever gotten an Oscar nomination for his acting but the Academy gave him five awards over the years, all honorary.


Many Oscar hosts over the years have gotten poor marks, including Seth Macfarlane in 2013, who opened the show with a poorly received song called “We Saw Your Boobs.” (The New Yorker called it a “hostile, ugly, sexist night.”) Then there was James Franco and Anne Hathaway in 2011 — Hathaway seemed to try too hard, while Franco seemed distant, even after donning a pink gown. (The Hollywood Reporter called it “spectacularly unwatchable.”) David Letterman only hosted one time and his late-night weirdness didn’t really fit in 1995. (Sample joke: “Oprah… Uma… Oprah… Uma. Have you kids met Keanu?”) The New York Times called him “desperate,” ”odd” and “flat.”

By Mark Kennedy

AP Entertainment Writer