Blackwolf @ the Oscars 2010: Remembering the Goof Heard 'Round the World!
The ballots are due by 5 p.m. Pacific time this afternoon, and Oscar's campaign season officallly ends. The campaign managers, whose jitters escalated duirng this whole past week, can take a deep breath --- because it's all over save the envelope-opening.
But for Bill Mechanic and Adam Shnakman, producers of this Sunday night's 82nd Annual Academy Awards, the anxiety is only just beginning. Though they've adopted the motto "expect the unexpected" to generate viewer interest in the live broadcast from the Kodak Theatre, airing as usual on ABC, that doesn't mean that they themselves wanna be surprised.
Then again, Oscar rarely if ever sticks to his prepared script.
Weather, for example, is one unknown. According to WeatherUnderground.com, the forecast for Sunday is mostly cloudy with highs in the mid-50s to low-60s, and a 40% chance of showers --- suggesting that the ol' red carpet won't exactly be the warmest place in the galaxy.
National and international events can also sometimes come into play. The most recent such incident: 2003, when America invaded Iraq five days before showtime, prompting the Academy to roll up the red carpet altogether.
Yet one nightmare continues to haunt every Oscar telecast producer: that the show itself may morph into a worldwide broadcast pratfall. The ultimate such example: the 61st Annual Academy Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium, March 29th, 1989.
Rain Man won Best Picture that year, Dustin Hoffman and The Accused's Jodie Foster won the top awards. That's not why we remember the night in question.
Oscarologists will forever shake their heads in wonderment over that infamous opening production number, with Merv Griffin crooning I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts against the backdrop of an onstage recreation of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub; and then, of course, Eileen Bowman performing as Disney's Snow White, boogalooing alongside Rob Lowe to the tune of Proud Mary.
As the producer of that year's show, Allan Carr was the man who inflicted that number upon the world. As writer Bob Hofler observes in his ultra-dishy bio, Party Animals! A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs and Rock n' Roll, Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr, to be published this month by Da Capo Press, Carr attempted to "reinvent the Oscars via camp comedy." The Academy's elder statesfolk, however, didn't see it thus.
In an open letter, 17 of the Academy's most prominent past legends, among them past Academy President Gregory Peck, proclaimed the show "an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry. It is neither fitting nor acceptable that the best work in motion pictures should be acknowledged in such a demeaning fashion."
But was it really as bad as all that? True, prior Oscar telecasts had not been without their share of misconcieved production numbers. Yet the 61st Oscar opener combined over-the-top excess with breathtakingly amateurish execution.
Certainly, that wasn't the original idea.
Carr took on the challenge because he was nothing if not a master showman. He had parlayed a career as a manager, turning Ann-Margret and other performers under his watch into Vegas mainstays, ultimately teaming up with Robert Stigwood to co-produce the film version of Grease, which, at $188 million domestically, remains the biggest-grossing movie musical of all time. He'd even scored a big Broadway hit with La Cage aux Folles.
But his luck began running out with 1980's Can't Stop the Music, his legendary bid to package the Village People for mainstream consumption just at the moment when disco was in utter decline.
An inveterate party-giver who'd entertained most of Old and New Hollywood at his Hillhaven Lodge mansion in Benedict Canyon, Carr saw the Oscars as the ultimate party, where he could mingle old school icons with up-and-comers.
His greatest flaw in that theory was his passion for San Francisco's long-running musical revue, Beach Blanket Babylon, inviting its creator-producer, the late Steve Silver, to devise the elaborate costumes, scenery and bigger-than-life hats for the opening number. But that which was immortal within the confines of one Frisco nightclub simply could not translate to the far more expansive stage of the Shrine. The nominees, just then settling into their seats, just couldn't figure out what to make of Eileen Bowman's simpering Snow White. And though only 5 years later, Disney would bring dancing silverware to Broadway with its onstage version of Beauty and the Beast, the tap-dancing tables that took the stage that Oscar Night just looked silly.
A companion number, highlighting such young actors as Patrick Dempsey, Christian Slater and Ricki Lake cavorting about the stage as they sang about their own dreams of becoming an Oscar winner, was almost as much of a flop.
And on the morning after, Carr's phone was utterly silent rather than ringing off the hook with all the traditional kudos. Several days later, Disney sued the Academy for copyright infringement for their having invited Snow White to the Oscar ball, forcing the Academy to issue a formal apology.
Never a man to shy away from the hype, Carr told The Hollywood Reporter in advance of the show, "If nothing else, this will be the most beautiful Academy Awards of all time. It will be the antithesis of tacky." But once it turned out to be precisely the opposite, the Hollywood establishment pounced --- some of Carr's own partisans did suspect, after all, a certain degree of homophobia directed against the unapologetically gay Mr. Carr --- and his career was effectively ruined. And so, his partying days behind him, Allan Carr retreated into relative seclusion until his death in 1999.
Yet the irony remains that, for all the missteps he made that night, Carr pioneered elements that have since become virtual awards-show staples.
Hofler's book, and books on this subject by other historians, credit Carr with altering the presenter's mantra of "And the winner is..." to the present "And the Oscar goes to...." Carr even drafted Rodeo Drive legend Fred Hayman to urge the best designers in Beverly Hills and vicinity to dress every star. He emphasized the red carpet arrivals during the first minutes of the show, an element which has since been spun off into its own, Academy-sanctioned pre-show, executive produced this year by the man who called the shots in the control room on that night, Jeff Margolis. And the telecast actually attracted some of the best ratings that Oscar had seen in some five years.
Still, the 61st Annual Academy Awards would teach its producer a hard lesson, one that every Oscar telecast producer since has long had to be wary of: When it comes to injecting showmanship into the Academy Awards, you can be damned if you don't .... but you can also be damned if you do.
If I recall, dearests, it was just this sort of situation that prompted Mechanic and Shankman to banish the musical number concept from the Best Original Song category. If you believe the press release, and I have no doubt that you do, the two producers say that they listened to the country. They heard loud and clear what America does and doesn't want from the Oscars. It remains to be seen, however, whether their theories for Sunday night will work according to their intended scheme.
In retrospect, I would suspect that there is a certain amount of cult film fans across the cosmos who are more than ready to embrace the legacy of Allan Carr. For such Mortals, Can't Stop the Music is a perpetual icon, whereas Grease is the musical equivalent of the Holy Grail. Frankly, I'm surprised that no one has bothered to take on an Allan Carr retrospective .... one that will allow Carr's many fans to properly appreciate the wonder of doing the Shake (do the Shake), doing the Shaaaaaake (do the Shake), doing the Milkshake, the Milkshake (do the Shake). Well, what say ye, MoMA? Dare ye take on the challenge? You're gonna make a lotta cult film fans happy if you do!