Blackwolf the Dragonmaster's Diary of Magecraft

Being a Chronicle of the Inner Secrets of, and Spells of Magick as Wielded by, the Philosopher of the Internet and Unofficial Sorcerer-in-Residence of the City of New York

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Location: New York, New York, United States

As New York's Unofficial Wizard, my mission is to encourage the Mortals of Manhattan to imagine responsibly!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Blackwolf @ the Oscars 2010: Remembering the Goof Heard 'Round the World!

This from the files of

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, 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!

Blackwolf vs. NBC Continues: The Return of Leno

I'm in no mood to mince words, Mortals, so let's have at it! This from the files of

Jay Leno had been absent from America's TV screens for less than a month, but he returned Monday night with renewed purpose.

"It's good to be home," he told his Tonight Show audience as he began his monologue, a transcript of which was provided by NBC before airtime. "I'm Jay Leno, your host. At least, for a while."

Leno reclaims his old job at The Tonight Show just 18 months after giving it up to Conan O'Brien, and a mere 19 days after NBC pulled the plig on Leno's own primetime misadventure.

"We were off for the last couple of weeks," Leno cracked in his comments. "Kinda like the Russians at the Olympics. What happened to 'em?" He further observed that among his guests on this, his first night back, was gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn. "Did you see her? When it comes to going downhill, there's nobody faster. OK, except NBC."

As he zinged his own network, along with former Vice President Dick Cheney, Toyota, and Tiger Woods, Leno signaled the resumption of the late-night war between him and his longtime CBS foe David Letterman, who had gained the ratings upper hand during Conan's brief, ultimmately tragicomic stay as Tonight Show host. NBC, for its part, is praying that Leno will comfortably setle back into his Tonight Show desk chair, where he reigned over late night (and repeatedly beat Letterman) for much of 17 years.

Already, however, handicappers were weighing whether Leno can recapture his momentum after leaving last May in favor of O'Brien, only to stumble miserably in his weeknight primetime hour, yanked just last month by NBC. So, too, were the viewers.

Dorothy Elayan, 50, from Louisville, Kentucky, and her 19-year-old daughter Jena, both of whom were visiting Southern California, for the first time, were waiting to enter NBC's Burbank studios for Monday's taping. Both stated that they had preferred Leno over Conan. "I didn't like Conan or his sense of humor," said Jena. "I watched The Tonight Show when it was Jay Leno." Her mom said that she'd remained a fan of Jay's, even in primetime. "I would like him earlier because I go to bed earlier. I was that one little person still watching," she said, commenting on Leno's disappointing primetime ratings.

Also waiting in line was another 19-year-old, Natalie Hanks, from San Clemente, California, who explained that while she found O'Brien funnier than Leno, she nonetheless wished that "there was room for both." Miss Hanks noted that Leno might face resistance from Conan's fans. "I've seen a lotta people on Facebook rallying around Conan. I think younger people" will boycott Tonight with Leno, she went on.

Meanwhile, rumors have abounded concerning the potential next step for O'Brien, widely seem as having been victimized both by Leno and by NBC's ham-handed shakeup that culminated in his departure. The most popular among these theories places Conan on the Fox network, butting heads nightly with Letterman and Leno. With NBC's much-watched blanket coverage of the XXI Olympic Winter Games now only a memory, the battered, often-ridiculed Peacock network remains desperate for something new to brag about. A successful trip back to the future, in the form of Leno's return to Tonight, might fit the bill accordingly.

Leno's other guests on his first night back were actor-comedian Jamie Foxx and singer-songwriter Brad Paisley. Letterman, meanwhile, countered with Bill Murray and rap star Ludacris. The Tonight Show and Late Show with David Letterman both air weeknights at 11:35 p.m., Eastern time.

Now, it's a curious fact, or so I would wish to believe, that NBC is trying to save face, and make you goodly gentles believe that all was quite hunky-dory in light of what happened with its Olympic coverage; and that the return of Leno might be the potential icng on the self-congratulatory cake. But if you've read my two most recent posts in this Diary of Magecraft, you clearly know otherwise.

The point, my dear children, is that television's corporate side has long had a history of lying to the people it has long been dedicated to serving. As I remember, an entire book,
Hello, He Lied, was a knock-down, drag-'em-out account of one film producer's dealings with such so-called 'yes men'. Even our Exalted Father Merlin had to confront yes men back in ye day. In his time, such idiots were called serfs.

Corporate greed, like the lack of Imagination, remain the sole true constants in the Mutiverse; and I have yet to see someone in the entertainment industry --- ANYONE --- take a stand and say, "What the fuck are we doing? Why is this industry not controlling itself?" Sadly, the word control, like so many other things in this Life, is a concept many times used across the aeons, but never fully understood by the Mortals.

Granted, your Dragonmaster is ranting like a raging gryphon on the prowl, but, truth be told, there ain't any honest gryphons around this Multiverse with the balls, much less the chutzpah, to tell it like it is. Hence, this Diary of Magecraft. Clearly, this saga will go on ..... and I promise you all that I WILL BE ON THE WATCH!