1989 was a bit of a surreal year – the Berlin Wall came down, the Tiananmen Square protests gripped the world…. And a hostless Academy Awards ceremony become infamous in the annals of Hollywood history.
Just like this year, the producers of the 1989 Oscars ceremony failed to find a host for the event. This time around, the award’s producers are cutting, cutting, cutting. There won’t be any performances of the Best Original Song nominees, three categories are being relegated to commercial breaks… and the ceremony is still supposed to last over three hours. Presumably cutting the host means cutting the opening monologue, and the inane stunts in the middle of the ceremony, right? Surely that leaves time for the actual awards and the songs?
Perhaps the producers are trying to avoid a repeat of the 1989 ceremony, which was… a disaster. A total, unmitigated, humiliating disaster that I can’t believe didn’t end Rob Lowe’s career. The ceremony began with an opening number sung by Lowe and a campy, Disney-esque Snow White (Disney later sued for copyright infringement). This opening number… it’s something. Lowe and the pale princess dance and scamper about with people dressed as tables and stars. Snow White sounds more like Lina Lamont than an angelic princesses. It’s campy, but not glorious or self-aware campy. It’s just cringey. I made it to 1:19 before I had to stop the video:
It lasts eleven and a half minutes. You think it’s going to get better when Snow White leaves the stage and is replaced by couples dancing the samba, but then Merv Griffin appears, and he starts singing “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” Then the women with huge coconut cocktails on their heads appear. And they start dancing. And there’s a sparkly cowboy? Who just seems to be chilling on the stage? The whole thing is briefly redeemed by Cyd Charisse, but then Snow White is back? And Rob Lowe is her blind date? And they sing? And the tables dance?
I fast forwarded from there and briefly resumed watching when there was suddenly a kick line.
Really, it’s not good.
There’s a second musical number later in the show. Don’t subject yourself to that.
By the end of the broadcast, the show’s producer, Allan Carr, would never work in Hollywood again—even if he did draw a record number of viewers.
So, what went wrong? Hollywood, and most of the viewing public, agreed that the ceremony was over the top and embarrassing. Seventeen former Oscar winners, including Julie Andrews and Gregory Peck, signed a letter condemning the ceremony as “an embarrassment to the Academy and the motion picture industry.” The denizens of a hugely popular industry gathered to celebrate another year or artistry and skill, and Allan Carr and his musical review made a mockery of everything Hollywood wanted to take pride in.
Today, the Academy is facing similar problems as it did in the lead up to the 1989 ceremony. Viewership is flagging, and valid criticisms of the Academy (such as #OscarsSoWhite), highlight that Hollywood is disconnected from the people who watch its movies. It will be interesting to see how the ceremony attempts to woo that audience back, and if they’ll repeat the same mistakes as 1989.