Why did the 1990 Oscars go back to having a host? Blame Snow White!

OK, I misspoke. Yes, there was a calamity of sorts the last time that Oscar decided to ditch having at least one official host.

As I was writing about the possibility that the Academy Awards show might do away with having a host after the Kevin Hart debacle, I looked up if the star-filled event ever went free-form without an anchor since it began airing on TV. (Note: it also didn’t have a host in 1939, when it took place at the Biltmore Hotel.) I noted there were four times when there wasn’t a true host and assumed that there were no ill effects afterwards.

SEE No host with the most? Word is that the Oscars are considering to go emcee-less after Hart failure

Well, I now must admit I was wrong. First, some history:

*The first three years, all back to back, went pretty much OK with a cast of stars taking turns handling the chores. At the 1969 Oscars, the show’s producer, Gower Champion, declared that the tradition of having Bob Hope in charge was “a bore.” Instead,  he invited  10 Hollywood stalwarts  — dubbed “The Friends of Oscar,” including Ingrid Bergman, Sidney Poitier, Jane Fonda and Burt Lancaster — to pitch in. Hope, however, did show up to present Martha Raye with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her Vietnam USO tours. And “Oliver!” would be the last old school musical to win Best Picture until “Chicago” did in 2003. The times, they were a-changin’.

*In 1970, it was the year when “Midnight Cowboy” became the only X-rated film to ever win Best Picture and the counter-culture was in attendance thanks to “Easy Rider.” On the more traditional side, living legend John Wayne finally got an acting statuette for “True Grit.”  The show went with “The Friends of Oscar” routine again, 16 total, including Myrna Loy, Barbara McNair, Elliott Gould and Cliff Robertson.

*At the 1971 ceremony, two distinctly different war films, “Patton” and “M*A*S*H ,“ were up for Best Picture. As for the star of “Patton,” George C. Scott, he proved to be no friend of Oscar. He sent a telegram confirming that, after getting a Best Actor nod, that he would not participate in the show and would reject his trophy if he won. Meanwhile, the number of semi-hosts grew to more than 33, including everyone from Lola Falana and Janet Gaynor to Ricardo Montalban and Melvyn Douglas. The next year, they went with just four hosts.

*But then came the wacky 1989 extravaganza produced by Allan Carr, the flamboyant caftan- wearing mogul who was responsible for “Can’t Stop the Music” and “Where the Boys Are ’84.” He hatched the idea that they should cast the presenters the way movies were. That would include reuniting famous co-stars or pairing real-life marrieds on the stage. Carr was persuasive enough to recruit the likes of wedded couple Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith and “Vertigo”co-stars James Stewart and Kim Novak to participate.

But from the opening minutes of the show, when an unknown screechy-voiced actress materialized while dressed as Snow White, matters took a nosedive. She had to go out into the audience and pester the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Martin Landau and Tom Hanks. She then entered a set that was made to look like the Cocoanut Grove, where such silver-screen notables as Vincent Price and Roy Rogers along with wife Dale Evans tried to not look aghast when talk-show host Merv Griffin sang, “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts.” Then Griffin introduced Snow to her “blind date” – heartthrob Rob Lowe. The pair then proceeded to sing “Proud Mary” for some reason. It went on and on and on, complete with Lily Tomlin appearing as Cinderella and chorus line of ushers dancing like the Rockettes.

And, so, this is probably why no one has tried to go without some sort of master or mistress of ceremonies ever since just to maintain some semblance of taste. The only lasting innovation that Carr came up with? Replacing “And the winner is …” with the phrase, “And the Oscar goes to …” As for the following year, that brought the first of Billy Crystal’s nine stints as the host.

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