This weekend, the Academy Awards will, for the first time in three decades, air without a host. As such, there’s a palpable anxiety radiating off the whole thing, and not just because of the scandal that necessitated the choice. Lest we forget, the last time the Oscars decided to go host-less resulted in an honest-to-god shit show that pissed off everyone in attendance and effectively ended the career of its lead producer. Recently, the BBC took a look back at the 1989 ceremony and provided a blow-by-blow recap of what exactly went wrong.
The opening number, for example, prominently featured Snow White (played by actress Eileen Bowman in an ear-piercing falsetto) singing parody tributes to Hollywood’s brightest stars, nearly all of whom visibly cringe when approached. Then, it got weirder. “Snow White goes center stage and the curtain lifts, revealing a set done to look like the Coconut Grove nightclub at its peak,” writes BBC. “Salsa music plays. California native Merv Griffin starts singing ‘I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts’ in a faux Cockney accent.” It’s a drug-fueled fever dream lifted from Hollywood’s Golden Era. And Rob Lowe shows up. There’s more songs. More dancing. A Busby Berkeley-like dance number outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater. It absolutely sucks, and the evening just fucking started.
Later in the show, Walter Matthau, Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball are tasked with introducing “The Stars Of Tomorrow,” which include Corey Feldman, Patrick Dempsey, Ricki Lake, and lots of people we don’t recognize for an interminable, 10-minute musical number that features tap dancing, sword fighting, and some truly tragic attempts at comedy. In retrospect, it’s mildly interesting seeing a young Christian Slater take part in something so silly, but then you remember that Lucille Ball died about a month after this and you’re depressed again.
In the end, the 1989 Oscars were deemed an unmitigated disaster. As the BBC notes, Hollywood legends like Julie Andrews, Paul Newman, and Billy Wilder came together to write a letter denouncing the event, calling it “an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry.” The ceremony’s producer, Alan Carr, was all but shunned from the industry, and, with the Academy shaken, audiences were given nothing but Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg for the next decade.
No matter what goes on this weekend, one thing’s for sure: “Gary From Chicago” won’t be there.
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