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The many challenges of being an Oscar host

From dealing with streakers to out-of-control winners, the best think on their feet.
/ Source: Reuters

The job of hosting the Academy Awards telecast, one of the most prestigious and demanding assignments in Hollywood, falls Sunday to comedian and talk show star Ellen DeGeneres.

An Oscar newcomer and only the second woman to serve as solo emcee during the Oscars’ 79-year history, DeGeneres will be judged against a wide range of previous performances, some triumphant, others disastrous.

Here are some notable high points and faux pas from years past:

Bob Hope, who hosted or co-hosted the Oscars a record 18 times between 1940 and 1978 but never took home a statuette for any of his film roles, opened the 1968 show by saying, “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as they’re known at my house, Passover.”

Jerry Lewis, a co-host in 1959, did his manic best to keep the proceedings going when the show ran 20 minutes short. Desperate to fill time, Lewis told jokes, danced, played the trumpet and offered to show Three Stooges shorts “to cheer up the losers.” He even grabbed a baton to conduct the orchestra, shouting, “We may get a bar mitzvah out of this!” NBC finally pulled the plug and cut to a documentary on pistol shooting.

When the 1974 show was famously disrupted by a streaker dashing across the stage, co-host David Niven quickly remarked that “probably the only laugh that man will ever get is for stripping and showing his shortcomings.”

Chevy Chase opened the 1988 Oscars with the line: “Good evening, Hollywood phonies,” and never hosted the show again.

Billy Crystal, an eight-time host, made Oscar history in 1992 when actor Jack Palance, then in his 70s, began performing one-armed push-ups on stage after receiving his Oscar for “City Slickers.” Crystal turned the moment into a running gag, sprinkling the rest of the evening with one-liners such as: “Jack Palance is backstage on the StairMaster” and “Jack Palance has just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood sign.”

Also that evening, 100-year-old veteran producer Hal Roach stood up in the audience to take a bow and, without a microphone, began delivering an inaudible speech. Crystal came to the rescue without missing a beat: “I think that’s fitting because Mr. Roach started in silent films.”

David Letterman got off to a dubious start in 1995 with the odd introductory line, “Uma, Oprah ... Oprah, Uma” (an apparent reference to Uma Thurman and Oprah Winfrey) and brought a couple of his signature late-night TV shticks, a Top 10 list and a Stupid Pet Trick, to the Oscar show.

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Steve Martin opened the 2003 awards with an oblique reference to the Iraq war that had begun days earlier, prompting Oscar organizers to tone down the show’s glitz. “By the way, the proceeds from tonight’s telecast ... will be divvied up between huge corporations,” Martin said.

Later that evening, he eased tensions after Michael Moore was practically booed off stage for his anti-Bush rant (“Shame on you, Mr. Bush. shame on you”) while accepting an Oscar for “Bowling for Columbine.” Martin emerged minutes later to assure the audience, “The Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo.”

Chris Rock irked some Academy members with an opening monologue in 2005 in which he told the assembled movie elite that “there’s only four real stars” and the rest were “just popular people.”