Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on March 4, 2010
I make no apologies for my fascination with the annual Academy Awards show. I grew up in a household filled with movie lovers and watching the Oscars was a yearly ritual in my home. My mother enjoyed making popcorn for our impromptu Oscar parties and even though we rarely had the opportunity to see all the films that were nominated each year we’d still root for our favorite performers and filmmakers to take home a gold statuette. During the yearly broadcast my mother regularly reminded me that one of our favorite actors, Richard Burton, had never won an Oscar even though he had been nominated numerous times. Together we’d shake our heads in disbelief and complain loudly about that injustice, but we continued to watch year after year knowing full well that awards aren’t always given to those who deserve them. My mother passed away in 1997 but I’ve continued our family tradition without her. It might be undeserved devotion but the pomp and pageantry of the Academy Awards show appeals to the little kid in me. I know that most of my favorite performers and filmmakers will never take home a gold statuette but I enjoy the pure spectacle of the event. Sports fans have their Superbowl and movie lovers have the Academy Awards. Oscar night represents many different things to many different people but to me it will always be an opportunity for everyone to share their appreciation for the movies and the people who make them.
My fascination with the annual Academy Awards show led me to recently read Robert Hofler’s latest book Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr. If you’re familiar with Oscar history you might recognize Carr’s name as the man who was responsible for what is widely considered to be the worst Oscar show in the Academy’s long history. Allan Carr was a flamboyant and successful Hollywood talent agent in the ‘60s who helped manage the careers of many actors including Tony Curtis, Rosalind Russell, Peter Sellers, Ann-Margret and Dyan Cannon. The book focuses on Carr’s life during the ‘70s and ‘80s when he was producing films such as the popular musical GREASE (1978) and the box-office flop CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC (1980) as well as hosting legendary parties at his luxurious Hollywood home known as Hillhaven Lodge. In 1989 Allan Carr was asked to produce the 61st Annual Academy Awards show.
At the time the show was losing viewers every year and the Academy thought Carr could inject some life into the production and boost ratings. Like many movie fans Carr had dreamt about being part of the Oscar show since he was a young boy so he jumped at the chance to produce the show. He was determined to bring more glamor to the proceedings and attract a younger audience. Unfortunately things didn’t go well. The 61st Annual Academy Awards show got good ratings but it was a critical flop. Carr was berated by prominent figures in the Hollywood film community including Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, Blake Edwards, Julie Andrews, Sidney Lumet, Billy Wilder and Joseph L. Mankiewicz who publicly issued a letter of complaint calling the 61st Annual Academy Awards, “An embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry.” To make matters worse Disney filed a federal lawsuit against the Academy for “copyright infringement, unfair competition and dilution of business reputation” due to the unauthorized use of their character Snow White who had appeared in the show’s infamously bad opening sequence performing a tone-deaf musical duet with actor Rob Lowe.
Top: Allan Carr poses with Bob Hope, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell backstage at the 61st Academy Awards.
Although Allan Carr’s contributions to the Academy Awards show are often rightfully criticized, he was responsible for introducing the phrase “And the Oscar goes to…” which was previously recited by Oscar presenters as “And the winner is…” Carr believed that saying “And the Oscar goes to…” was a more dignified way of presenting the award without dismissing the nominees who hadn’t won and I wholeheartedly agree with his decision. We can also blame him or praise him for making fashion almost as important as the awards themselves. The extended red carpet coverage has often been linked back to Allan Carr’s desire to make the award show more glamorous.
Unfortunately for Allan Carr the 1989 Oscar show would be his last. His reputation in Hollywood was ruined due to the critical backlash and he never fully recovered from the personal and professional failure. Afterward Carr became a recluse and his health began to suffer. He died in 1999 due to complications from liver cancer. The author of Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr clearly believes that the fallout over the 1989 Oscar debacle was partially responsible for Carr’s health problems and eventual death. Even if you don’t think that the Oscars killed Allan Carr, you might find the book as interesting as I did. It’s chock-full of juicy Hollywood gossip and it reads like a Jacqueline Susann novel. Lots of Hollywood stars and insiders are quoted, including TCM host Robert Osborne. I can’t confirm the books accuracy but it’s an entertaining and easy read. If you’re curious about what goes on behind the scenes during the Oscars or just want to know how the 61st Academy Award show went so wrong, I recommend giving Robert Hofler’s latest book a look.
This year the Academy is once again making major changes to the award show in an effort to boost ratings and I can’t help but wonder what the outcome will be. Will it be a critical success or will viewers be rolling their eyes and gnashing their teeth on Sunday night? Only time will tell if the 82nd Academy Awards will be as memorable as the 61st but you can bet that I’ll be watching.
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