Oscar Stunts and Makeovers

New producers are on-board for The 81st Academy Awards on Sunday. In an effort to bolster sagging ratings, Bill Condon and Laurence Mark have some surprises up their sleeves. For starters, they are keeping the presenter list under wraps. While many know about host Hugh Jackman, only a handful of other names like Zac Efron and Sarah Jessica Parker, have trickled out to the media. And going one step further, they’ve asked some presenters to eschew the red carpet altogether so that the surprise happens within the Awards ceremony itself. And what about the winners list leak? Is it real, fake or a well-crafted publicity stunt?

 Whatever new treats Condon and Mark have in store for us this year, it won’t be the first time the producers have revamped the show. When the Oscars began in 1929, they were just a small intimate banquet held at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel.  It was the shortest ceremony ever, with seven awards handed out in five minutes. It’s come a long way since then, and runs a bit longer, too. Remember the year some people didn’t get to accept their award onstage in an attempt to keep the broadcast from running long? Here are some other notable tweaks from years gone by.

 -So… which picture is best? In 1929, the Academy gave two Best Picture awards, one for “Outstanding Picture” and the other for “Unique and Artistic Picture.”  In 1930, they decided to just dole out one award for best picture.

 -How many people does it take to host the Oscars? After Bob Hope stopped hosting the ceremony in 1968, the Oscars were hosted by committee for many years.  In 1969, the producers created a group called the “Friends of Oscar”  to serve as emcees, with as many as 33 joining the list in 1971.  A variation on this had Jack Lemmon as emcee with 10 other official “co-hosts” in 1985.  This continued to get pared down until, in 1989, the show went with NO official host whatsoever, and this ceremony’s often known as among the worst.  

-Let them eat cake… later. In 1943, the Awards moved to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where there was seating for more than 2,000 and no dinner, turning the event into a public spectacle. A very hungry public spectacle.

 -Save the best for last.   In the earlier years, awards for lifetime achivement and other honorary Oscars were given after the Best Picture award.  But when tv stepped in in the '50s, the broadcasters stopped covering the show after Best Picture.  This left a lot of presenters and award-winners miffed:  Check out Bette Davis' reaction in 1957.  It wasn’t until 1959 that the producers learned their lesson and began keeping the biggest award for last.

 -Get off the stage! Please. These days people are encouraged to keep their speeches under 45 seconds, and the orchestra has become famous for enforcing the time limit. However a time restraint wasn’t always in place. When Greer Garson won Best Actress for “Mrs. Miniver” in 1943, her acceptance speech ran about six minutes.   

 -The (Nominee) List is Life. In 1935, the Academy allowed voters to choose for write-in candidates if they weren’t satisfied with the nominees.  No one thought much of it until 1936 when Hal Mohr won an Oscar for cinematography without having been nominated.  The Academy changed the rules the next year.

 -Opening Numbers Can Kill. Billy Crystal’s song and dance routine wasn’t the first time that the show opened with a musical number.  Even back in the ‘50s, Rock Hudson and Mae West opened the show with a medley of Oscar winning songs.  And one of Oscar’s more agonizing memories was the 1989 opening number that featured Rob Lowe and Snow White singing “Proud Mary.” The audience was speechless. As are we.

 -A Picture That Needs No Introduction.  Another bad tweak since 1989 has been including “introductions” to all the best picture nominees during the show, essentially mini-trailers.  If Oscar feels they have to introduce us to their nominees during the show, it's one more sign of the divide between the movies we're watching, and the ones they're nominating.

For many of us, we’ll still be watching the broadcast. And for those who just want to check in online? You’re in the right place.

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