Following a great 50th Anniversary show, the 51st Academy Awards continued the tradition of star power that lit the previous year.
Johnny Carson marks his first run as host and immediately makes the proceedings his own. Musical numbers were stellar: Barry Manilow, Debby Boone, Olivia Newton-John, Johnny Mathis & Jane Olivor, and the sensational Donna Summer sang the nominated songs (the first time all 5 were sung by the original artist). Another musical number, the controversial "Oscars's Only Human", lasted almost twelve minutes and featured Steve Lawrence and Sammy Davis Jr. lamenting the great film songs that were "not even nominated". At the time this number probably seemed tired and old hat but watching it recently, I felt a nostalgia for that kind of entertainment which hardly exists anymore.
Star power was at its zenith with the return of Kim Novak to the Oscars for the first time in 13 years. Dean Martin, Audrey Hepburn, and Geraldine Page all made rare Oscar appearances. No shows were Robert DeNiro and Ingrid Bergman (battling a recurrence of cancer). Laurence Olivier made only his second Oscar appearance (he also received his record breaking, at that time, 10th nomination). Olivier was given an honorary Oscar by Cary Grant and blew the audience away with a rather bizarre oration.
Maggie Smith was a surprise and welcome winner for her turn as an Oscar losing actress. Present at the awards (she was not for her previous win), she was genuinely shocked and dedicated it to co-star Michael Caine (WHY hasn't anyone cast them together since????). Maureen Stapleton had been the odds on favorite and ironically she and Maggie presented an award earlier in the evening. Maggie's award was presented by George Burns and Brooke Sheilds who provided some amusing moments. George showed what a classy guy he really was.
Embarrassing moments included: Francis Ford Coppola constantly scratching an itch under his beard. Shirley MacLaine's tribute to her "little brother" and an off the wall comment about his...libido.
Of course the most dramatic moment was the appearance of John Wayne. Gaunt, Wayne stole the show by ambling down to the stage and presenting Best Picture. There was a prolonged ovation and everyone from Jane Fonda to Warren Beatty and Gregory Peck to Rip Torn stood. Two months later the Duke was gone.
Ironically another presenter that evening passed away a few weeks later BEFORE the Duke. Jack Haley (Tin Man) presented with Ray Bolger (Scarecrow) and they provided a few jokes regarding Haley's son who was directing the show.
Of note: This year marked Olivier and Ingrid Bergman's last nominations and Meryl Streep's first.
Diane Keaton, the previous year's Best Actress, refused Jack Haley Jr.'s repeated pleas to present the Best Actor Oscar. Apparently, Haley was very angry as Keaton spent the whole night in plain view with current boyfriend Warren Beatty. At any rate, pairing Ginger Rogers and Diana Ross was a total inspiration!!
This was a great start to the second half of Oscar's first century and will be getting repeated viewings in the future.
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