LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The job of hosting the Academy Awards telecast, one of the most prestigious and demanding assignments in Hollywood, falls for a second time on Sunday to comedian and talk-show star Ellen DeGeneres, who made her debut as Oscar emcee in 2007.
DeGeneres, only the second woman to fly solo as Oscar host - Whoopi Goldberg was the first - will be judged against a wide range of previous performances, including her first, when she drew mixed reviews for a low-key, breezy, daytime-TV style.
Despite DeGeneres’s flair for putting those around her at ease, some critics complained that her playfulness, including several routines in which she ventured into the audience to clown with the likes of Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, was an unsuitable fit for the Oscars.
While hardly the most triumphant hosting performance, it was also far from the most disastrous. The following 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, “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, presided over a priceless moment in 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.”
That same 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 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.
Whoopi Goldberg opened the first post-9/11 Oscars in 2002 by descending to the stage on a trapeze in top hat and feathers, later remarking, “Security here tonight is tighter than some of the faces.” She also joked about the length of the show: “Oscar is the only 74-year-old man in Hollywood who doesn’t need Viagra to last three hours.”
Steve Martin opened the 2003 awards with an oblique reference to the Iraq war that had begun days earlier, which had prompted Oscar organizers to tone down the show’s glitz. “By the way, the proceeds from tonight’s telecast - and I think this is so great - will be divvied up between huge corporations,” Martin said.
Later that evening, Martin eased tensions after Michael Moore was practically booed off stage for his rant against President George W. Bush (“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 telling the assembled movie elite that “there’s only four real stars” and the rest are “just popular people.”
Anne Hathaway and James Franco, recruited as co-hosts in a bid by producers to attract younger viewers to the 2011 telecast, drew mostly harsh reviews. Their entrance on stage at one point - she dressed in a tuxedo, he in a pink satin gown and blonde wig - came off to many as more pointless than hip.
Seth MacFarlane lived up to his provocative image and was widely panned by critics for stretching the boundaries of good taste, with a 2013 hosting performance that began with a flurry of zingers aimed at some of Hollywood’s biggest names and a musical tribute to female frontal nudity titled, “We Saw Your Boobs.”
But the evening’s biggest gaffe came when Jennifer Lawrence tripped head-first on the stairs as she climbed the stage to accept her Oscar for best actress.
Editing by Mary Milliken and Leslie Adler