What makes for an Oscar host?
The responses are as varied as the hosts themselves have been, and this year, there would appear to be a new answer: youth. Past nominee Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married") and James Franco -- also a best actor contender for "127 Hours" -- preside over the 83rd Annual Academy Awards as ABC televises the movie industry's top event Sunday, Feb. 27, from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
Surprise was the frequent reaction to the choices when they were first announced, and the selections would seem a clear nod to drawing younger viewers to this year's Oscars (in which "The King's Speech" leads the nominated films with 12 bids). Tradition has dictated the job go to someone with many years of stardom, or someone proven to be funny
or better yet, someone who represents both.
There's no question Oscar night is one of the biggest gigs Hathaway or Franco ever could land, especially at the current stages of their careers. Here's a trip down memory lane with previous Oscar hosts, some of whom ended up memorable for reasons they'd prefer not to have been.
Bob Hope (1940-41, 1943, 1945-46, 1953, 1955, 1958-62, 1965-68, 1975, 1978): Sometimes by himself, other times in tandem with co-hosts ranging from Sir Laurence Olivier to Donald Duck (we're not kidding), self-deprecating comedy legend Hope made his theme "Thanks for the Memories" the most-heard song in the history of Academy Award ceremonies with his many stints at the podium.
Hope also was perhaps the ultimate Oscar insider, so familiar with many of the nominees and guests that he could get away with virtually any jab he wanted to take at anyone, then be found later in the evening with a target's arm cozily around him -- signaling it was all in jest and taken that way.
David Niven (1958-59, 1974): The ever-suave British star had three shots as an Oscar co-host, with the last one the most memorable by far. After a streaker ran behind him, Niven let the shock subside before chiding the naked runner for his "shortcomings." The resulting laughter was thunderous.
Johnny Carson (1979-82, 1984): In many ways, Carson was the ideal successor to Hope, sharing many of the same qualities
particularly the willingness to make fun of himself and the inside knowledge of many celebrities through an extensive network of Hollywood friends.
His "Tonight Show" expertise honed Carson's ability to react quickly to anything that occurred with an appropriate and hilarious quip, making him an Oscar producer's dream. And clotheshorse that he was, he sure wore a tuxedo well.
Billy Crystal (1990-93, 1997-98, 2000, 2004): A new era of Oscar hosting began with the creativity of actor-comedian Crystal, who didn't settle just for telling one-liners about the nominated movies. He inserted himself into them, hitting a high point early by donning the Hannibal Lecter face mask from "The Silence of the Lambs." An opening song that incorporated the names of many of the year's nominees also became a Crystal trademark.
Whoopi Goldberg (1994, 1996, 1999, 2002): By the time she became a host of the event, Goldberg had her own Oscar cred from her supporting-actress win for "Ghost." She gave a definite edginess to the job that earned her mixed notices, but the Motion Picture Academy was sold enough to bring her back not just once but three more times.
Steve Martin (2001, 2003, 2010): The most droll host the Oscars have had, Martin fell back on his cerebral clowning and careful pauses to drive his appearances
the last one shared with Alec Baldwin, with whom he had just co-starred in "It's Complicated."
David Letterman (1995): For all the Hollywood insiders who have hosted the Academy Awards, here was the ultimate outsider. Letterman still jokes about what a wet blanket he was to that year's Oscar audience, poking meant-to-be-ironic humor to a Hollywood crowd that didn't exactly welcome him warmly.
Chris Rock (2005): On the subject of edginess, there also was shoot-from-the-hip comic Rock's turn as Oscar host. His mocking of actor Jude Law, who'd had a big run in the previous year's movies, brought Rock an on-air rebuke from Oscar presenter Sean Penn.
Jon Stewart (2006): Along the Letterman lines but not quite as abrasive, "Daily Show" host Stewart also tried for an outsider's wit in a big way at the Oscars. Though he hasn't been back since, he recently advised Franco to perform the job with "ironic detachment bordering on contempt."
Ellen DeGeneres (2007): After hosting the Grammys and the Emmys, the Oscars became the next logical stop for DeGeneres. She was typically, somewhat refreshingly casual, going into the audience and chatting with the likes of Clint Eastwood and director Martin Scorsese as if they were sitting in a diner instead.
Hugh Jackman (2009): Free of his Wolverine makeup, Jackman seemed to have the Oscar-host checklist completed -- affable, handsome, even musically adept -- but he has resisted offers for a repeat engagement, though he's scheduled to be a presenter this year. Maybe that means a rematch with Hathaway, who was his song-and-dance partner for a few moments on his Oscar-show opening.
However Hathaway and Franco fare at this year's Academy Awards, many other talents have put their own stamps on the occasion as hosts. The good news is that it's only one night, but admittedly, it's one of the biggest nights any performer can have
as nominee, winner or host.
James Franco, Anne Hathaway give Oscars a youthful edge
James Franco and Anne Hathaway host the 83rd Annual Academy Awards Sunday on ABC.