The Oscar presentation in 1989 – 30 years ago! – was a watershed in bad taste. I usually like things that are tacky and overdone, but this just stretched all credulity. It takes something special to drive Julie Andrews to trash you to the press.
We’re going to be taking a look at the two god-awful numbers of the evening: The infamous opening number starring Snow White and Rob Lowe, and the lesser-known “Stars of Tomorrow” number which is somehow just as bad on a smaller budget.
Up first: The opening number!
Note: The videos and images are all taken from a second-generation copy of a 30-year-old VHS tape. I’m not apologizing, because all considering, they look good.
Soak it in now, in case the Academy gets it deleted AGAIN.
So, you’ve watched the ’89 opening number. Good for you. You might wonder: What’s happened to these people in 30 years? Has Rob Lowe sung since? Are any of the Cocoanut Grove folks still with us? Want to know who behind the scenes is to blame for this catastrophe? Read on!
Now that your eye bleach has had a nice time to soak in from the Snow White number, I figure you’re ready for the even more bewildering number from the Oscars 30 years ago.
Oscar Stars of Tomorrow!
Part 1 (mandatory):
Nineteen of tomorrow’s stars sing and dance for, like, 17 hours straight. Featuring two Coreys, a TV doctor, a talk show host, and an actually talented person. Plus 14 other people. Grief counselors will be available if you make it through the whole thing.
Obviously, since they’d wasted so much time on the opening number, the Oscar 1989 producers were going to keep the rest of the show lean and mean, right? Hell no! Who wants to find out the winners when we can spend 12 long minutes on the up-and-comers of today vainly trying to sing and dance?
Two Hollywood legends tell us we’ll be seeing a lot of these faces, but how right were they?
Sure, the Rob Lowe/Snow White opening number is awful to watch on TV, but imagine having to sit through it in person! Let’s take a look at some of the brave celebrities who endured.
I finally have my own podcast…that I share with three dudes. Something something new sharing economy.
I’m now a regular host and resident old person on Thirty-Twenty-Ten, where we look back at this week thirty years ago, twenty years ago and ten years ago. It’s kind of like “I Love the ’80s” with fewer bored comedians straining for laughs and more forgotten gems like Tommy Lee Jones’ supercar movie.
Check it out now on iTunes.
In more specific-themed podcasting, I hosted my own double episode of Lasertime on the best and worst movie versions of TV shows and brought some older movies into the discussion on a bunch of other topics:
The Best Live-Action TV Adaptations – Lots of Muppets and Star Trek!
The Worst Live-Action TV Adaptations – Guess who got 0 percent approval!
Evil Children! – From Problem Child to the Bad Seed
The Best One-Season TV Shows – Short worthwhile binges
Look Back at Letterman – Great moments in sarcasm
Failed Comedic Vehicles – Some people can’t carry a movie
Animated Show Endings That Mattered – Cartoons with real feels
Summer Camp Stories – Wet hot American summers in film and real life
The Worst Films By Great Directors (Part 1) – I’m not done with this topic. Not by a long shot.
So many things make for a terrible musical number. Get ready to see all of them.
There were five production numbers in the 1993 Oscars, mostly for the best original song nominees, and ranging from “Eh” to “My eyes are melting! And so is my brain!” Charming Disney songs are ruined! Icons are embarrassed! Sailors prance! Keep reading to see the insanity realized!
Wanna see something cute?
At the time, it was the 25th anniversary of “The Graduate.” They gave out the writing awards.
The Oscars 1993 have impacted you if you’ve seen a bridal magazine in the last 20 years. Because this was the very first time most people heard the name Vera Wang.
The name of who designed Whoopi Goldberg’s outfit has been lost to history. Not really, I just don’t want to know.
Here’s an ad I remember running ALL THE TIME.
First we see a cool guy driving in a cool car, heading somewhere. Cut to: a lady in a body suit tries to get into her jeans. So I guess he’s coming to pick her up for a date. I don’t remember why we wore body suits with snap crotches instead of just tucking our shirts in. Anyway, trying to get into her jeans, she jumps and jumps…
And falls over onto a mannequin. Why does she have a mannequin in her bedroom?
From outside, it looks like she’s about to sex up a guy who has no hands and whose neck doesn’t move. Her date sees this and is sad.
Also, her date is Alan Cumming, so I’m not sure who in this scenario he’s jealous of.
And that’s how you sold jeans in 1993.
You know how you sold everything else? With Cindy Crawford and a famous older black guy with no relation to the product.
One of my favorite things about the Oscars we don’t see any more is old timers getting their due. I appreciate that cutting the honorary awards makes the show move faster, but I miss the film clips and speeches from folks you don’t usually hear being heartfelt.
For example, Federico Fellini was finally given an honorary Oscar in 1993, which meant a crazy montage of women being whipped, clowns with giant fake boobs, and other assorted lunacy. And who was there to present it?
Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. The kind of people they just don’t make any more. I’m not even sure they are people.
Fellini’s speech is rather adorable, like he’s your shy grandpa, and he even says he wasn’t expecting this sort of award for another 25 years. (He died eight months later.) He’s like a cute little accented troll doll who makes movies that are uncomfortable nightmares. Then he strikes comedy gold when he stops thanking people to ask his wife and frequent star, Giulietta Masina, to please stop crying. Cut to Giulietta, looking like your grandmother at every wedding.
There were three honorary Oscars in 1993, which helped slow the show down, but were all rather touching if you’re a classic movie fan. Besides the adorable Fellini family and their adorable antics, there was a posthumous humanitarian Oscar for Audrey Hepburn, presented by Gregory Peck, her costar in her first big movie. As we covered in the 1992 article, she died very suddenly from an aggressive cancer in January ’93, which is when the nominations came out. So either they already planned to give her the award, or rushed to include her when they realized how dumb it was they hadn’t done it yet.
Her son accepted and called Gregory Peck “Greg,” which I find too cute. Atticus Finch shares a first name with the oldest of the Brady Bunch!
Then these two broad show up.
Yep, it’s Angela Lansbury presenting another humanitarian Oscar to Elizabeth Taylor. And yes, in that still from “National Velvet,” Lansbury’s the older sister. She’s been around…oh….a while. Liz’s getting the award for all the fund-raising and education she did to fight AIDS, which she was out in front on well before it was a cool thing to do. It’s a shame we tend to think of late-career Liz Taylor as…well…Michael Jackson’s slightly saner friend.
Taylor’s speech has a level of eloquence I’m not sure I ever associated with her before. I’m don’t know if she wrote it or someone else did, but it’s a poetic call to action.
“I call upon you to prove we are a human race. To prove our love outweighs our hate. That our compassion is more compelling than our need to blame. That our sensitivity to those in need is stronger than our greed. That our ability to reason overcomes our fear.”
Good stuff. But enough of all the old geezers, who was actually competing that year?
Yeah, it was one of the few years it’s tough to complain about Best Picture, because it was “Unforgiven,” which is a masterpiece. Clint Eastwood won for picture and director, and Gene Hackman won for Supporting Actor. No complaints there. But there was a winner that was controversial.
Joan Plowright – old, British, married to Olivier – was heavily favored to win best supporting actress, when all of a sudden, in swoops the white girl from “A Different World.” Rumors persist to this day that Jack Palance read the wrong name. True, it’s pretty rare for a comic performance to win, but when they do, it’s in supporting categories. And she’s proven since then she’s not a fluke (see “In the Bedroom.”) So let’s complain about something else.
Let’s give a guy an award for playing Foghorn Leghorn! Al Pacino was a great actor. Was. His career can pretty neatly be divided into “Brilliant” and “After Scent of a Woman.” 1993 is the line. He was also nominated that night for his supporting turn in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” where the last vestige of the Pacino who was in “The Godfather” gasps, withers, and dies. Then the bombast and the scenery chewing just became so easy. Every now and then, old Al will peak out – a scene, a few lines, and you’ll sigh and think…damn.
Did you know Jon Lovitz presented at the goddamn Oscars?. Seriously! He stole his scenes in “A League of their Own,” and apparently that qualifies him to give a sound effects editor a prize. I mention him because he has one of the funniest bits in the shortest amount of time I’ve ever seen on an awards show. Basically, he’s doing his Master Thespian schtick from SNL, which totally works in a room full of master thespians.
A commercial break or two later, Lovitz’s nemesis Andy Dick appears for about 1/10th of a second in a tortilla chip commercial. This is weird because “The Ben Stiller Show” had only been cancelled two months earlier, so either this was an old ad, or he was taking any work he could get.
Still to come: Really awful musical numbers (no, seriously, really awful), and a brief word from our sponsor.
Celebrities and politics. Two great tastes that don’t really go so well together. For ever well-meaning, deeply involved celebrity who uses their status, money, and power to do something good (see: Audrey Hepburn, who we’ll be talking about later), there’s some starlet who has some half-formed idea that “the thing in Angola is bad…or something” and puts their well-manicured foot in their mouth and ends up trivializing the thing they wanted to help.
The Oscars in 1993, for the films of 1992, are easily the most political show the Oscars ever did. Some of it planned, a lot of it not.
See, 1992 was “The Year of the Woman.” The best information I can find on where that label came from is that’s the year the U.S. Senate went from two women to seven. Out of 100. Yippee. The Oscars decided to get in on that sweet, sweet condescension and decided it was also Oscar’s Year of the Woman, so they padded out the show with film montage salutes to the women editors and actors and writers. And if that wasn’t good enough, there’s a song about it by Liza – see our coverage of the show’s musical monstrosities for that one. It’s not pretty.
Oscars Women Had Never Won (in 1993): Best Foreign Film, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best Director. Only one had ever been nominated (and won) for Visual Effects. Just sayin’.
Opening the show, our host (again) Billy Crystal really mines the secret of The Crying Game for jokes. It comes up a lot.They flirt with spoiling it repeatedly, but manage to not quite spill the beans. Billy Crystal’s best line: “The Crying Game proved one thing – white men CAN jump.”
This was probably the last great pre-internet spoiler, and people were great at not ruining the surprise. The secret wouldn’t make it past preview screenings now, and that’s a shame, because it’s a great movie, and a great shock that spins the movie off in another direction. (I’m just assuming you all know it, with Mayor Quimby having ruined it for you.)
The unscheduled politics show up only a few awards in, when presenters Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins break from the script to plead for Haitian refugees held at Guantanamo Bay and not let into the U.S. because they were HIV+. Law students and non-profits took up their case, and their detention was ruled unconstitutional later that year. Commentators at the time were livid these dern liberals would derail the show for their pet cause.
Not long afterward, the Documentary winner goes past her allotted time lambasting the government for lying about bad things we did in Panama in the first Bush administration. I only mention this because the U.S. mission in Panama seems so very quaint now, and that’s sad.
The final great political interruption comes from Richard Gere, in the most notorious thing he actually, really did. Not what he was rumored to do, because he didn’t do that thing you’re thinking of. Gere also goes off script before presenting an award to talk about how many people are watching the show, and how all that energy could be focused into something good. Something like mentally sending Deng Xiaoping a psychic message to pull Chinese troops out of Tibet. Mentioning the cause you care about and have worked on for years is one thing, and Gere has certainly been committed to this issue before and since, but psychic messages instead of a call for political action? Especially since we had a new president to pester? God, it would have been hysterical is if Deng died right then, the victim of mass-psychic-murder, but the Chinese leader held on another four years.
Up next: The winners! Weird TV ads! Production number hell!