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Late Night at the Academy Awards: Oscar Eats Letterman’s Lunch

March 28, 1995 GMT

Tough room, eh, Dave?

With more than one billion viewers in his TV audience, David Letterman had his hands full getting laughs from the Hollywood crowd that packed the Shrine Auditorium for the 3 1/2-hour Academy Awards ceremony.

The talk show host brought his entire repertoire from CBS’ ``Late Night″ to ABC’s live telecast. There was a Top 10 List, ``Stupid Pet Tricks″ and other small-screen schtick.

The irony was that his irony was lost on Hollywood.

When it comes to irony vs. the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Oscar will eat Dave’s lunch every time. That jittery New York edge of his is just a Zippo-flick against the glare of Hollywood’s self-absorption.

Letterman never really hit his stride. ``Thank you very much,″ he said on taking the stage at 9:10 p.m. EST. ``Now we’re five minutes late.″

That was a time joke, of course.

``When you hear your name, please come up to the stage an orderly single file and pick up your Oscar,″ Letterman said minutes later. ``We should be through in a half-hour.″

That was a joke, too, until 9:27, when best supporting actress Dianne Wiest finally received the night’s first major award. At least a half-billion of us realized then that we were in for a long night.

When costume designer Lizzie Gardiner took the stage in a gown fashioned largely from American Express Gold Cards, Letterman ventured, ``I’m tellin’ ya, American Express can’t buy publicity like that.″

He returned to the gag after a commercial: ``Bad news, ladies and gentlemen: While we were away, Lizzie Gardiner’s dress expired.″

Both jokes got polite laughter. American Express, after all, was one of the show’s sponsors.

Letterman flopped big-time with his introduction of presenters Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, a couple known for their outspoken political activism.

``Ladies and gentlemen, pay attention. I’m sure they’re pissed off about something,″ Letterman japed. When the camera cut to them, Robbins and Sarandon were not smiling.

So what’s there to complain about? ``The night the stars salute themselves″ is always overlong, overblown and under-rehearsed. That happens every year.

Well, so do the technical glitches, which seem to crop up in the Oscar telecast more often than in other live telecasts. This year, veteran Oscars director Jeff Margolis and his producers bobbled the show like first-timers.

The opening production number, an intricately choreographed salute to ``Comedy and the Movies,″ featured live and prerecorded performances by Tim Curry, Kathy Najimy and child actress Mara Wilson.

The timing was off, and the effect of their seeming to move from live action on stage to ``interact″ on the auditorium’s big blue screen was largely lost on home viewers.

The sound engineering on Randy Newman’s performance of his Oscar-nominated ``Make Up Your Mind″ was glaringly bad. Newman, his piano and his backup singers were under-amplified and obscured by the orchestra.

The producers’ worst disservice, though, was to best supporting actor Martin Landau. His acceptance speech was the only one cut off by the orchestra.

Monday night’s best line came from Steve Martin, presenting the film editing award, when he waxed nostalgic about the romance of cinema.

``I still remember sitting in a darkened theater with my arm around 17-year-old Mary Jo Rasmussen, trying to get to first base,″ Martin recalled fondly. ``I can even remember the name of the film: `The Lion King.‴

Best performance at the Oscars went to plucky Jamie Lee Curtis, who made a spectacular entrance to introduce the previously presented technical awards.

Curtis, wearing the proverbial little black dress, reprised a scene from the action film ``True Lies.″ She descended from the flies, hanging by one hand (with a barely visibly safety line) from the arm of a burly stunt man who clung to the landing skid of a stage helicopter.

Curtis even improvised a swipe at the status quo: ``The Academy congratulates all of the men _ and not one woman! _ who were honored that night,″ she said, and fairly skipped offstage. Brava!

Letterman fizzled in his followup, though, with a reference to her appearance early this month on the ``American Comedy Awards,″ when comedian Jon Lovitz grasped her breast.

``It occurred to me this is the second awards show in a month in which she has received a warm hand,″ said Letterman. The gag died.

The the 67th annual ceremony may go into history as the ``body function″ Oscars.

Screenwriter Roger Avary, with ``Pulp Fiction″ co-writer Quentin Tarantino, cut short his acceptance speech by saying, ``I really have to take a pee right now.″

Minutes later, Letterman told a billion people, ``You know, I’ve had to take a pee since 6:15. You don’t hear me whining about it.″

No, leave that to me.