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Cue the Shuttle: It’s the 64th Annual Academy Awards With AM-Oscars, Bjt

March 31, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Yes, it’s still too long. Yes, the acceptance speeches still are mostly obscure or maudlin. And, yes, like it or not, the Academy Awards still are the last bastion of full-throttle live TV entertainment.

Bless the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences anyway, for Monday night it wrapped up the 64th Annual Academy Awards in a shade over 3 hours.

Those 210-plus, star-studded minutes included a set of one-armed push-ups from best supporting actor Jack Palance, a greeting from the crew of space shuttle Atlantis and four full-bore production numbers.

Best of all, it included the giddily brilliant improvisations of Billy Crystal, in his third year as host.

Crystal was charming from the moment he was wheeled onstage and strolled into the audience wearing the face mask of the demonic Hannibal ″The Cannibal″ Lecter from ″The Silence of the Lambs,″ which was named best picture.

″I’m having some of the Academy over for dinner,″ he confided to Anthony Hopkins, who later won best-actor honors for his Lecter role.

Palance, who at 72 won the first Oscar of his 42-year career for his work with Crystal as a crusty trail boss in ″City Slickers,″ showed off his physical prowess on behalf of older actors.

″Billy Crystal,″ Palance snorted. ″God 3/8 I crap bigger’n him.″

Crystal got the last laugh, improvising and updating Palance’s offstage exploits during the rest of the evening. Palance variously was reported to be bungee-jumping off the Hollywood sign, winning the New York primary and being the father of the many children in one production number.

For all its gentle comedy and spectacular staging, the academy also provided a forum for political statements and had its share of touching moments:

- Comedy producer Hal Roach, age 100, was introduced and received a half- minute standing ovation. (Because of a technical gaffe, Roach was inaudible as he thanked the crowd - and Crystal noted that was appropriate, since Roach began in silent films.)

- Debra Chasnoff, producer of the best documentary short subject, ″Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment,″ was applauded heartily while she condemned environmental misdeeds of nuclear weapons makers. ″Thank you very much, and boycott GE 3/8″ she said.

- Red ribbons symbolizing AIDS awareness were worn by most of the awards presenters, including actor Richard Gere, who urged the audience to write their congressmen to divert defense spending into AIDS research.

- ″Beauty and the Beast″ composer Alan Menken, accepting the award for best score, spoke to the memory of his late partner, lyricist Howard Ashman, who died a year ago of AIDS: ″Howard, I wish you could have seen the finished product. ... I know you would have been proud.″

- Ashman’s longtime companion, Bill Lauch, accepted the Oscar for best song. ″It is bittersweet,″ he said. ″This is the first Academy Award given to someone we’ve lost to AIDS. In working on ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Howard faced incredible personal challenges but always gave his best. What made that possible was an atmosphere of understanding, love and support. That’s something everyone facing AIDS not only needs, but deserves.″

- Ailing Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray accepted an honorary Oscar from his hospital bed in Calcutta, India.

- Liza Minnelli and Shirley MacLaine, at the podium to present the award for best song, saluted Barbra Streisand, who was not nominated for her work on best-picture nominee ″The Prince of Tides.″ Miss MacLaine, a believer in reincarnation, suggested the three of them make a musical next year, then shrugged and said, ″Some other life.″

Crystal, who was suffering from the flu, closed the ceremonies with thanks to ″my wife, Janice, without whose soup this night would not have been possible.″ And he announced that next year’s host would be Palance.

And so it ended. It wouldn’t have run so long if they hadn’t tried to put so much stuff into it.

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