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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 February, 2005, 00:41 GMT
Oscars hosts through history
Chris Rock
Chris Rock has already presented MTV and GQ Awards
Chris Rock will take over Oscar hosting duties for the first time at the 2005 Academy Awards - and in doing so, becomes only the fifth presenter since 1990.

The comedian marks something of a gamble for the Academy - the last time they took such a chance was infamously on chat show host David Letterman, widely regarded as the worst host in history.

The first awards, in 1929, were hosted by Douglas Fairbanks. But the names that have become synonymous with presenting are Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and recently the trio of Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg.

Hope, who was host or co-host 18 times, was incredibly popular.

His longevity as presenter was partially down to the fact that, as a Hollywood man, he was able to good-humouredly poke fun at the Oscars.

Bob Hope
"On with the reading of the will" - Donald O'Connor (1954)
"Two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over four hours" - Johnny Carson (1979)
"I think you ought to give me an Oscar just for attendance" - Bob Hope (1986)
"Good evening, Hollywood phonies" - Chevy Chase (1988)
"Welcome to the Oscars - or as it's known tonight, Cape Fear" - Billy Crystal (1992)
"Here to present the award are Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. And I am sure they are mad as hell about something" - David Letterman (1995)
What a night - stars, Oscar winners, a great big party. What is this, Liza's wedding? - Whoopi Goldberg (1999)
"Hosting the Oscars is like making love to a beautiful woman. It's something you only get to do when Billy Crystal is out of town" - Steve Martin (2001)
He opened one ceremony with the line: "Welcome to a show dedicated to the proposition that jealousy and envy shall not perish from the earth."

He also mined a rich comic seam about his own failure to win an Oscar. Opening one show, he said: "Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as they're known in my house, Passover."

Hope did have one significant mishap, however - introducing a tribute to "the stars of the future".

The careers of most of the cast of this Young Hollywood line-up, including Corey Feldman, Tyrone Power Jr and Matt Lattanzi, simply disintegrated.

Reagan delay

Hope was succeeded as a long-term host by chat show host Johnny Carson.

Carson was not an actor, and had only appeared in films as himself. However he shone as a host because of his quick wit and ability with an audience.

Following the attempted assassination of then-President and former actor Ronald Reagan in 1981, the Oscars were postponed 24 hours.

Reagan, who was shot in the chest, had at the time been pushing for a cut in funding for artistic endeavours. Carson called this "Reagan's strongest attack on the arts since he joined Warner Bros".

Then he added: "I'll bet he's up and around now."

Other hosts before the modern trio include Jack Lemmon, Jerry Lewis, and Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra, presenting the 1974 awards, had one of the toughest years - after critical Vietnam study Hearts And Minds won Best Documentary, he went on stage to read an Academy-issued statement stressing it did not condone or advocate the "volatile statements" made by the producers during their acceptance speech.

He also tackled comments made by Dustin Hoffman on a talk show that the Oscars were "obscene, dirty and no better than a beauty contest".

Bjork wearing a swan outfit to the 73rd Academy Awards
I was going to wear my swan, but to me they were so last year
Steve Martin
Sinatra responded strongly: "Contrary to what Mr Hoffman thinks, it is not an obscene evening. It is not garish and it is not embarrassing."

Billy Crystal took over in 1990, and has so far presented a total of eight times. His routines have frequently been as spectacular as some of the films being rewarded; editing himself into key scenes from the year's nominated movies, for example, or riding on an Oscar being pulled by Jack Palance - a nod to City Slickers, in which the two starred.

Letterman show

Crystal has established himself as the long-term choice for fronting the awards, sharing duties only with Whoopi Goldberg, three-time host, and Steve Martin, who has compered twice.

Goldberg became known for her spectacular entrances and smut. Often she combined the two - dressed as Queen Elizabeth I in 1999, she declared: "I am the African Queen. Some of you may know me as the Virgin Queen, but I can't imagine who."

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra found himself embroiled in controversy
Martin, meanwhile, established himself quickly with ad-libs and put-downs - noting Bjork's flamboyant dress, he quipped: "I was going to wear my swan, but to me they were so last year."

And he quickly restored the levity after Michael Moore's famous anti-Bush speech on winning Best Documentary for Bowling For Columbine, with the line: "It was so sweet backstage. The teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo."

The only exception has been talk show host David Letterman in 1995.

Letterman's approach was to turn the Oscars into one of his own shows. But many of the stars were simply left puzzled.

Tom Hanks in particular looked bemused when asked to prepare a carpet for a mechanical dog that spun around in circles if the audience applauded.

Letterman was not invited to host again.


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