Remembrance of Oscars past Notable: Will anything tomorrow night match the celebrated highs and unforgettable lows of years gone by?

On the Air

March 24, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

If you're like me, there's no question where you'll be tomorrow night: in front of the television, watching the Academy Awards and getting supremely ticked off when the actor you thought was so good is passed over in favor of another actor you wouldn't cross the street to see.

Oscar-watching has been a Kaltenbach family tradition as far back as I can remember and that's pretty far. I recall, for instance, winning the family pool in 1968 with my startling prediction that Katharine Hepburn would win for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." I would have made a clean sweep of the major categories, had I not stubbornly insisted "Doctor Dolittle" was the best picture of the year. It was the only one I'd actually seen.

So, for me, Oscar night is not to be missed. And to help those of you who may be starting a tradition of your own Every Oscar telecast has its embarrassing moments. No matter how hard one tries, it would be hard to forget Sally Field screaming, "You like me!", director Bernardo Bertolucci ("The Last Emperor") referring to Hollywood as the Big Nipple or screenwriter Ernest Thompson ("On Golden Pond") saying he wished he could "suck face" with the entire academy.

But the most spectacular embarrassments are usually saved for the opening numbers. Teri Garr danced on top of an airplane wing in 1986, and her career has never recovered.

And then there was 1989, which featured an opening debacle that may never have been matched for televised bad taste: Producer Alan Carr had a woman dressed as Snow White sing her way (badly) through a variety of sets meant to remind viewers of old Hollywood, trotted out a handful of old stars for five-second cameos, then plumbed even greater depths by bringing Rob Lowe out to sing (if you can call it that) "Proud Mary" with Snow.

I can almost guarantee nothing tomorrow will be as awful as that. But we can always hope.

2. Will any of this make the highlights reel? The Oscars have had their share of memorable moments over the years. There are the poignant scenes of triumph, like Charlie Chaplin's returning to America for the first time in 20 years to receive an honorary award in 1972, Louise Fletcher's using sign language to talk to her deaf parents in 1976 and Jane Fonda's accepting the award for her bedridden father, Henry, in 1982.

Then there are the silly and/or controversial moments: David Niven hardly batting an eyelash when a streaker disrupted the proceedings in 1974, Sacheen Littlefeather accepting the Best Actor Oscar on Marlon Brando's behalf in 1973 or Richard Gere urging everyone to channel their thoughts in an effort to end repression in Tibet three years ago.

Ten years from now, will any of the moments from tomorrow's awards show remain fresh in the public's memory?

3. Is any of this funny? Everybody tries to be a comedian on these awards shows, but few of them succeed. Still, every once in a while, there's some honest-to-goodness humor coming from the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

For all the brickbats thrown at him last year, David Letterman's routine about the different actors who auditioned for his role in "Cabin Boy" was a howl. Billy Crystal's lyrical odes to the Best Picture nominees were instant classics. (My favorite: "Those lips, those eyes/Surprise!/It's 'The Crying Game.' ")

And, in 1980, Johnny Carson made a running joke out of sound man Allan Splet's absence when it came time to pick up his Oscar (you expect that from Katharine Hepburn, but Allan Splet?).

Sometimes, even the winners are genuinely funny. Like Barbra Streisand, who looked at her Best Actress Oscar in 1969 and quipped, "Hello, Gorgeous." Or Mel Brooks, who accepted his Original Screenplay Oscar in that same year (for "The Producers") with this speech: "I'll just say what's in my heart ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump."

4. Which one of the winners least deserved it? Or, alternately, which award deserves the biggest groan?

The Academy Awards are replete with films and performances that should have won, but were somehow overlooked: Grace Kelly being named Best Actress over Judy Garland in 1955 (which Groucho Marx labeled "the biggest robbery since Brinks"); "In the Heat of the Night" being named Best Picture of 1967 over both "Bonnie and Clyde" and "The Graduate"; "Hoop Dreams" not even being nominated for an Oscar last year; or Marisa Tomei being named Best Support- ing Actress of 1992 over, among others, Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Plowright.

State history

As we celebrate Maryland Day tomorrow, it's nice to see Maryland history getting some time in the TV spotlight.

"Voyages of the Ark, the Dove and the Pride II," airing from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. tomorrow on MPT, Channels 22 and 67, will take viewers on a live trip to Maryland's Colonial capital of St. Mary's City, where they'll watch as the crew of the ship Pride of Baltimore II prepares to retrace the voyage of the Ark and the Dove, which in 1634 brought the first settlers to Maryland from England.

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