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Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman, Frank Sinatra: Top 10 Oscar hosts

By Raja Sen
Last updated on: February 20, 2015 17:34 IST
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Oscar 2015 host Neil Patrick Harris has several big shoes to fill in.

Neil Patrick Harris is an extraordinary performer, one who has not just played iconic television characters Doogie Howser and Barney Stinson, but a man who has had award-winning success as an award host, having done exceedingly well with the Emmys and the Tonys.

Before NPH shimmies onto stage and does something stunning to mark his first ever Oscarcast, here are the 10 hosts and hostesses he should attempt to dethrone:

 

1. Bob Hope

Image: A projection of long time Oscar host Bob Hope is seen during the 83rd Academy Awards, 2011. Photograph: Gary Hershorn/Reuters

Hope, America’s all time favourite comedian and conqueror of every stage he graced, took on the responsibility as Oscar host a whopping 18 times, making it easy to put him atop this list.

His easy charm and affable cornballery -- not to mention razor-sharp gags -- made the Academy beg for more.

Each time.

 

2. Billy Crystal

Image: Host Billy Crystal is carried across the stage by a man dressed as a Los Angeles policeman at the start of the 72nd Annual Academy Awards, 2000. Photograph: Reuters

Who can forget the time Billy Crystal came onto stage masked like Hannibal Lecter?

Or the time he rode in on a horse?

Or the time he posed naked to be sketched like Kate Winslet in The Titanic?

Crystal’s jokes never bit too hard, but were instead celebratory and affectionate, the kind of warm stuff that endeared him to the stars in the room and the people watching.

 

3. Frank Sinatra

Image: Frank Sinatra belts a song during a concert in Manila, 1994. Photograph: Erik de Castro/Reuters

Sinatra’s 1963 Oscar monologue is the stuff of legend. 

Dressed in a tuxedo with tails, the iconic singer riffs on Italian arthouse movies and talks about how Hollywood producers might have ‘helped’ with Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

It’s a strikingly smart opening that doesn’t pander to the crowd, and Sinatra characteristically classes up the awards.

 

4. Johnny Carson

Image: Johnny Carson. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Nobody teased a Hollywood audience quite like Carson.

A five-time host and someone who smashed one-liners with aplomb, Carson bit with wicked glee into the establishment, making fun of one and all.

'This is a night when Hollywood puts aside its petty jealousies... and brings out its major jealousies.'

Ah, Johnny.

 

5. Hugh Jackman (2009)

Image: Oscar 2009 host Hugh Jackman performs with Beyonce. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Jackman, the only modern host to make the list, had the best musical opening number in Oscar history.

Touching on everything from Slumdog Millionaire to Frost/Nixon, possibly the most unmusical nominee of all-time, he ended his dashing song by reminding us that he was Wolverine.

 

6. Steve Martin

Image: Oscar 2003 host Steve Martin delivers his opening monologue. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The year was 2003, and the Oscars took place mere days after the Iraq War had started.

Things were understandably muted, and while that meant Martin couldn't really cut loose, he did very admirably in terms of keeping the show lean and slick.

 


7. Richard Pryor, Warren Beatty, Ellen Burstyn and Jane Fonda

Image: Richard Pryor, Warren Beatty, Ellen Burstyn and Jane Fonda. Photograph: Fred Prouser/Mario Anzuoni/Danny Moloshok/Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Having this odd, unholy counterculture quarter in charge of the Oscars was always going to be weird, and the 1977 show was a peculiar but wonderfully absurd and uneven beast with lots of jokes that didn't land, improv that nobody understood and severe amounts of cross-talk.

Wonderfully whimsical.

 


8. Whoopi Goldberg

Image: Whoopi Goldberg hosts the 1996 Oscars. Photograph: Gary Hershorn/Reuters 

Goldberg, perhaps Hollywood's most bulletproof comedienne, hosted multiple times, but really hit her groove in 1996.

'Elisabeth Shue played a hooker. Mira Sorvino played a hooker. Sharon Stone played a hooker,' she informed us about the nominated actresses.

'How many times did Charlie Sheen get to vote?'

 


9. Donald Duck, Jack Lemmon, Bob Hope, David Niven and James Stewart

Image: Donald Duck, Jack Lemmon, Bob Hope, David Niven and James Stewart. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Reinhard Krause/Reuters/Trikosko, Marion S/Wikimedia Commons

The 1958 Academy Awards wasn't the best show but, by golly, was it memorable.

I mean, Donald Duck co-hosting with Hope and Niven!

The writing could have been better, sure, but what a risk -- and, looking back, what a delightfully droll affair.

 


10. Jerry Lewis, Claudette Colbert and Joseph L Mankiewicz

Image: Jerry Lewis, Claudette Colbert and Joseph L Mankiewicz. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

The gorgeous Colbert and the inimitably goofy Jerry Lewis drove Mankiewicz insane during the 1956 Oscars.

The show coasted along with a zany screwball energy and, despite some sloppiness, remains a fine, fondly-remembered evening embodying how Hollywood, like the world, is made up of all sorts.

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Raja Sen / Rediff.com in Mumbai