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Welcome to Oskarcast 1994: Spielberg's Night and Whoopi's Dawn

March 21, 1994

Can 1 billion people be wrong? That's how many people are expected to watch as Hollywood holds its biggest party for the 66th time.

And it seems to us that each of those 1 billion has predicted that Steven Spielberg will finally take home the Oscar tonight. And that Holly Hunter is a shoo-in for best actress. And that Whoopi Goldberg won't be mentioning Ted Danson in her monologue.

Yet they'll all watch. Suspense or no, with its astonishing international audience, the Academy Awards is a sure draw.

The elements are in place: Oskar Schindler crying. A colossal train wreck. Strong fingers softly caressing piano keys. A butler, a housekeeper and a book. Opera and an IV.

And a new host. Tonight Billy Crystal figuratively hands the baton to Whoopi Goldberg, who, one hopes, will do something that will make the stuffed stiffs of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Finances sweat profusely. Below, a scouting report on the once and current hosts.

The rest of our Oscar Day coverage:

* An inside look at the last-minute goings-on. F1

* Your Oscar TV viewing guide. F1

* The indie "Oscars": This year's Spirit Award winners. F2

* Winning an Oscar is no guarantee of success. F3

* So who won last year? A reminder. F3

* Si, oui and more foreign nominee discussion. F4

Billy Crystal

Host (years served): (1990-93)

Oscar won-lost record: No awards or nominations, though previous three films have received nominations in other categories: "When Harry Met Sally...," nominated for best screenplay; "City Slickers," "Mr. Saturday Night."

Biggest hits: "When Harry Met Sally..." (1989), "City Slickers," (1991).

Moments they, Oscar and everyone would prefer to forget: Playing the world's first pregnant man in the execrable "Rabbit Test" (1978). And the sentimental bits of "Memories of Me" (1988) and "Mr. Saturday Night" (1992)--they might bring tears to your eyes, but then, so would electroshock therapy.

Proof that they understand the crass world of Hollywood economics: His next film is "City Slickers II," which features Jack Palance playing the twin brother of the character that died in the original, a hoary dramatic device usually confined to soap operas.

Inside skinny from "The Encyclopedia of Film": Successful, personable and multitalented stand-up comic ... a fine mimic and his outrageous caricatures have been widely showcased." This, of course, was before "Mr. Saturday Night."

Missteps involving makeup: Playing an elderly, kvetching Jewish comic under mountains of pancake makeup in "Mr. Saturday Night."

TV: Back when he was a nobody, playing the first openly gay character on network TV in "Soap"--perhaps the most controversial thing he's ever done. Also put in an undistinguished year on "Saturday Night Live" (1984-85).

Hosting strengths: Brilliantly lampooned awards shows with such comic devices as the best picture medley; delivery makes scripted gags and ad-libs alike sound effortless.

Hosting weaknesses: He got tired of it fairly quickly--last year, he seemed to have given up the job halfway through the telecast.

Ability to fool some of the critics most of the time: Los Angeles magazine's movie writer, apparently unaware of the works of Woody Allen or Jacques Tati, enthused, " 'Mr. Saturday Night' represents the best job of a comic direction himself since Chaplin in 'City lights,' " then admitted he plays poker with someone from the film's production company.

Things that make you say, "Hmm," or at least, "excuse us?": Gil Cates on Crystal: "You do it for four years and it gets to be a grind." Excuse us--working one night a year is a "grind"?

Whoopi Goldberg

Host (years served): (1994-?)

Oscar won-lost record: Nominated for best actress for "The Color Purple" (1985, lost to Geraldine Page for "The Trip to Bountiful"); won best supporting actress for "Ghost" (1990).

Biggest hits: "Ghost" (1990), "Sister Act" (1992).

Moments they, Oscar and everyone would prefer to forget: "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (1986), "Burglar" (1987), "Fatal Beauty" (1987), "The Telephone" (1988)--can anyone explain how these movies are different?--and playing someone with a brain tumor in the straight-to-video "Homer & Eddie" (1990).

Proof that they understand the crass world of Hollywood economics: She starred in "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit," in which an originally serious script about a real-life, inspirational choir teacher at South-Central high school was transformed into a wacky gag fest about gluing nuns to chairs.

Inside skinny from "The Encyclopedia of Film": "Made an affecting debut in 'The Color Purple,' but her considerable talents were subsequentnly wasted in a series of uninspired vehicles." And this was before "Made in America" and "Sister Act 2."

Missteps involving makeup: Oh, there was that little Ted Danson-Friars Club thing you might have heard about ...

TV: Star Trek: The Next Generation." Also in the undistinguished "Bagdad Cafe" and "The Whoopi Goldberg Show," which nonetheless looks like brilliance next to Chevy Chase and Conan O'Brien.

Hosting strengths: She's not Chevy Chase. To wit: She's funny, brash, opinionated and, best of all, unpredictable (at least when she's not in a movie).

Hosting weaknesses: Did you see "The Whoopi Goldberg Show"? Thought not.

Ability to fool some of the critics most of the time: Dramalogue called "Made in America" "a national treasure." Regarding "Sister Act 2" People magazine advised, "Say five Hail Whoopis and see it"--baffled Americans wondered what sins they had committed to require such grave absolution.

Things that make you say, "Hmm," or at least, "excuse us?": Referring to presenters making unscheduled political statements on Oscar night, Goldberg told TV Guide, "You're not supposed to be political ... and then, of course they turn around and ask me to host it. I'm thinking 'Very interesting.' " Excuse us, but is this the best way to ingratiate herself to her employers?

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