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It's Martin for Oscars 2003

Picking the comedian to host the Academy Awards, producer Gil Cates calls him witty, quick on his feet and 'always on top of the unfolding action.'

November 08, 2002|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

Steve Martin, the actor, playwright, novelist, art collector and comedian of "Saturday Night Live" fame, whose dry and cutting monologue drew rave reviews when he hosted his first Academy Awards in 2001, has accepted an invitation to emcee the 75th anniversary Oscars next March in Hollywood.

Martin issued a statement that noted he was pleased to be hosting his second Oscar telecast "because fear and nausea always make me lose weight."

Gil Cates, who returns for his 11th stint as producer of the Academy Awards show, said he was "thrilled" to get Martin, who he added has what it takes to host the Oscars because he is witty, quick on his feet and "always on top of the unfolding action."

Indeed, when Martin took the stage during the 73rd Academy Awards in March 2001, it was a question whether he would knock 'em dead a la Billy Crystal or flame out like David Letterman, but Martin soon had the star-studded audience in stitches and applauding.

In just one of many memorable jokes from that show, Martin cracked that even though best actress nominee Ellen Burstyn had gained 30 pounds and looked 20 years older for her role in "Requiem for a Dream," she would be "hit on" by actor Russell Crowe.

He further needled the dour Crowe, who had apparently been the target of a kidnapping plot, when he mentioned that the FBI had uncovered who was behind it -- and pointed to fellow best actor nominee Tom Hanks in the audience. Without missing a beat, Hanks bowed his head in shame and whispered, "I'm sorry."

According to sources, Martin was not the first choice to host next year's show. Cates initially approached Crystal and asked if he would like to emcee what would have been his eighth Oscar telecast, but Crystal wanted more time to think about it. With a deadline looming, Cates turned to his longtime friend Martin.

"No comment" was all Cates would say Thursday when asked about approaching Crystal. Then he added, "There are a lot of great people who have hosted this show, from Johnny Carson to Bob Hope. Billy Crystal was and is a great host, but this year it's Steve."

Martin and Cates have a relationship in the theater going back years. Martin's play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" was the first production at the UCLA Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, where Cates serves as artistic director. The comedy, which concerns a fictional meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein at a Paris cafe at the turn of the 20th century, is also being developed as a film.

Martin recently completed filming on "Bringing Down the House," which co-stars Queen Latifah and Eugene Levy and is due out next spring. Filming begins in January on "Shopgirl," which he adapted from his novella.

Cates noted that Martin's next play, "Underpants," will be produced at the Geffen next year. Hyperion will publish Martin's next novel, "The Pleasure of My Company," next fall.

The 75th Oscars are scheduled to be presented March 23 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

Cates recalled with a chuckle that in Martin's first stint as host, the Oscars began with Martin's photograph displayed by U.S. astronauts as part of a space-travel visual sequence. Cates, who's returning after a year off, is confident that Martin will top that performance.

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