Billy Crystal steps in as Oscars host

This will be the comedian's ninth turn as emcee of the show. He replaces the exiting Eddie Murphy.

November 11, 2011|Nicole Sperling and Rebecca Keegan
  • Billy Crystal will return to the Oscar stage in February marking his ninth stint as the show's host.
Billy Crystal will return to the Oscar stage in February marking his ninth… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Billy Crystal stepped in Thursday to host the 2012 Academy Awards, replacing Eddie Murphy who bowed out after producer Brett Ratner left the show under a cloud of controversy.

Word of Crystal's appointment came just 90 minutes after telecast producers Brian Grazer -- who replaced Ratner on Wednesday -- and Don Mischer said in an interview they had not settled on a host and were mulling five candidates.

"Am doing the Oscars so the young woman in the pharmacy will stop asking my name when I pick up my prescriptions. Looking forward to the show." Crystal said via Twitter on Thursday afternoon.

"Bringing Billy back home is a good thing," said Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Tom Sherak. "He's funny. He's a comic by trade and he's an iconic Oscar host." Sherak said the deal happened fast. "It happened today after [Grazer and Mischer did a round of press] calls, Billy's people called and said he'll do it if we want him. ... We called ABC and we're doing it."

"Don and I both feel that comedy is the common denominator," Grazer said in the interview. "We really want a host who's gonna have a sense of humor and who is interested in pleasing the audience."

Crystal is a veteran of the broadcast, having hosted the show eight times between 1990 and 2004. At 63, Crystal will be a dramatic shift from the 2011 emcees, actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway, who were chosen in part because of their supposed appeal to younger viewers.

Meanwhile, Sherak said Thursday that he hoped the Ratner episode wouldn't cause the academy lasting harm, and he pledged to work "really hard getting the tarnish off."

Ratner, director of such popcorn films as "Rush Hour" and the newly released "Tower Heist," was touted as someone who could jazz up the program and draw a bigger audience. But he came under fire after a Q&A session last weekend following a screening of "Tower Heist," during which he uttered an anti-gay slur. He then went on Howard Stern's Sirius XM radio show Monday and talked explicitly about his sex life.

On Monday, Ratner apologized for the slur, calling it "a dumb and outdated way of expressing myself" and said that "as a storyteller, I should have been much more thoughtful about the power of language and my choice of words." Sherak on Monday called Ratner's remarks "inappropriate" but said the academy didn't plan to remove him from his Oscar-producing position. But Ratner ended up stepping aside Tuesday.

Sherak said Thursday that he was unaware of the Stern broadcast when he issued his initial statement of support for Ratner.

"I didn't hear Howard Stern until that night. I don't listen to that show. I'm not a listener. I think I'm out of the demographic. I got an email, 'Have you heard Howard Stern?' " Sherak said. "Later in the day I went home. I put it on and I started listening to it. ... I knew why I don't listen to Howard Stern. I felt appalled. Oh, my gosh, oh, wow. Thank God my wife didn't hear it. I was appalled.

"Brett called me the next day. He said, 'Tom, I need to resign.' I said, 'Thank you.' "

Sherak placed a call to Grazer, who was in New York promoting his film "J. Edgar" and about to board a plane. "The minute I heard Tom's voice, I said, 'Absolutely,' really," Grazer said. The official offer came a few hours later, when Grazer had landed in L.A.

Sherak said he got many phone calls plus about 50 emails from members angry about Ratner. "People were upset," he said. "They had a right to be upset. It's their organization, and people need to speak out when they are upset."

Asked whether he regretted hiring Ratner, Sherak said: "Not at all. Not one bit. Would I do it again? The answer is, I would have done it again based on the interview I had. ... I believed and so did [academy Chief Executive] Dawn [Hudson] that he would give us a great show. ...He brought us someone who gave us a lot of press with Eddie. Think about that, we were talking about the Academy Awards in August."

Grazer, who is a friend of Ratner's and who also produced "Tower Heist," said he has no ill feelings toward Ratner. "I took him out to dinner last night," Grazer said. "We've been friends for 22 years, and we're gonna be friends for another 22 years."

As for whether the entire episode has tarnished the reputation of the academy, Sherak said: "Someone the academy hired to perform a very important function messed up, messed up badly. He's done everything he can, but this is him. The academy did what it needed to do by accepting his resignation when he offered it. Does it tarnish it? I hope not. If someone feels it does, then we will work really hard getting the tarnish off."

The first order of business is producing the show, which airs live on Feb. 26. "We are still ahead of where we were last year with the show," Sherak said Thursday morning. "We didn't have a host last year until 21/2 weeks later than now."

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