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When Oscar sings: Some highs and lows

Songs in the ceremony have been talked about for reasons good ('It's Great Not to Be Nominated') and bad (Snow White and Rob Lowe, anyone?).

February 11, 2013|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Isaac Hayes holds his Oscar for best song "Theme From Shaft" from the movie "Shaft."
Isaac Hayes holds his Oscar for best song "Theme From Shaft"… (Associated Press )

At last year's Academy Awards, the two Oscar-nominated songs got short shrift — they weren't even performed on the telecast.

There will be no such exclusion on the 85th Oscar ceremony on Feb. 24 because the show's producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, are bringing music back to the Academy Awards in a big way. It's not surprising: Zadan and Meron were the producers of 2002's "Chicago," the last musical to win the best-picture Oscar.

To carry out their mission, Zadan and Meron have enlisted some big names to sing on the telecast, such as Barbra Streisand and James Bond chanteuse Shirley Bassey ("Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever"). Norah Jones will sing the Oscar-nominated "Everybody Needs a Friend," co-written by Oscar host Seth MacFarland, from "Ted," and Adele will perform "Skyfall," which she co-wrote, from the James Bond blockbuster.

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The producers are embracing an Oscar tradition that dates to March 7, 1946, when best-song nominees were performed at the ceremony for the first time. Here's a look back at the good, the bad and the downright ugly in the Academy Awards' musical past.

The academy sings

The academy gathered some of the hottest talent of the era for the first ceremony to feature performances of the 14 Oscar-nominated tunes: Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, Dinah Shore and Kathryn Grayson. Bing Crosby was scheduled to perform but bowed out. Haymes sang the Oscar-winning "It Might as Well Be Spring," and Sinatra crooned such nominees as "Anywhere." Among the songs Shore performed was "Love Letters," and Grayson graced the stage with "Linda," "More and More" and "Endlessly."

A couple of swells

The year 1957 was a banner one for friends and frequent costars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. The two starred in the blockbuster western "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." Lancaster gave one of his best performances in "Sweet Smell of Success," and Douglas soared in Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory." But Oscar passed them by.

So they got their comedic revenge at the 30th Academy Awards on March 26, 1958. Before Cary Grant announced the lead actor winner, Lancaster and Douglas demonstrated their comedic talents with the tune "It's Great Not to Be Nominated," penned by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The song poked fun at the nominees — "Charles Laughton, he's great/Yeah if you're voting for weight." Lancaster and Douglas stole the show; in fact, the number proved to be such a hit, the duo performed it the following year.

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Hayes makes history

Sammy Davis Jr. introduced Isaac Hayes' performance of his Oscar-winning hit tune, "Theme From 'Shaft'" at the 44th Academy Awards on April 10, 1972. It was a memorable moment.

Hayes brought soul and funk to the Oscars and became the first African American to win the best-song Oscar. He wore a shirt made entirely made of chains and was accompanied by dancing girls and flashy lights.

Oscar-winners croon a tune

Some very dramatic Oscar-winning performers have let down their guard to croon a tune on the Academy Awards. At the 41st ceremony on April 14, 1969, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Academy Award-winning Ingrid Bergman and Sidney Poitier joined Broadway star Paula Kelly and the UCLA Marching Band in a performance of Oscar-nominated "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

Mother and daughter

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Gene Kelly, who made his film debut in 1942's "For Me and My Gal" opposite Judy Garland, introduced the legendary singer at the 37th Oscar ceremony on April 5, 1965, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Garland performed a medley of Cole Porter tunes. At the 38th Oscar show on April 18, 1966, at the Chandler, Garland's then-19-year-old daughter Liza Minnelli sang the nominated "What's New, Pussycat?"

The bad and the ugly

No trip down Oscar musical memory lane is complete without mentioning the ultimate crash and burn number: the Snow White-Rob Lowe "Proud Mary" fiasco at the 61st awards on March 29, 1989. It's worth noting that the show's producer, Allan Carr ("Grease," "Can't Stop the Music"), had proclaimed before the show that the ceremony would be "the antithesis of tacky."

Runners-up in this category: Telly Savalas, Pat Morita and Dom DeLuise trying to stay in tune for the endless "Fugue for Tinhorns" at the 59th Oscars on March 31, 1987, and the lavish and clunky "Flying Down to Rio" number with Teri Garr at the 58th ceremony March 24, 1986. Surprisingly, that ceremony was produced by one of the great movie musical directors, Stanley Donen ("Singin' in the Rain," "Funny Face").

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susan.king@latimes.com

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