When the ceremony turns to song, the Oscar numbers hit highs and lows
ALOS ANGELES t 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 Sunday 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 Best Friend,” co-written by Oscar host Seth MacFarland, from “Ted,” and Adele will perform “Skyfall,” which she co-wrote, from the most recent James Bond blockbuster.
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 leadactor 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.
Hayes makes history: In a memorable moment, Sammy Davis Jr. introduced Isaac Hayes’s performance of his Oscar-winning hit tune, “Theme From ‘Shaft,’” at the 44th Academy Awards on April 10, 1972. 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 dancers and flashy lights.
Oscar winners croon: 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 Oscarnominated “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
Mother and daughter: 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 struggled to stay in tune for the endless “Fugue for Tinhorns” at the 59th Oscars on March 31, 1987.
And at the 58th ceremony March 24, 1986, lavishness turned clunky in a “Flying Down to Rio” number with Teri Garr.
Surprisingly, that ceremony was produced by one of the great movie musical directors, Stanley Donen (“Singin’ in the Rain,” “Funny Face”).
BIG MOMENT: In 1972, Isaac Hayes won the Oscar for “Theme From Shaft.”
OSCAR DEBUT: British singer Shirley Bassey is expected to perform songs from such classic Bond films as “Goldfinger.”
BEAR NECESSITIES: On Sunday, Norah Jones will sing the Oscar-nominated “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from “Ted.”
BOND GIRL: Adele will perform the newest James Bond theme, “Skyfall.”