Last host­less night, in 1989, was dis­as­ter


The Academy Awards bet­ter hope its de­ci­sion to tele­vise Sun­day’s cer­e­mony without a host doesn’t come back to bite Os­car on his gold-plated back­side.

The last time the show went without an of­fi­cial em­cee was 30 years ago — and its in­ter­minable open­ing num­ber high­lighted by a dis­as­trous song and dance duet with ac­tor Rob Lowe and an un­known dressed as Snow White re­sulted in the most cringe­wor­thy mo­ment in the his­tory of a show known for its myr­iad of cringe­wor­thy mo­ments.

The 1989 cer­e­mony cli­maxed with “Rain Man” win­ning best pic­ture, its fourth Os­car of the night. But view­ers had to first en­dure Lowe – then 24 and bet­ter known for ap­pear­ing on a sex tape with a 16-year-old girl than his movie cred­its – croon­ing an off-key ren­di­tion of “Proud Mary” with “Snow White,” who per­formed in an an­noy­ingly high-pitched voice that sounded like Betty Boop on helium.

The open­ing was 11 min­utes of tele­vised tor­ture for more than 1 bil­lion view­ers world­wide, yet the now­in­fa­mous duet was hardly the only low­light.

As the set trans­formed into a fac­sim­ile of L.A.’s famed Co­coanut Grove night­club, TV talk-show host Merv Grif­fin sang the cheesy “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Co­conuts” in a Bri­tish ac­cent while Old Hol­ly­wood icons like Vin­cent Price, Cyd Charisse, Roy Rogers and Dorothy Lamour were trot­ted on­stage like ag­ing show ponies amid high-step­ping dancers dressed like theater ush­ers.

It took years for the in­dus­try to look back and laugh at the Os­car night de­ba­cle, which was the brain­child of “Grease” pro­ducer Al­lan Carr, who was bent on shak­ing up what he saw as a staid, out­dated event.

But while the con­cept of hon­or­ing Hol­ly­wood his­tory with a singing Snow White seemed harm­lessly dopey, it made the movie es­tab­lish­ment pretty darn grumpy.

Not only did crit­ics pan Carr’s mis­guided vi­sion — which put a per­ma­nent black mark on an oth­er­wise suc­cess­ful ca­reer — Dis­ney promptly filed a copy­right in­fringe­ment suit against the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sciences for us­ing Snow White’s im­age without per­mis­sion.

It got worse — a let­ter slam­ming the cer­e­mony as “an em­bar­rass­ment to both the Academy and the en­tire mo­tion pic­ture in­dus­try” was signed by 17 prom­i­nent Hol­ly­wood heavy­weights, in­clud­ing Paul New­man, Joanne Wood­ward, Julie An­drews and Gre­gory Peck.

“It is nei­ther fit­ting nor ac­cept­able that the best work in mo­tion pic­tures be ac­knowl­edged in such a de­mean­ing fash­ion,” the let­ter said.

In a news­pa­per in­ter­view last year, Lowe re­called the mo­ment he re­al­ized the num­ber had gone off the rails.

“I re­mem­ber vividly look­ing out in the au­di­ence and see­ing (di­rec­tor) Barry Levin­son, who on that par­tic­u­lar evening was the belle of the ball with ‘Rain Man,’ and I could see him very clearly pop-eyed and mouthing, ‘What the (ex­ple­tive)?’” Lowe told The New York Times. “But to be a suc­cess­ful ac­tor, you have to have a big dol­lop of self­de­nial, so I man­aged to con­vince my­self that I’d killed it.”

Lowe’s ca­reer did ac­tu­ally sur­vive the fi­asco (not to men­tion his sex tape scan­dal). But the ac­tress who played Snow White — San Diego na­tive Eileen Bow­man, then 22 — wasn’t so lucky. She never re­cov­ered from what should have been a huge break and has ap­peared in a smat­ter­ing of small TV and film roles over the years.

“These poor peo­ple were like, ‘What the hell are you do­ing?’ ” Bow­man said in a mag­a­zine in­ter­view years later about the movie stars sit­ting in L.A.’s Shrine Au­di­to­rium that night.

“I re­mem­ber sit­ting in my condo ... watch­ing the news — and the Snow White num­ber was all that was on the news. I had no idea,” Bow­man said. “My phone never stopped ring­ing. It was aw­ful.”

Rob Lowe and “Snow White” in not fondly re­mem­bered Academy Awards night three decades ago.

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