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20 Years Ago This Week: Billy Crystal hosts his first Oscars

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Image Credit: Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesThe 1989 Academy Awards had no host, and featured an infamous and embarrassing duet between Rob Lowe and Snow White. Naturally, it was quickly branded the worst Oscars ever. But it did contain at least one highlight: Billy Crystal presented a special segment on tap dancing, and totally killed. Immediately the press began asking why he wasn’t hosting the entire show. Luckily, the following year, he did exactly that. ”I just wanted to bring a sense of irreverence, a sense of freshness,” Crystal now says of his first gig hosting the ceremony. ”Not only to introduce people, but to comment on the show. You want to make it look like you’re watching. Otherwise, you just drift in and out like a concierge.” Opening with a tongue-in-cheek musical medley about the Best Picture nominees, Crystal was an instant hit, and infused the Oscars with class and fun.

The actor found out pretty quickly how well things were going. ”After the first commercial break,” he recalls, “I was in my dressing room. Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty knocked on the door. I said, ‘Who is it?’ I heard [in Nicholson’s voice] ‘It’s Jack and Warren.’ They just thanked me for doing it, I guess because the year before was so dismal. To have two Mount Rushmore guys come backstage during the show — that was pretty great. I remember them saying, ‘It’s yours as long as you want it.'”

Crystal went on to host another seven Oscars, most recently in 2004, and he remains the gold standard for Oscar emcees. So would he do it again? ”Sure! I’ve had a lot of distance now,” he says. “Each year, it gets a little easier to watch. You don’t feel like, ‘Oh, God! Don’t be that good!’ It’s a lot of work if you’re going to do it the right way, but if I felt like, ‘Hey, I could have fun with this,’ then I would do it. But right now, I’ve been happy to sit at home in a sweat suit, watching it with Chinese food, going, ‘Why is this so long?”’