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The Globe and Mail

The 5 best (and 5 worst) Oscar hosts of all time

Looking back at the best and worst Oscars hosts

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THE BEST Billy Crystal: Sure, his jokes were corny and his insistence on opening with a musical number (“It’s a wonderful night for Oscar, Oscar, Oscar…”), but has anybody ever looked more natural in the hosting role? Crystal has hosted the show nine times and warrants top honours if only for his impromptu one-liner at the 1992 ceremony when a technical problem made a speech from centenarian producer Hal Roach inaudible. Without missing a beat, Crystal cracked: “I think that’s fitting, because Mr. Roach started in silent films.”

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Johnny Carson: The talk-show legend hosted five times, and on each occasion he brought the same puckish laidback charm that he displayed nightly for nearly three decades on The Tonight Show. In 1979, he opened the show with the line, “Welcome to the 51 st Academy Awards, two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over a four-hour show.” Carson was one of a kind.

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Whoopi Goldberg: Most people are surprised to learn that Goldberg has hosted the trophyfest four times (in 1993, 1995, 1998 and 2001), but isn’t the ability to come and go without ruckus a good thing for an Oscar host? Whoopi’s high point came in the 1995 broadcast when she announced: “I’m going to get it all out of my system right now: Save the whales; save the spotted owl; gay rights; men’s rights; women’s rights; human rights; feed the homeless; more gun control; free the Chinese dissidents; peace in Bosnia; health-care reform; choose choice; act up; more AIDS research; let Frank Sinatra finish; Lorena Bobbitt, please meet Bob Dole, and someone stop these damn earthquakes ... I think I took care of everything, didn’t I? Including my career.” You go, girl.

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Jon Stewart: The Daily Show frontman hosted twice, in 2005 and 2007, and he did not disappoint on either occasion. Stewart stuck to the standard Oscar host gameplan the first time, but his second stint took place during a presidential year, and he scored big points with the line: “Normally when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty.” Cut to a shot of Morgan Freeman in the audience.

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Bob Hope: The late comedian deserves mention simply for longevity–he hosted 19 times!–and while he rarely veered into controversial territory, he was always the master of the deadpan one-liner. At the 1968 show, he opened with, “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as it’s known at my house, Passover.”

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THE WORST: David Letterman By his own admission, the late-night talk host did an abysmal job hosting the 1994 Oscars ceremony and will likely never attempt it again in his lifetime. Letterman airlifted in his own writing team to create material and skits, most of which were met with stony silence by the crowd in attendance. The spinning dog routine was simply out of place and not the least bit funny, and the less said about Letterman’s “Oprah…Uma” refrain the better. Viewers cringed.

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Chris Rock: What was the Academy thinking? In a presumed attempt to “young up” the Oscars, they hired Rock, a cutting-edge comedian with an X-rated standup routine and then obviously told him to tone it down for the viewing audience. Rock played by their rules but reverted to edgy form with a crack about how some of that year’s nominated films “sucked” and even took a shot at Jude Law: “If you want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law, wait!” Mr. Rock will not be making a repeat host appearance anytime soon.

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Chevy Chase: The former Saturday Night Live regular was at the top of his game when he hosted the 1989 broadcast, following screen hits like Fletch and National Lampoon’s Vacation, but as Oscar host he was a smarmy, seemingly disinterested bust. And he did not endear himself by opening the show with, “Good evening, Hollywood phonies!”

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Anne Hathaway and James Franco: Easily the most awkward hosts of all time, Hathaway and Franco looked dazed and confused helming the show, widely acknowledged as the worst Oscars in history (and also one of the lowest-rated). How bad was it? They rambled, they made terrible jokes and they even went in drag for one segment. Franco’s performance was so bad that the rumour mill was buzzing that he was stoned during the broadcast.

Bob D'Amico/ABC

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Donald Duck: Yes, it’s true. At the 1958 awards show, the cartoon duck was chosen to co-host with five other stars (Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Rosalind Russell and James Stewart), albeit in a pre-filmed segment. He remains the only Oscars host to perform without pants.

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