First-time Oscar host David Letterman battled great expectations and finally fought them to a draw Monday night.
Sluggish and even a bit boorish during much of his opening monologue, Letterman finally caught fire with a well-aimed joke at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s expense. The host cracked that the foreign film “Eat Drink Man Woman” replicated the words Schwarzenegger used in asking Maria Shriver out on their first date. Eat Drink Be Merry.
Letterman later scored by lampooning his cameo performance in one of last year’s biggest bombs, “Cabin Boy.” His single line from that movie, “Would ya like to buy a monkey?” was re-interpreted on videotape by Jack Lemmon, Anthony Hopkins, Madonna, Paul Newman, Tom Hanks and others.
Hanks also was utilized to roll out a carpet onstage for a spinning dog named Sadie. This unbilled “Stupid Pet Trick” preceded another “Late Show” staple, a “Top 10 List” under the heading, “Signs the Movie You’re Watching Will Not Win an Academy Award.”
Too low-brow for Oscar? In Charlton Heston’s heyday, yes. But we’ve since parted the Red Sea between big-screen and small.
Letterman occasionally was too juvenile for his own good. His “Uma/Oprah” chant - dedicated to Thurman and Winfrey - threatened to get out of hand until he thought better of making it a mantra throughout the show. He needlessly slammed the offbeat, credit-card dress of Oscar winner Lizzy Gardiner, whose award, after all, was for costume design (“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”). And he cheap-shotted technical awards winners, whom he deemed “too dull to be on the real show.”
But the ultimate indignity befell best supporting actor Martin Landau, who unceremoniously was cut off by Bill Conti’s orchestra before he could finish his acceptance speech.
Academy President Arthur Hiller and two Oscar winners championed continued funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. This braced Letterman for the appearance of presenters Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, who had espoused political causes on an earlier Oscarcast.
No such luck.
As the show slogged past the three-hour mark, Letterman sought the refuge of many a previous host.
“I know it’s been a long night,” he said. “But remember one thing: The continental breakfast is included.”
Those who stayed the course were treated to yet another terrific acceptance speech by Tom Hanks, whose voice quavered throughout.
Earlier on cable’s E! network, Joan Rivers provided plenty of unintentional laughs during her twohour coverage of Oscar arrivals.
The elder Rivers committed a faux pas for the ages when she spotted Anthony Hopkins with a woman “who looks like a thin Barbara Bush.”
Rivers said that the two had been married a long time and that Hopkins’ career had flourished since he kicked a drinking problem.
“Is that your wife?” she then asked the man himself.
“No, it’s my mother,” he replied.
Rivers later cursed a fellow TV reporter for elbowing in on an interview with Debbie Allen. And she marveled at Holly Hunter - “You can’t have an ounce of fat on you!” - after commanding the actress to “turn around” and show herself off.
Letterman’s Top 10 for non-Oscars David Letterman’s Oscar show Top 10 signs the movie you’re watching will not win an Academy Award: 10. It still has the time code from the camcorder on it. 9. Any combination of the words ‘police’ and ‘academy’ in the title. 8. It’s a movie about the Civil War, and Gen. Grant is wearing Dockers. 7. You hear someone yelling, “Focus!” and you realize it’s the director. 6. It’s a beautifully made documentary about two kids in the inner city trying to realize their dream of playing professional basketball. 5. The last 20 minutes is a shot of Richie from Local 262 eating doughnuts. 4. Your date had to jam a hypodermic needle full of adrenalin into your heart just to keep you awake. 3. Before it starts you hear, “Thank you for coming to Loews. Sit back and relax, this movie blows.” 2. Nude scene with Uma Thurman replaced by nude scene with Strom Thurmond. 1. Four words: “Dom De Luise as Gandhi.” The Associated Press