By Steve Pond, The Envelope
February 15, 2007
These two things are not exactly equivalent--after all, we've never had a female president, while the Academy Awards has had a female host. One.
Whoopi Goldberg is the only woman to have served as the sole host of an Oscar ceremony, something she's done four times since 1994. (Over the years, 26 different men have handled the job solo.)
Sure, females have served as occasional co-hosts: Beginning in the mid-1950s, women occasionally emceed in years when multiple hosts were used. Rosalind Russell was one of five in 1958, Carol Burnett one of four in 1973, Jane Fonda one of four in 1977 and one of three in 1986…
Still, if you take Goldberg's four shows and add in all the fractions from other female hosts (one-fifth of a show from Russell, one-fourth from Burnett, etc.), you end up with a paltry six and three-quarters Oscar shows, out of 78, that have been hosted by women.
(The list: Russell, Helen Hayes, Burnett, Diana Ross, Shirley MacLaine, Goldie Hawn, Ellen Burstyn, Fonda, Liza Minnelli.)
Which is not to say that the women in charge haven't had a few opportunities to shine over the years. A sampling:
The first female star to be listed as host in the academy's official histories was Rosalind Russell, the fourth of five co-emcees in 1958.
Russell, though, was not given much of a role in the show; the most notable aspect of her hosting stint, aside from the fact that she was the first, may have been her outfit, a beaded pajama suit that was part of her wardrobe for the film she was shooting at the time, "Auntie Mame."
"About halfway through that show, I started sensing a little regret," says stage manager Garry Hood. "I could see her thinking, maybe I shouldn't have done this."
"There haven't been so many show business executives so nervous…over one woman since Heidi Fleiss," she said.
MacLaine co-hosted with Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. that year, and wound up in the midst of a political controversy that had nothing to do with the paucity of women in film.
Early in the show, the Vietnam film "Hearts and Minds" won the award for best documentary, and producer Bert Schneider's speech included some pointed political rhetoric.
At the urging of Hope, Sinatra read a statement in which the academy apologized for Schneider's comments.
Backstage, MacLaine reportedly screamed at Sinatra, "You said you were speaking on behalf of the academy! Well, I'm a member of the academy and you didn't ask me!"
"I want to say something to all the folks who brought me ribbons to wear," Goldberg said early in her monologue. "You don't tell a black woman to buy an expensive dress and then cover it with ribbons… I got a red ribbon for AIDS awareness…a yellow ribbon for the troops in Bosnia…a green ribbon to free the Chinese dissidents…a milky white ribbon for mad cow disease…a fake-fur ribbon for animal rights…a seersucker ribbon to let Martin Landau finish his speech from last year… Enough with the ribbons."
When Hayes took the stage as the first of the show's hosts, she was greeted with resounding applause. "As George C. Scott didn't get around to saying last year," the 71-year-old actress told the audience, "thank you."
The camera cut to a shot of Warren Beatty, age 61, sitting next to his 40-year old wife, Annette Bening. Both were smiling--she more broadly than he.
A seven-time loser, Newman chose not to appear--so one of Newan's former directors, Robert Wise, accepted on his behalf from presenter Bette Davis. Wise attempted to read a statement from Newman, but Davis kept interrupting.
Director Marty Pasetta finally turned off their microphones and cut to the other side of the stage, where Hawn and Chevy Chase were supposed to introduce Dustin Hoffman. Hawn and Chase tried to talk, but the audience was still watching Wise and Davis, and laughing at their hapless banter. Finally, Hawn asked an entirely sensible question: "Are you guys done yet?"
In 2002, Halle Berry was added to the list, and she responded with a tearful, impassioned speech that began by paying tribute to Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne and four minutes later got around to thanking her agent and lawyer.
It was the kind of speech that Goldberg might be expected to comment upon the next time she took the stage; like all hosts, she kept writers with her in the wings, ready to craft new material as events demanded it. Goldberg's team quickly came up with a variety of punchlines -- but before she retook the stage, the host decided that the import of Berry's award was too big to mess with.
"First of all," said Goldberg the next time she appeared, "I would like to congratulate Miss Halle Berry." Then she moved on.