Last hostless Oscars were memorable — for the wrong reasons

If people remember anything about the Oscars on March 29, 1989, it’s the Rob Lowe-Snow White duet; their “Proud Mary” has taken on mythic proportions. But to viewers at the time, it was hardly the low point. Variety reviewer Tony Scott wrote of the show: “The tech credits were dismal. The script needed considerable tightening and refinement. Most humor was flat or pointless.”

Filmmaker Joseph L. Mankiewicz griped to Variety that the show was “amateur night.” He was one of 17 individuals who wrote a letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences saying, “The 61st Academy Awards show was an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry,” and urging AMPAS president Richard Kahn and the board to ensure it didn’t happen again. Among other signatories: Julie Andrews, Stanley Donen, William Friedkin, Sidney Lumet, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann.

A week earlier, on March 22, Variety reported that Oscarcast producer Allan Carr had vowed at the nominees luncheon, “I promise, it’s not going to be boring.” The almost-saving grace: The show marked the first time presenters said, “And the Oscar goes to …” rather than “The winner is …” Carr and AMPAS declared that there are no winners and losers with Oscar. It was also the last time the show did not have a host — until 2019.

26 PHOTOS
Oscars through the decades: 1989
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Oscars through the decades: 1989
American Actress Meryl Streep, at the 1989 Academy Awards. (Photoshot/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES CA - MARCH 29: Actress Jodie Foster arrives and is interviewed before winning the Oscar for best actress in the film 'The Accused'.at the 61st Annual Academy Awards March 29, 1989 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California (Photo By Paul Harris/Getty Images)
Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn during 61st Annual Academy Awards - Pressroom at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
American Actress Melanie Griffith, at the 1989 Academy Awards. (Photoshot/Getty Images)
Drew Barrymore and Corey Feldman during 61st Annual Academy Awards - Governor's Ball at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr during 61st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
American Actor Kiefer Sutherland, at the 1989 Academy Awards. (Photoshot/Getty Images)
Actor Michael Caine and wife Shakira Caine attend 61st Annual Academy Awards on March 29, 1989 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actress Candice Bergen and mother Frances Bergen attend the 61st Annual Academy Awards on March 29, 1989 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Musician Carly Simon attends the 61st Annual Academy Awards on March 29, 1989 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actress Sharon Wyatt attends 61st Annual Academy Awards on March 29, 1989 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Dustin Hoffman and actor Tom Cruise attend the 61st Annual Academy Awards on March 29, 1989 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
American Actor Ryan O'neal with girlfriend FARRAH FAWCETT, at the 1989 Academy Awards. (Photoshot/Getty Images)
Actress Mimi Rogers and actor Tom Cruise attend the 61st Annual Academy Awards After Party Hosted by Irving 'Swifty' Lazar on March 29, 1989 at Spago in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Jacqueline Bisset and Vincent Perez during 61st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Donna Rice attends 61st Annual Academy Awards on March 29, 1989 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Patrick Swayze and wife Lisa Niemi attend 61st Annual Academy Awards on March 29, 1989 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
American actor Kim Novak poses on the red carpet at the Academy Awards, Shrine Civic Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, April 29, 1989. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - APRIL 10: Actor Patrick Duffy and wife Carlyn attend the 24th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 10, 1989 at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
American Actress Jodie Foster, at the 1989 Academy Awards. (Photoshot/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 29: Actress Martha Plimpton and actor River Phoenix attend the 61st Annual Academy Awards on March 29, 1989 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd/WireImage)
Tippi Hedren during 61st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Bo Derek during 61st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Brian Robbins, Holly Robinson and Dolores Robinson (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans during 61st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Tom Selleck during 61st Annual Academy Awards - Pressroom at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
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Carr, hot off the success of the film “Grease,” vowed the Oscar show would be “the most elegant production ever on television.” To ensure that, there were lots of old-time stars, top designers, 6 million flowers, 11 sets (including elaborate re-creations of the Cocoanut Grove and Grauman’s Chinese Theater) and “enough fabric to cover one side of the Empire State Building,” Variety reported. Carr also predicted “the most glamorous, most fun and the shortest Academy Awards in recent times.” (It actually ran 200 minutes.)

In his review, Scott noted that one of the innovations was “a new hosting concept,” with awards presented by individuals, couples (such as James Stewart-Kim Novak, Dudley Moore-Bo Derek, Lucille Ball-Bob Hope) and even trios.

While the show was generally panned, it had supporters. Columnist Army Archerd reported that Ronald Reagan phoned Carr to tell him how much he and Nancy enjoyed the show. And Jennifer Jones, Oscar-winning actress and widow of producer David O. Selznick, wrote Carr a letter saying, “In my opinion, you produced the ‘Gone With the Wind’ of Oscar shows.”

Following the show, Disney filed a copyright infringement lawsuit for use of the Snow White image without clearance. As Variety reported at the time, “Because the Academy did something kinda Dopey, Disney sure is Grumpy.”

The suit was eventually withdrawn after an Academy apology.

26 PHOTOS
Oscars through the decades: 1999
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Oscars through the decades: 1999
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 21: French Canadian singer and businesswoman Celine Dion poses for a portrait during The 71st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals on March 21, 1999 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Davis/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Gwyneth Paltrow arrives. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Actors Billy Bob Thorton and Laura Dern at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21, 1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
Actor Matt Damon attends the 71st Annual Academy Awards Pre-Party Hosted by Miramax Films on March 20, 1999 at Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Jennifer Lopez during 71st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Comedian Ellen DeGeneres (R) and Actor Anne Heche at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21,1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
Drew Barrymore and Ed Norton during 71st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Actor Tom Hanks and singer Rita Wilson at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21,1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 21: Actor Alec Baldwin and wife, actress Kim Basinger arrive before the 71st Annual Academy Awards on March 21, 1999 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Davis/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Musician Steve Tyler and Cyrinda Foxe at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21,1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Actor Meryl Streep at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21, 1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)e
Actress Annette Bening and actor Warren Beatty attend the 71st Annual Academy Awards on March 21, 1999 at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles Music Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Actor Catherine Zeta-Jones at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21, 1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Actors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21, 1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Actor Helen Hunt at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21, 1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Actor Drew Barrymore at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21,1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 21: Singer Mariah Carey at the 71st Annual Academy Awards, March 21, 1999 In Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 21: Actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attend The 71st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals on March 21, 1999 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Davis/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Jennifer Lopez arrives. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
Actress Jane Seymour attends 56th Annual Academy Awards on January 24, 1999 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
(Original Caption) Val Kilmer arrives with his girlfriend. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Brendan Fraser arrives with his wife. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Actress Lisa Kudrow arrives. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Christina Ricci arrives. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Steven Spielberg with his wife Kate Capshaw. (Photo by Siemoneit/Sygma via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 21: Singer Mariah Carey arrives before The 71st Annual Academy Awards on March 21, 1999 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Davis/Getty Images)
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