Yes, I Remember It Well

updated 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT


I remember watching my Uncle Lionel get an award for Hello, Dolly! in 1970 and hearing him say "s—-" in front of 50 million people. He was holding two Oscars in his hand and he said, "Ah, s—-, geez..." Producer Dick Zanuck told me they got thousands of letters about it.

I was first nominated in 1982. Once a singing crab beat out my song "I Love to See You Smile." I didn't mind losing to "Under the Sea," but I did mind that dance. I've only been to the Governors Ball a couple of times. Usually when you lose you don't want to go out after you've sat through a five-hour show. One time I did go, and I was sitting at a table with Burt Lancaster, who'd been nominated for Atlantic City. He said one thing to me, that's all. He said, "Pass the vodka." When I finally won last year for "If I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc., I went to the dinner and everyone came up to me and said how happy they were. I said, "Then why the hell didn't you vote for me before?" But I was very touched that the orchestra and the audience stood up. It really kind of got me. I didn't know whether I had a heart, but maybe I do.


I've never hosted an Oscar party. Sometimes I go to one. Sometimes I watch it alone. Sometimes I flip through the channels because I can't stand the suspense. Sometimes I say, "Let me go back to some rerun because I can't take this!"

I really resent it when people say they don't like what people wore to the Oscars. It's nobody's place to say that they wore a great dress or not. To someone, that dress is great. Besides, usually movie stars don't look bad in anything. That's what they're good at: looking good in clothes.

I like it best when I don't remember what people wore but I remember what they looked like. Every time Audrey Hepburn appeared at the Oscars she looked amazing. You didn't even notice the dress. You noticed the throat and the face and the eyes. I was a kid watching TV when Faye Dunaway won her Oscar for Network. She was wearing some kind of crepe de chine pajama outfit, and I remember turning to my mother and saying, "Mom, is she wearing her pajamas?" My mother explained to me that this was the height of fashion. The outfit was so plain and spare, and all you noticed was a new woman: braless and corsetless and just natural. And you saw her up there accepting her award, and she was kind of out of control. I think maybe she cried.

Halle Berry looked so damn good at the Oscars last year even though I didn't love what she wore. I thought it was the wrong color on her. But she's such an incredibly pretty woman, and when she received her Oscar she overcame what she was wearing and shone through as the incredibly beautiful star that she is.

Vulnerable women are beautiful to me. Brides are beautiful, widows are beautiful, and Oscar nominees are beautiful. Sitting there with their hearts in their throats. When you go to see a movie, you're seeing a great performance but you're not seeing them. On Oscar night, something is actually happening to them.

When Jodie Foster got her Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs she wore a plain Armani outfit. She's such an enigma, so mysterious. But we finally saw her lose it a little up at the podium. It was one of the most beautiful memories I could have. And I loved Gwyneth Paltrow in that pink Ralph Lauren dress when she won for Shakespeare in Love. She was 26 at the time. What does a 26-year-old wear but a big pink dress? It was plain, plain, plain, but it was a good dress. I thought that was a brilliant move of Ralph Lauren to put her in that dress. When she went up to the podium, she was full of emotion. She looked pretty and delicate and fragile. That's the thing that I like to keep in mind. These enigmatic women actually show who they really are at the Oscars. What they wear on that day is a window into their souls.


The show takes a full three months to produce. On Oscar day I get in at 8 a.m. and we have a dress rehearsal at noon. It's a late night because I go to the ball and a party or two. It's a very, very long haul. The Oscars is the only really live entertainment show left. It's live coast to coast, around the world. One year Natalie Cole was going to sing "I Finally Found Someone," and the day before she was supposed to fly in from the east, she called to say that her doctor wouldn't let her fly because she had an ear infection. So we called Celine Dion to see if she would pinch-hit, and she did. The show must go on, because people are counting on you to do it.

I started producing the Oscars in 1990. I asked Billy Crystal to be the host. He's just so good at it. I also had the idea that we should have a tribute to the people who had passed away the preceding year. There was a lot of anxiety about it: "Gee whiz, having dead people on the show, it's going to be a downer." But we did it and it turned out to be a lovely moment. I asked Whoopi Goldberg to be the host in 1994 and she was the first African-American to be solo host. I'm really proud of that. This year I said, "No taking out a piece of paper and reading a list of names." Are you interested in that list of boring names? I don't think anyone in America is.


I started working with the Academy in 1991. Fred Hayman was the fashion coordinator and he asked me to be a part of the project. Our goal was twofold: to return glamor to Hollywood and to make the public interested in what the stars were wearing. My task was to call the presenters' and nominees' managers and publicists and tell them that we could connect their client and a designer for the night. My calls were met with, "What?" It was a totally foreign concept. I knew I was making inroads when I was on the red carpet to assist the press in identifying who designed what gown. I saw this reporter waving at the stars as they got out of their limos. She had made a little sign on a paddle. On one side it said "Who designed your gown?" And then she would flip it over and it said "Who did your jewelry?"


As a kid, the Oscars were like the Super Bowl for me. I'd write down the categories in my notebook and make my predictions. I had to ask my family for permission to stay up late. But I knew better than to tell my friends, because I'd probably get beat up for being dorky. I remember how cool Johnny Carson was as host, and I remember when Sylvester Stallone was up for Rocky and Muhammad Ali joined him onstage. That was my first inkling that actors may be larger than life but not larger than six feet tall because Stallone looked like a midget next to Ali. I've only been going to the Oscars for three years. Last year Sean Astin came up because I'd given Lord of the Rings a thumbs-down. He said, "I can't believe you did that!" And Ray Liotta said, "I watch your show every week. I'm a big fan." That's become surreal, realizing that these people know who I am as well.


When I was a kid, the Oscars would come on at 10 o'clock at night in New York. My parents would put me to bed early and I would wake up to watch the show. It never occurred to me that I'd actually be writing the show someday. I never assumed anybody wrote the thing.

I start some strategic planning around December, but I don't start thinking about certain things until the host comes on board. During the ceremony I'm backstage with the host in a little room. We're watching the show like everybody else to see what happens, so we can capitalize on that if need be. I guess I'm nervous. I would say I'm not nervous, but I guess you don't get to weigh 300 lbs. by not caring. Things always go wrong, and then sometimes things go wonderfully right.

The classic moment was when Jack Palance decided to drop down and give us one-arm push-ups to show how virile a man he is. Billy Crystal did a joke about that right away. And then of course we kept running with it all night long. That kind of became the theme of the evening.

My favorite story is when Madonna was performing a number from Dick Tracy. It was the Dances with Wolves year, and Kevin Costner was sitting in the front row. She apparently had kind of dissed him in her concert film Truth or Dare, so she was nervous about performing in front of him. When she came offstage afterward, I was standing in the wings next to two of her bodyguards. For some reason she flung herself into my arms. Then suddenly she just kind of stiffened up and said, "Well, thank God that's over!" Every other man standing backstage was going, "How did he get Madonna?" I don't know, I think I was just the closest large object.

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