I received an email this morning from a longtime Academy member who wrote, “Brett’s a brat … but really!!! Next one to go would be Eddie… No loss.” Well, Academy member, you got your wish. In this swiftly moving story, host Eddie Murphy has followed Brett Ratner out the door of this year’s Oscars. I wrote last night that I would be surprised if he did this, thinking his professionalism would trump any perceived loyalty to Ratner, who directed him in Tower Heist and tapped him for his first hosting gig for the Academy Awards. Apparently not. We can now add this to the ever-growing list of unfortunate incidents in Murphy’s checkered history with Oscar. He made waves when he presented Best Picture in 1988 saying he almost turned down the invititation to do it and then chastized the Academy for their poor track record in nominating African Americans. In 2007, he bolted from the Kodak Theatre after losing Best Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls to Alan Arkin, giving the impression whether true or not that he was a sore loser. And now he’s left again before even setting foot onstage, this time leaving the Academy in the lurch. One person with intimate knowledge of how production schedules and Oscar shows work tells me this morning, “It’s a sh*t show right now. They are incredibly behind.” To use the word “scrambling” might be an understatement. Suggestions to the Academy for a host to get out of this mess, anyone? I am sure they are listening right now.
Eddie made a round of talk-show appearances in the last two weeks telling every host how he was genuinely looking forward to doing the show — but apparently not without Ratner at the helm. I’m not sure he was fully aware of what he was expected to do, but he told reporters recently he “was not nervous,” On one talker, he was asked about doing an Oscar monologue but downplayed it, indicating he would do his own style of comedy, and maybe a couple of sketch-type things. I have the feeling Ratner was really hand-holding Eddie through this, and with Brett gone, Eddie’s confidence level also took a powder.
It appears that the reality of being adrift in the gig just wasn’t a career move Murphy wanted to make right now, particularly with his film Tower Heist — which was supposed to represent a comeback of the “old Eddie” audiences once loved — underperforming at the box office against expectations and embarrassingly trounced by the second weekend of Puss In Boots. It’s a fact that the combination of a hit movie with Eddie back in form and the Oscar-hosting gig would have put his career back on course to the top. Now you can throw that “win-win” scenario out the window. It’s probably an understatement to say events this week have not resulted in the kind of success which Murphy and his reps were hoping for.
As a result of first Ratner’s and now Murphy’s exits, this is turning into complete chaos for the normally cool-as-a-cucumber Academy. It’s like the whole show is publicly imploding. It’s not the kind of attention the Academy wants, clearly evident by the terse nature of Academy president Tom Sherak’s official statement this morning: “I appreciate how Eddie feels about losing his creative partner, Brett Ratner, and we all wish him well.” Right. The Academy, its board, new CEO Dawn Hudson, and Sherak just two weeks before Thanksgiving are virtually back to square one. As I pointed out in my previous piece, the sudden death last week of 14-time show producer Gil Cates is really being felt now. He’s the one person who could have come in, immediately righted the ship, called Billy Crystal (Cates gave Crystal his first hosting shot on the 1990 Oscars) and made this whole ugly incident disappear from the headlines quickly. Gil had the relationships and diplomacy to do that. But who will want to come in to host as a perceived second choice to Eddie Murphy? The Academy really needs to act very fast in getting a new producer to join Don Mischer because the producers choose a host. [UPDATE: See OSCARS: Brian Grazer Will Step Into Breach And Produce 84th Academy Awards.]
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.