Though it was only recently announced that Billy Crystal would not be returning for a fifth year as host of the Academy Awards telecast, Hollywood insiders say the producers of the show have been searching for his replacement for more than a month and they have already been turned down by such personable luminaries as Bette Midler, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg and host emeritus Johnny Carson.
Gilbert Cates, who began producing the show the first year Mr. Crystal appeared, would not comment on his search for a new host, but just two years ago, he had the perfect candidate all set and ready to step in if Mr. Crystal, bedridden with the flu, had been unable to make it to the stage.
Three days before that 1992 telecast, Mr. Cates called Tom Hanks and asked him if he would sub for Mr. Crystal if he was needed. And Mr. Hanks, to the producer's great relief, agreed.
Now that Mr. Crystal has taken himself out, citing a bad case of hostitus (he's also emceed three Grammys and six "Comic Relief" events), Mr. Cates should consider redialing Mr. Hanks' number and offering him the job, with two months' notice (the show is March 21). The producer's instincts were right about Mr. Hanks as host; he has charm, dignity, wit, intelligence and, it's worth mentioning, he's a movie star!
You would rather have Howard Stern?
Robin Williams would also make a great host. He's an actor, he's funny, and everyone loves him. He has also been up there before, sharing the host duties. But Academy sources think he's a bit too unpredictable for a 3 1/2 -hour solo on live television.
If they could get Mr. Williams, they would be fools not to turn him loose and take their chances. The Academy Awards shows we remember with the greatest fondness are those that almost got away, and attempts to make it comfortable for network executives have nearly ruined it for everyone else.
Mr. Hanks has apparently not been approached, either, on the reasoning that it would be inappropriate for someone nominated for an Oscar, as he is certain to be for his performance in "Philadelphia," to double as host. That could be working against Mr. Williams, as well, though the odds on his receiving a nomination for "Mrs. Doubtfire" are much longer.