Whoopi Goldberg succeeds Billy Crystal as Oscar host


Whoopi Goldberg has been named host of this year's Academy Awards show, ending a difficult search to replace its previous popular emcee, Billy Crystal.

Once Mr. Crystal declined to front this year's event for a fifth straight year, one of the biggest guessing games in Hollywood was who producer Gil Cates would call upon. Mr. Cates was mum and would not confirm reports that such entertainers as Bette Midler, Johnny Carson, Tom Hanks and Steve Martin had also declined.

Through her publicist, Ms. Goldberg said Sunday she is "thrilled about my date with Oscar. To go from watching to winning to hosting in one lifetime is major." The 44-year-old performer, currently shooting "Boys on the Side" in Pittsburgh, won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the 1990 romantic comedy "Ghost."

The selection of Ms. Goldberg is a departure for the Oscar show, where white males have predominated as masters of ceremonies. Not only will Ms. Goldberg be the first woman solo host, she also will be the show's first solo African-American host.

"I think it's a terrific choice and she'll do a wonderful job," Mr. Crystal said. "And I'm happy for her, the academy and the fans of the show."

Mr. Cates, who is in his fifth year producing the Oscar extravaganza, scheduled this year for March 21, said Ms. Goldberg has "all the qualities of a great Oscar host," noting she is a highly recognizable star who has millions of fans. In an earlier interview, Mr. Cates told the Los Angeles Times, "I'll miss Billy. He was really wonderful. The parting was sad, but really amicable. I understand you do it for four years and it gets to be a grind. Last year they really struggled about how he would top his entrances of previous years. And I understand that problem. Each year I've said it's going to be my last, too."

With the exception of Mr. Crystal, Mr. Cates' "team" is returning: director Jeff Margolis, choreographer Debbie Allen and music director Tom Conti. Mr. Cates is an Emmy Award-winning producer who has directed for stage, TV and movies for more than 30 years.

In pointing to the importance of the host's role, Mr. Cates stresses the qualities of the Academy Awards presentations: "It's the oldest mass show in the country. It ties together events that have taken place all through the previous year. It's the reflection [of] how much impact movies and visual imagery have on our conscience. This is one of our culture's only mass events that appeals to children and grandparents alike."

One billion people worldwide are estimated to view the show.

The next event on the road to this year's Oscars is tomorrow morning's announcement of nominations.

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