I hear that the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has chosen someone “way outside the box” to host the Oscars on February 22nd. And the person is not a TV personality or stand-up comedian. In addition, I’ve learned that this year’s Academy Awards won’t have the traditional segment of joke-telling near the start of the broadcast. I say, smart move: these one-liners are usually at the movie industry’s expense and always so inside that the average TV viewer is left bewildered. The host is in the movie biz, I’ve confirmed. The announcement could come as soon as Tuesday if all the i’s are dotted and t’s get crossed in time. I’m looking forward to surprises instead of the same old, same old.
I also have learned that protests are coming into the Academy about its Board of Governors’ choice of Jerry Lewis to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The controversy is over his recent repeated and public anti-gay slurs. The Hollywood gay community, joined by much of the showbiz straight community, is already on edge because of Proposition 8 passed last month outlawing same-sex unions in California. So the vote by the AMPAS board selecting Lewis seems like “salt poured into an open wound”, according to one of my sources. Already several prominent entertainment biz gays have questioned the Academy about the selection of Lewis, especially for a humanitarian award. I’m told the AMPAS response has been, “he’s apologized”. My insiders say Tom Sherak, the former 20th Century Fox and Revolution Studios exec who raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and has a family member with MS, was primarily responsible for lobbying the board to choose Lewis.
As recently as October, Lewis made an anti-gay slur on Australian television similar to one he amde on his annual Muscular Dystrophy association telethon a year ago. The 82-year-old was asked by a Network Ten national TV reporter for his opinion on the Australian nation sport of cricket. “Oh, cricket? It’s a fag game. What are you, nuts?” Lewis replied. The network broadcast the comment in full on its evening news bulletin along with footage of Lewis handling an imaginary cricket bat with an effeminate gesture.
Lewis in September 2007 used a similar anti-gay slur — calling someone was an “illiterate fag” on air — during his annual Labor Day fundraiser in Las Vegas. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation immediately called on Lewis to apologize. “Jerry Lewis’ on-air use of this kind of anti-gay slur is simply unacceptable,” GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano said in a statement posted on the group’s Web site. “It also feeds a climate of hatred and intolerance that contributes to putting our community in harm’s way.”
So Lewis issued a statement: “I apologize to anyone who was offended. I obviously made a poor choice of words. Everyone who knows me understands that I hold no prejudices in this regard. In the family atmosphere of the telethon, I forget that not everyone knows me that well,” he said. “That something like this would distract from the true purpose of the telethon pains me deeply. The success of the show and all the good that will come of it shouldn’t be lost because of one unfortunate word. I accept responsibility for what I said. There are no excuses. I am sorry.”
Yet there he was in Australia, doing it again, and apologizing again. I say this is a terrible choice by the Academy. AMPAS isn’t bestowing on Lewis an honorary honor for his long career in the movies. The Hersholt is an award given to an individual in the motion picture industry “whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry. Despite Lewis’ laudatory 42 years of raising money for MDA, his publicly demonstrated debasement of gays doesn’t make him a humanitarian in my eyes.