She won her first Oscar for 1961’s Two Women, the first performer to win for acting in a foreign language. Then in 1991, the Academy decided she needed another Oscar and gave her an Honorary Award. Apparently, still wanting to demonstrate their love, the Academy in association with Cinecitta Luce gave Loren another tribute Wednesday night in front of a packed house at their Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. Ostensibly in honor of the 50th anniversary of that first Oscar, the beautifully produced program covered her entire career through clips and reminiscences of friends and colleagues that was also significant for another reason: it also brought eight-time Oscar show M.C. Billy Crystal back into a hosting mode for the Academy, and to say he killed would be an understatement. Loren personally asked for Billy, whom she first met at that 1991 ceremony where she got that second Oscar.
After opening with a clip from 1964’s Marriage Italian Style, Crystal came out punching with a hilarious intro all in broken Italian. Then he praised the guest of honor (sitting in the front row next to son Edoardo Ponti). “Just thinking about her beauty can keep a traffic controller awake at night,” he joked. “Bin Laden’s last words were, ‘I can’t believe I am gonna miss Wednesday night!’ “Among his other bon mots: “She could live next door to you and you would never know she was there, even if you were the Pakistani military.” Or: “Miss Loren and I had a hot affair for years. She didn’t know it of course … when I met her I was amazed she didn’t have a staple in the middle of her chest.”
Crystal was so strong, Loren’s Nine director Rob Marshall started his remarks by praising the host. “Billy there is no one like you, you’re a genius. Where were you this year, if you know what I mean,” a not-so-thinly veiled reference to poorly reviewed Oscarcast hosts Anne Hathaway and particularly James Franco.
John Travolta came on to describe his first encounter with La Loren, as a kid seeing the family film Houseboatthat she made with Cary Grant. “I was vibrating from the waist down. I got chills and they were DEFINITELY multiplying!” he said. Tom Hanks and her Italian colleagues Roberto Begnini, Giancarlo Gianinni and director Lina Wertmuller were among those who sent in heartfelt remarks via videotape. Most moving though were the words of her son Edoardo, who broke into tears introducing a clip from Between Strangers, the film in which he directed his mother in 2002.
Among other clips highlighted were many with her frequent co-star Marcello Mastroianni including Sunflower, A Special Day, Yesterday Today & Tomorrow and Pret-a-Porter, the 1994 Robert Altman film that spoofed her infamous striptease in the latter 1963 Oscar-winning Foreign Language Film. Her many English-language films were repped by Desire Under The Elms, El Cid, Arabesque and the musical Man Of La Mancha, in which she starred opposite Peter O’Toole.
When it came time for the 76-year-old legend to take the stage to a tumultuous standing ovation, she had to collect herself. “My heart beats so hard I can’t speak anymore. I have to calm down. It is hard to imagine 50 years have passed since I welcomed that first Oscar. That Academy Award changed my life and gave me opportunities I can never imagine, to believe in myself and push artistic boundaries,” she said before emotionally thanking her late husband and producer Carlo Ponti, who died at age 94 in 2007. After her thank-yous, Crystal brought her over for a brief onstage conversation in which she explained why she didn’t show up to accept her Best Actress Oscar for Two Women. “I didn’t think I was going to win. No one had ever won for a foreign-language performance, so I didn’t come,” she explained.
For the overflow crowd Wednesday evening, they were definitely glad she made the trip this time. As one major studio chairman said after seeing her at the pre-reception in the Academy’s lobby: “She is the last star of her kind.”