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10 Things You Don’t Know About the Oscars: Part 1
by Marc Malkin
Mar. 1, 2007 4:15 PM

Bruce Vilanch knows Oscar. Ellen DeGeneres’ debut as the show’s host marked Vilanch’s 16th year as a writer for the Academy Awards. I spoke to him yesterday from his Hollywood home, where he said he was recovering from the big gig by laying in bed reading books and chomping on Bonbons.

Today, I give you the first half of “10 Things You Don’t Know about the Oscars.” Check back tomorrow to learn who has repeatedly turned down an offer to be an Oscar host, the one thing writers couldn’t make funny and why there were no jokes about Britney Spears.

Mister D: May I ask if Bette Midler has ever been asked to host the Oscars, and is there any way to force her to take the job. I think she would be the ultimate host with Bruce Vilanch by her side!

10. Fashion Emergency
DeGeneres nixed Vilanch’s idea to open the show in an evening gown. “I wanted her to come up from under the stage, posed in this Balenciaga creation all the way up to her neck, and it’s just gorgeous,” Vilanch says. “And then she moves her hand and…unhooks it and steps out of it—it’s actually a sculpture. She’s not really in a dress at all. She’s in a tuxedo. But she didn’t want to do a sneaky entrance. Steve Martin is her role model so she just wanted to be simple and elegant.”

9. Supreme Surprise
Diana Ross was invited to take part in the Dreamgirls medley. “But she didn’t want to be on the show at all,” Vilanch says. “I think she wanted to avoid a show that celebrated Dreamgirls.”

8. Three Amigos
Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas didn’t rehearse their schtick for Best Director until a half hour before going on stage. “We went over it in the greenroom,” Vilanch says. “It was wonderful watching them direct each other.”

7. The V Word
There was one word that got censored prior to the broadcast. Any guesses? It begins with a V, if that helps. “You couldn’t say Volkswagen,” Vilanch says. “So, any one of those Little Miss Sunshine references, you had to say minivan. Volkswagen probably wasn’t a sponsor, and some other minivan was. I said, ‘How about VW?’ They said that couldn’t go either!”

6. Girls Gone Wild
Vilanch had hoped to get some young—albeit controversial—starlets on the show. When producer Laura Ziskin first proposed having best costumes showcased on real-life models, Vilanch suggested using Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Tara Reid. “I said, ‘Let’s get all these girls—the ones you find throwing up in the gutter at Hyde and have them wear these outfits,” Vilanch says. “They thought that was cheap. Then I thought maybe you have those four and then Jane Russell. Some fabulous sexpot from the old days who comes out as The Queen.”

5. The Bald Truth About Britney
Ellen DeGeneres, according to Vilanch, wasn’t the kind of host to joke about Britney Spears’ recent troubles. “I think for a different host, certainly!” Vilanch says. “I think Whoopi [Goldberg] or Billy [Crystal] would do some Britney reference, but that’s just not Ellen’s style. And there was nobody else who was going to pick up those cudgels and do a Britney joke. Other than the fact that Jack Nicholson looked like her, there was no other point of reference.”

4. Sundays at Ellen’s
There were 16 writers for the telecast. “On Sunday nights we’d go up to Ellen’s house and we’d talk Oscar,” Vilanch says. “She had 10 and we had 6 who were working on the rest of the show. And then what happens is you get to the Kodak and it gets collaborative. I’ve done the show for 16 years. The first time there were two of us writing, but there was no host that year! That was the Snow White year!”

3. A Carbon-Neutral Party
There was a good reason Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t use the term carbon neutral when they announced the Oscars were going green. “When they were explaining it to me, I said, ‘I don’t know how I can possibly translate any of this into something on a television show like this that won’t make everyone [excuse themselves] to go pop a beer,’ ” Vilanch says. “Can we just find some other way to express this than saying carbon neutral? It sounds like something in a salad dressing.”

2. Monkey Business
When Robert Downey Jr. and Naomi Watts presented Best Visual Effects, Downey cracked wise about his own turbulent past, saying: “Visual effects: They enable us to see aliens, experience other universes, move in slow-motion, or watch spiders climbing high above the city landscape…For me, just a typical weeknight in the mid-’90s.” Vilanch says originally they had intended a quip about Watts working with a visual effect like King Kong. “Robert was going to say, ‘I know what you mean, because I’ve had a monkey on my back,’ ” Vilanch says. “But then we worked it down to what actually was a big laugh for him.”

1. (Tie) Thanks, but No Hanks
Tom Hanks has declined offers to host the Oscars. “I think Tom would be great,” Vilanch says. “He’d be fabulous, but I know he’s turned it down a couple of times.” George Clooney is another hopeful. “I think they felt around about George,” Vilanch says, “but he wasn’t interested.”

1 . (Tie) Oscar Dave, Dave Oscar
Vilanch says he thinks DeGeneres and last year’s host, Jon Stewart, will be asked to return, but more surprisingly, he says Academy honchos wouldn’t mind another turn from the infamously panned David Letterman. “They’ve asked Dave back,” Vilanch says. “At one point, he said he wanted to do it again, but then he said he didn’t. It’s a hard gig, and it’s a very short list of people who can do it. If you do a good job, they go, Nice job, and nothing changes. But if you don’t do a good job, it will haunt you forever.”