You can watch most of the 1954 Academy Award broadcast on YouTube. It’s broken up into 14-minute chunks. The 14-minute chunk containing the announcement of the Best Actress (Grace Kelly), Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Motion Picture (On the Waterfront) awards has been taken down at the request of the Academy for copyright violation. All the other chunks remain. One imagines that they were aware of the other parts of the broadcast (the titles of the YouTube videos make it clear that each is part of a series) and didn’t care. One still doesn’t link directly to the remaining YouTube videos from one’s blog, just in case that puts one in violation of the DMCA. They’re there. You know how to find them.
I don’t know why I watched it. I watched it all. Long holiday weekend, I guess. The Internet makes us random.
This was the height of Hollywood glamour co-existing with the height of Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witch hunt. I had forgotten about that until Elia Kazan stepped up to accept his award for Best Director (for “On the Waterfront“). Kazan famously ratted out all his old friends to the committee. But, to be fair, nobody involved in that mess escaped unscathed, except maybe America’s sweetheart.
That’s all subtext, though. None of that is talked about in the broadcast itself, of course. It just came into my mind when I saw that guy. I can’t see him without thinking of the McCarthy hearings.
What was noticeable from the broadcast itself — text rather than subtext — was that Bob Hope, the show’s host, telegraphed every punchline. He spoke the set-ups breezily, looking right and left, then slumped down, stared straight at the camera, lowered his lids to half-mast, and gave the punch-line, as though he were annoyed by having to do it. This served to inform the audience that they were supposed to laugh at that particular line — and, for the most part, they did.
Comedians don’t tend to do that anymore. In fact, it’s kind of considered the sign of a hack. Even Jerry Lewis — or, well, okay, the character he plays — in King of Comedy tells the young Robert DeNiro, “You don’t announce the punchline. You just say it.”
A lot of those old comedians used to deliver their punchlines that way, but Bob Hope seems to do it every single time, unlike, say, Jack Benny, who usually pretended not to know he was being funny.
These days, only Garfield and his ilk deliver their punchlines staring straight at the audience, half-lidded and weary, as far as I know. Live action comedians have moved on to other, more conversational, styles.
I guess what I wonder is if contemporary comedians still respect Bob Hope, despite his old-fashioned style of punchline delivery (the way that people still respect silent film actors despite their unnatural acting styles), or if they think he was a hack all along. Anybody know?