Jerry Lewis and the Time the Oscars Ran 20 Minutes Short
The three-time host of the Academy Awards found himself working hard to fill the extra time in 1959 as he roasted a competing show's poor ratings, began conducting the orchestra and even attempted to play a trumpet.
Jerry Lewis, a three-time Oscar host, landed that job for the first time in 1956, just days after turning 30, and shared his duties with Claudette Colbert and Joseph L. Mankiewicz; he was brought back in 1957, alongside Celeste Holm; and returned two years later, in 1959, as the final member of a rotation of six hosts (the others being Mort Sahl, Tony Randall, Bob Hope, David Niven and Laurence Olivier). But that third and — perhaps not coincidentally — final time, Lewis encountered a situation that no Oscar host before or since has faced: a ceremony at which the final award was presented 20 minutes ahead of schedule and the show actually ran short.
With all of the evening's winners and presenters gathered together onstage, Lewis, a celebrated improviser, did his best to kill time, encouraging Lionel Newman's orchestra to perform several reprises of "There's No Business Like Show Business," during which many onstage paired off and began dancing with one another — among them, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, and Bob Hope and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
At one point, Lewis' former comedy partner, Dean Martin, strolled past the podium and helped himself to an extra Oscar, prompting Lewis to crack, "And they said that Dean and I wouldn't be on the same stage again!" Lewis roasted a competing show's poor ratings, grabbed a baton and began conducting the orchestra, and even attempted to play the trumpet before, after about five minutes, NBC put Lewis out of his misery by cutting to a short film.
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This story first appeared in the Aug. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.