THE BOOTLEG FILES: THE ROB LOWE-SNOW WHITE OSCAR MUSICAL NUMBER

BOOTLEG FILES 269 “The Rob Lowe-Snow White Oscar Musical Number” (a 1989 piece of Oscar embarrassment).

LAST SEEN: The film can be found online.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It has never been commercially released.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Oh, God, you must be kidding!

If you’re like me, you are eager to see who is going to win this year’s Academy Awards. If you are like me, you are also not eager at the prospect of having to sit through the Oscar telecast.

Actually, the recent Oscar telecasts aren’t as awful as they used to be. For those of us who are old enough to recall when Bob Hope used to host the shows – well, let’s just say those productions were pretty damn grueling.

But the Oscar shows truly hit rock bottom 20 years ago, when the 61st Academy Awards presentation opened with a musical number that is still being referred to as being among the most bizarre, inane and hideous monstrosity every captured on video. Yes, we are talking about the infamous Rob Lowe-Snow White number.

Admittedly, Rob Lowe has gotten a lot of flack for his participation in that number – yet he is only present in its second half and his input is not as atrocious as many people would care to recall. If you never saw the number – well, here’s a rough sketch of what you are missing.

The number opens with Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd interviewing a woman (uncredited actress Eileen Bowman) made up to look like Walt Disney’s concept of Snow White. She’s looking for the Hollywood elite and Archerd urges her to “follow the Hollywood stars.” The scene then cuts to the stage of the Oscar show, where women wearing star costumes that cover their upper bodies are lined up in a row. Snow White then brushes through the stellar audience at the telecast. She gets a happy welcome from Martin Landau, but most of the actors present (especially Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks) visibly grimace at the tacky presentation.

The star women disappear and the stage becomes a silly recreation of a 1930s style Hollywood nightclub. Merv Griffin, heavily made-up and tightly corseted, comes out singing “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” Ol’ Merv then introduces a number of even older stars: Buddy Rogers, Alice Faye, Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse, Dorothy Lamour, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Vincent Price and Coral Browne. None of the stars are given the opportunity to say anything, although Cyd Charisse is briefly allowed to twirl with a few lithe male dancers. The funniest stars were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, who wear their wacky cowboy outfits rather than the Oscar-approved tuxedo and gown.

Snow White is ecstatic about seeing so many Hollywood dinosaurs, but Merv has a surprise for her. “Meet your blind date,” he says. “Rob Lowe!”

Considering that the 1988 sex tape scandal was still fresh in everyone’s mind, it is hard to imagine any decent girl being excited about having sleazy Rob Lowe paw her over. Fortunately, Lowe kept his fly zipped for Snow White – but he unzipped his inner rock star and joined the faux-Disney lovely in a weird parody of “Proud Mary.” With a chorus of “Rollin’ rollin’, keep the cameras rollin’,” Lowe and Snow rip up the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic with astonishing non-humor. At one point, Lowe belts out: “You became a star as an animated mama, earned yourself a place in the Walk of Fame.”

As a singer, Lowe was clearly an amateur – a thin, reedy, tuneless voice that should never have ventured beyond the morning shower. He’s not the worst singer, by any stretch, but his presence is still inappropriate. To help magnify his blue-eyed soul inadequacies, three women dressed as cocktail waitresses with Carmen Miranda-worthy headgear emerge to roar out the rest of the tune in a style closer to Tina Turner’s celebrated “Proud Mary” rip. But they get upstaged by men wearing tables and lampshades who dance behind them. They are soon upstaged by men and women dressed as movie ushers, who form a high-kicking chorus line and sing “Whenever you’re down in the dumps, try putting on Judy’s red pumps.”

The camera then pans the all-star audience, who applaud politely. Some of the stars, particularly Robert Downey Jr. and Gregory Hines, are clearly not amused by what they witnessed.

At the end of the madness, a giant staircase set is pieced together and Lily Tomlin, of all people, shows up. But she gets upstaged by a male dancer who crawls on his stomach down the stairs to retrieve a lost shoe – which he throws at unsuspecting Tomlin (she misses it and it falls offstage). Tomlin, clearly sensing the nonsense that proceeded her entry, deadpans an ad-lib: “And think of it, more than a billion and a half people watched that!” Ironically, the telecast attracted one of the highest ratings up to that period (it was the year “Rain Man” won Best Picture), so the debacle was seen by more people than usual.

Almost immediately, the Snow White number created problems for the Academy. It seemed that neither telecast’s producer, Allan Carr, nor anyone on the Academy staff bothered to clear the copyright on using the Walt Disney design for Snow White. Disney’s attorneys huffed and puffed about a possible lawsuit, but a hasty apology from the Academy kept everyone out of court.

More embarrassing was an open letter to the Academy that was published right after the telecast. Julie Andrews, Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, Sidney Lumet and Billy Wilder were among the A-listers who signed the letter, which called the telecast “an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry” and added it was “neither fitting nor acceptable that the best work in motion pictures be acknowledged in such a demeaning fashion.”

Two decades later, the Snow White number stands out as a low point in Oscar kitsch. Rob Lowe still gets quizzed about it, but he puts on a good front. When asked by USA Today to talk about it, he gamely replied: “”Look, the academy asked me to take that role, so I was a good soldier and did it. You can’t be your own manager and agent and soothsayer — you have to take risks. And on that one I got shot in the foot.”

He’s still getting shot in the foot, among other body parts. Although the Academy has never authorized a commercial DVD release of the 61st Academy Awards telecast, bootlegged videos of the notorious number proliferate across the Internet. Ignoring basic intellectual property concerns, these videos offer a happy reminder of Hollywood at its poor taste nadir. And it is impossible to imagine ever yanking these from cyberspace – the digital video genie has long since left the bottle.

If you never saw this misguided musical mess, click on over to YouTube or Google Video and poke around. And if you did see back in 1989, give it another look – it’s just as bad as you remembered it!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on February 6, 2009 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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