As an old-school disciplinarian grandpa in "Parental Guidance," Billy Crystal has to be a role model, of sorts, for his young grandkids. But on Tuesday, he showed he's a role model for his real-life grandchildren (he has "three and two-thirds"), by 'fessing up to TODAY's Savannah Guthrie: "I lied," he said.
As Crystal explained, he'd had a long day when he joined Guthrie (and co-star Bette Midler) at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting in November, and wasn't listening too clearly when she asked Midler about holiday gifts. Midler said she makes her own, crafty presents. "And I could barely hear anything. And I'm like so jet-lagged, and then you said, 'Billy, do you?' And I lied. I lied to you. I said I make 'unusual robots.'"
Not true, as it turns out, and he says he's had to dodge requests for schematics for his robots ever since. "I don't know why I said that!" he laughed. "I never made a robot.... My daughter called me, so hysterical on the phone: 'Where's my robot?'"
One of the few controversial aspects of this year's Oscars was the brief appearance of host Billy Crystal in blackface, reviving his "Saturday Night Live" parody of Sammy Davis, Jr.
Davis’ daughter, however, says the joke would have been fine with her late father.
“I am 100 percent certain that my father is smiling,” Tracey Davis, 50, told The Hollywood Reporter. “Billy previously played my father when he was alive, and my father gave Billy his full blessing.”
Crystal often impersonated Davis on "SNL" in the 1980s, and Davis' daughter said the impersonation carries "legendary starus."
Davis goes on to say that while she wasn’t insulted by Crystal’s performance, she does have a problem with people using the term blackface to describe it. And it seems others would agree.
“This was NOT blackface,” comments Jquincy on the story. “This was not mocking an entire race of people. This was an affectionate impersonation that Crystal has been doing forever and one that Sammy Davis, Jr. loved. All this manufactured controversy is getting really tiresome.”
Writes a reader on msnbc.com partner TheGrio, “When Crystal did this on SNL in the ‘80s there were black people, particularly entertainers, that didn't like it. Today I think a lot of black people take offense to the 'SNL' portrayal of President Obama by a nonblack comedian in blackface…The lack of criticism now and in the 80s is less about the hypocrisy of white liberalism and more about fear of a racist discriminatory industry of Hollywood.”
Billy Crystal performs during the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26.
By Tim Molloy, The Wrap
Raise your hand if you expected a blackface controversy at this year's Oscars.
Host Billy Crystal's opening montage featured the bizarre inclusion of his Sammy Davis Jr. character during a "Midnight in Paris" tribute that also featured Justin Bieber. Bieber announced that he was going back in time to hang out with Hemingway -- like the mysterious characters who pick up Owen Wilson's character in "Paris."
"And then we're gonna go kill Hitler," added Crystal-as-Davis, pulling a switchblade.
The moment got a huge laugh. But Davis' inclusion made not a lot of sense since:
1. Davis died two decades ago
2. Davis was a child in the 1920s.
Oh, right, and 3: No one really does blackface anymore. Crystal did it when he played Davis on "Saturday Night Live" in the '80s, but what somehow airs on a late night show nearly three decades ago doesn't necessarily fly during one of the most-watched shows of the year.
Tweeters were fairly unanimous in responding: "Whaaaa?"
"If you had 3 minutes for First Blackface of the Night in your #Oscars pool, congratulations!," tweeted the New York Times' Dave Itzkoff.
"Hey, Billy Crystal in blackface!" opined another tweeter, Morgan Carroll. "Good thing the Oscars went with the safe choice!" (He was referring to Eddie Murphy passing on the hosting gig after Brent Ratner lost the job following comments widely perceived as homophobic.)
A great many others noted that blackface is just never OK, which Crystal should know: Ted Danson received serious criticism when he appeared at a Friars Club roast with Whoopi Goldberg, Crystal's longtime "Comic Relief" co-host, in 1993.
Adding to the awkwardness of the moment: The montage segued from "Midnight in Paris" to "The Help," a film about black maids persevering during the Jim Crow era. In "The Help" scene, Crystal was seen eating the feces-laced pie Octavia Spencer's character serves up to her racist former employer.
The only person still doing blackface on American television is Chris Lille, on his HBO show "Angry Boys." While he's been criticized for it, he has received nowhere near the attention Danson did because Lille is Australian and presumably underaware of how much blackface offends people in the states. Also, very few people watch "Angry Boys."
The blackface appearance is briefly shown in this video. What did you think of the moment? Tell us on Facebook.
Billy Crystal gave all the best-picture nominees a turn in the spotlight in his opening monologue at the Academy Awards, but the biggest laugh came when he got in a dig at the name of the venue where the awards were being held.
"We're here at the beautiful Chapter 11 Theater," he cracked to much laughter.
The home of the Oscars has been known as the Kodak Theatre for years, but the Los Angeles venue has been renamed the Hollywood & Highland Center due to the photography company's bankruptcy troubles.
After the first commercial break, Crystal cracked that the show was coming from the "Your Name Here Theater."
The show led off with a montage inserting host Crystal into various nominated movies. He discussed the show with the scouts from "Moneyball," ate the tainted pie from "The Help" and greeted Justin Bieber instead of famous authors in a spoof of "Midnight in Paris."
He then sang a short musical tribute to each nominee. He sang "Hanks for the Memories" for "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "A Horse Is a Horse" for "War Horse" and "What's It All About, Malick?" for the often-thought confusing "Tree of Life," directed by Terrence Malick."
He also got in a dig at himself, dubbing himself "War Horse" due to this being his ninth time hosting. And aimed a gentle barb at the audience, saying, "Nothing can take the sting out of the world's economic situation like watching millionaires present themselves with golden statues."