Ellen DeGeneres is the beloved host of her own talk show and respected by millions of ardent fans. But not too long ago, she was branded a pariah and one of Hollywood’s biggest studios could not distant themselves far enough from the openly gay star. The fact that she’s, once again, hosting the Oscar ceremony must hold a sort of delicious irony for Ellen.
The 55 year-old American stand-up comedian, television host and actress was the first openly gay woman to have her own television show. Her 1994 – 1998 comedy sitcom, Ellen was a hit with audiences and looked to be on air a long time, until she “came out.” In February 1997, Ellen told the world about her sexual orientation on another television talk show. She talked to host Oprah Winfrey and the effect was almost immediate in the industry.
Walt Disney Studios stopped promoting Ellen’s sitcom and it was dropped soon after her announcement. It seems the studio was uneasy aligning with a performer who was openly gay. In her sitcom, Ellen’s character also “came out of the closet” and the studios didn’t like pushing a show with a gay lead. Citing falling viewing figures, the Disney owned network ABC dropped Ellen from its programming.
In a 1997 interview with Time Magazine, Ellen said, “I always thought I could keep my personal life separate from my professional life… I mean, I really tried to figure out every way to avoid answering that question for as long as I could… Now, I feel completely comfortable with myself, and I don’t have to be fearful about something damaging my career if it gets out, because now I’m in control of it — sort of.”
In Hollywood, there has always been a cadre of “star” who stick stubbornly to the closet and their sexually lifestyles a “well known” secret. But the New Orleans native didn’t let Hollywood’s hypocrisy stop her career, though the system did try to halt her rise as a household favourite.
DeGeneres has something that the glitterati couldn’t squash, talent. Not only is DeGeneres a more than capable comedian, she has an inner warmth and an empathetic aura that enables her to draw people to her. Stars in Hollywood fight to get onto her show and she has the ability to make theatrical royalty do pretty much anything to get that treasured laugh.
Ellen Degeneres hosting the Oscar ceremony for a second time shows just how much the Hollywood community respect her as an entertainer and a person. The irony of her second hosting of the glittery event for the same community that initially shunned her is just too delicious for words.
That Ellen came back to television with her own daytime talk show in 2003. Her triumphant return amongst a dearth of celebrity talk shows, proves just how talented she is and how well she connects with her audience.
In an apparent move to show its acceptance and to apologise for the celluloid city’s shabby treatment of her, the Academy Awards invited her to host the 2006 ceremony. The Hollywood oligarchy has finally accepted her and acknowledged her talent as a comedian and her popularity with audiences.
Her hosting of the star studded ceremony made her the first openly gay or lesbian person to host the Oscars. During the 2006 show DeGeneres said, “What a wonderful night, such diversity in the room, in a year when there’s been so many negative things said about people’s race, religion, and sexual orientation. And I want to put this out there: If there weren’t blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscars, or anyone named Oscar, when you think about that.”
Ellen’s job as the emcee was given praise. Television stalwart Regis Philbin said that he loved what she did and that his “only complaint was there’s not enough Ellen.”
After last year’s somewhat controversial hosting by Seth MacFarlane, the Academy obviously wanted someone that the stars participating in the event loved as much as the audience. The delicious irony of Ellen DeGeneres hosting the Oscars for the second time is pleasing. Because it was Ellen’s brave decision to announce her sexual orientation in 1997, that allowed mega-star Jodie Foster to “come-out” on during another Oscar ceremony.
By Michael Smith