Bring Back Cheesy Variety Numbers to the Oscars

I leave the comments on the Academy Award nominations to Brian Johnson, but the announcement for some reason inspired me to have a look at some old clips of awards-show musical numbers. The one that stood out as a perfect ’60s time capsule was Mitzi Gaynor’s performance of “Georgy Girl” at the 1967 show (for the 1966 awards).

The song, by the way, had lyrics by Jim Dale, who soon gave up songwriting for acting. And I think most of us now know the song because of Homer Simpson’s obsession with it in “Lisa the Beauty Queen” (“Hey, there, blimpy boy”). In the original film, it was there because a) Most movies had to have title songs at the time in the hopes of creating a tie-in pop hit, and b) To sum up the theme of the movie before the credits were over.

At the Oscars, the song was performed with all the staples of variety-show numbers in the late ’60s: 1) A powerful woman backed up by backup dancers who are totally subservient to her; 2) The woman starts off in one costume; the guys help her strip down to something skimpier; 3) Arms-flailing, butt-shaking dance moves; 4) A reinterpretation of the theme of the song in the context of a three-minute routine (here it becomes the “take off those glasses and you’re beautiful!” bit). Partly on the strength of this number, Gaynor got a series of successful CBS variety specials, where all her numbers were basically like this.

This kind of thing was all over TV in the late ’60s, because the culture was changing even as censorship restrictions weren’t loosening enough to keep up with the culture. So what we got in the interim was family-friendly dirtiness, with striptease routines presented as wholesome, athletic fun. More recently we’ve seen a lot of that in pop-music videos and performances, too; less of it on network TV and awards shows. Which may not be a good thing. If the Oscar numbers can’t be brilliant — and they can’t — they should at least be innocent expressions of dirty ideas.

Now, here’s the question that occurred to me after watching that video: if the broadcast networks wanted to bring back garish, innuendo-filled musical numbers, who would they get to do them? The networks have failed to revive the variety format, but they haven’t really tried the “sexy all-purpose female entertainer” type of show a la the specials of Gaynor or Ann-Margret. There are plenty of female (and male) entertainers who do this type of number routinely in their music videos; but who would you suggest should get the chance to do them in her/his own variety show?