November 23, 1948– I could not quite fathom the idea of Bruce Vilanch being hired by those homophobes Brett Ratner & Eddie Murphy to write the Academy Awards Ceremony in 2011. The Academy did the correct thing by pushing them out & hiring back the best Oscar host ever Billy Crystal the next year. Don’t you agree? After the negative reception received from last year’s ceremony, openly gay producers Neil Meron & Craig Zadan announced that they will not be returning to produce the show for a fourth year. Cutie pie Neil Patrick Harris also announced that he would not host the Oscars again. Harris:
“I don’t know that my family nor my soul could take it. It’s a beast. It was fun to check off the list, but for the amount of time spent& the understandable opinionated response, I don’t know that it’s a delightful balance to do every year or even again.”
For the 2016 ceremony, the Academy hired David Hill (American Idol) & Reginald Hudlin (Modern Family) to produce, with Chris Rock doing the hosting. I feel pretty good about this, but the Oscar telecast always is subject to some tweaking, but butching up The Academy Awards telecast seems rather perverse. I think it would be much cooler to have Bette Midler as host & to add big, crazy production numbers with Rob Lowe & Snow White, Sasheen Littlefeather, a streaker & Cher.
Vilanch was the very best writer of the Academy Awards broadcasts. He began writing for the Oscars in 1989 & continued for the next 15 years. He wrote the excellent, extremely funny material for hosts Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg & David Letterman, & was made head writer in 2000. He is responsible for one of my favorite Oscar moments, the one featuring Crystal’s Hannibal Lecter entrance. Vilanch has 2 Emmys on his award shelf for his work on the Academy Awards.
He has roasted celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor & William Jefferson Clinton. Never shy of controversy, Vilanch was responsible for the notorious material that had Ted Danson performing in blackface at a certain 1993 Friars Club Roast of his then-girlfriend, Goldberg. But, he also gave us the tender, touching You Made Me Watch You, send-off to Johnny Carson sung by Midler on Carson’s final night on The Tonight Show in 1993, winning an Emmy Award.
Vilanch has also written for The Tony Awards, The Grammys, The Emmys. It used to be that it wasn’t an award show if he wasn’t backstage cranking out the gags on the fly. He also shows up to give out awards at all sorts of LGBTQ & HIV/AIDS charity events.
Jewish, hairy & very funny, Vilanch is rarely been seen in public wearing anything than blue jeans & one of his many smartass T-shirts. His own website calls him:
“The man who put F U in funny.”
Vilanch’s career as the man who writes funny things for other funny people to quip started when he was writing celebrity features for The Chicago Tribune, schmoozing with celebrities or semi-celebrities who were in town.
In Chicago he met a struggling young nightclub singer named Bette Midler, & the pair became fast friends. It was Vilanch who gave Midler some very helpful career advice:
“You’re funny. You should talk more onstage”.
He wrote Midler’s Broadway show, Clams On The Half Shell Revue (1974), & then he moved to LA to write for The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which explains just how demented that show was. When it ended its run, Vilanch wrote jokes for anyone who would hire him: Lily Tomlin, Crystal, Roseanne Barr, Rosie O’Donnell, Paul Reiser, Elizabeth Taylor, & Robin Williams. He wrote Midler’s Divine Madness (1980) & Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On (2010).
Vilanch is a notable “script doctor”, brought in to punch up other writer’s screenplays. Quite prolific, his credits include such insane classics as Donny & Marie (1976-78), Pride: The Gay & Lesbian Comedy Slam (2010) The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976) & The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).
He was head writer & a panelist on Hollywood Squares for 4 years, writing gags for the other panelists while his friend & client Goldberg ran the show. Vilanch played Edna Turnblad in a nation wide tour of the musical Hairspray, shaving off his trademark 30 year old beard. About that experience, Vilanch wrote:
“Musicals have clearly gotten more physical. You never saw Ethel Merman doing step aerobics. The real culprit in all this is not even the costume designer but the choreographer, that malicious spawn of Gwen Verdon & Satan.
Vilanch has worked as a reporter & columnist for The Advocate, contributing both funny & serious pieces. His memoir, My Adventures In The Skin Trade (2000) was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. More statues for that award mantle include: Shanti Foundation’s Daniel P. Warner Service Award (1990), GLAAD Media Award (1997), LA Gay & Lesbian Center’s Distinguished Achievement Award (1998), Outfest Honors Award (2002), & AIDS Project Of Los Angeles Hero Award (2003).
Vilanch is the subject of an affectionate documentary, Get Bruce (1999). He has the amazing distinction of having acted in the films Mahogany (1975) & Ice Pirates (1984). I wish I could say the same.
“When you perform, you get a real, physical adrenaline rush that’s quite fabulous. You don’t get that when you’re writing. You can get into what I call the ‘alpha state’ which is so involving that you forget about everything else. But it’s a very private thing. But I suppose if I had to make a choice I’d rather be performing because it’s more immediate. It’s lonely being a writer. Even when you’re in a room full of writers. You know at some point you actually have to sit down & come up with the stuff yourself.”