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Oscars Won't Be A Crystal Ball

The movie awards season has only just begun, and already the Oscars race finds itself eclipsed by the search for a master of ceremonies — perennial favorite Billy Crystal is out of the running.

Crystal, whose quick wit and polish have made him the clear emcee of choice in recent years, said this week he'll have no time to prepare for the March 25 Academy Awards show because he will just be wrapping up his latest film project, America's Sweethearts.

"If everything goes according to plan, I'll just be finishing a new movie on March 22. I can't host the show ... days later," he said in a published report.

He added that the movie parody montage he created for the opening of the last Oscars ceremony "took two months of planning. You don't realize. It's a lot of work."

A spokeswoman for Crystal said Wednesday his remarks were in response to a "hypothetical question" posed to the actor-comedian about whether he would do the show again if asked.

No one seemed to be surprised at Crystal's announcement.

"He said no many months ago. It wasn't a surprise to us that he said it again. None of us expected Billy to do it again," said John Pavlik, spokesman for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Crystal's appearance for the 72nd Oscars show in March 2000 marked his seventh stint as host of the movie industry's premiere awards since 1990.

The 1999 show was emceed by actress-comedienne Whoopi Goldberg, whose sometimes ribald performance garnered mixed reviews, but she reportedly has ruled out hosting the Oscars again in the foreseeable future.

In his remarks, Crystal said the ideal Oscar emcee would be someone associated with the movies and skilled at ad lib humor. He suggested that comic film actor Jim Carrey — though twice snubbed by the Oscars for dramatic roles — would make a good host for the awards. Carrey is currently in theaters in the title role of the holiday smash hit Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

"I asked him to be part of the film (parody) last year, in the shower scene that Kevin Spacey finally agreed to. But Jim has some bad feelings about not being nominated (for his roles in The Truman Show or Man on the Moon). It's not like he was in a box office flop. I mean, Kevin Costner helped us out after The Postman. It's just in good fun."

Crystal also floated the names of NBC's Tonight Show host Jay Leno, or late-night CBS rival David Letterman, who made a critically panned turn as host in 1995.

Crystal is currently co-writing America's Sweethearts and is starring in the romantic comedy with Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The film, directed by former Disney studio chief Joe Roth, starts shooting January 10.

Crystal's publicist said he also will be busy with a cable TV movie he is directing and producing for HBO — titled 61 — about the 1961 race between Mikey Mantle and Roger Maris for the title of home run king. She said that production is due to premiere in April.

Crystal has earned four Emmy Awards for his writing and hosting of the Oscars, which are presented each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has never been nominated for an Oscar.

The show was hosted by Crystal for four consecutive years beginning in 1990. He then took a three-year hiatus and returned to host for two more years in 1997 and 1998, took another year off in 1999 and came back for the 2000 awards.

"He's obviously always done a fantastic job, and we know the audience loves him," said academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger. Choosing an emcee for the show is the responsibility of the show's producer, who has yet to be selected.

The 73rd annual Academy Awards will be telecast live from the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. Nominees will be announced Feb. 13.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Ltd. contributed to this report