"She had a look on her face, if I remember correctly, of pain," Martin Landau tells THR. Nominated that year for best supporting actor for Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Landau, now 84, was one of the few who gave Bowman a warm reception. "It wasn't her fault," recalls Landau. "I empathized with her. Poor Snow White. She didn't have the dwarves to support her."
As the sketch bombed on for 15 agonizing minutes, dancing tables wackily re-created the post-Prohibition Cocoanut Grove nightclub, Merv Griffin performed his 1950 hit "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," and a befuddled parade of decrepit screen stars emerged before Lowe took the stage as Snow White's "date."
The actor, then 24, would soon be working overtime to rehabilitate his image after a sex-tape scandal derailed his career several months later. But when the Academy approached him to play Prince Charming, Lowe later explained, "I was a good soldier and did it." A shower-caliber singer at best, he struggled to stay on key as he duetted with Bowman on an extended "Proud Mary," its lyrics changed to, "Keep the cameras rollin', rollin', rollin'." By the time a kick line of movie theater ushers sang, "Whenever you're down in the dumps, try putting on Judy's red pumps," the audience had endured all they could take. As the camera panned the room, Robert Downey Jr.'s look of disgust summed up the reaction.
In its review, The New York Times declared the show had earned "a permanent place in the annals of Oscar embarrassments." Carr was uniformly shunned at industry canteen Morton's the following day. Disney, which then had no stake in ABC, was furious over the unauthorized use of its copyrighted version of Snow White and filed a lawsuit against the Academy. And 17 Hollywood heavyweights -- among them Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Julie Andrews and Billy Wilder -- signed an open letter deriding the telecast as "an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry."
Carr, hurting from back-to-back flops Can't Stop the Music and Grease 2, never worked in Hollywood again. After years of declining health and alcohol and drug abuse, he died in 1999 of liver cancer at his home in Beverly Hills.
In a THR exclusive, Bowman, now 46, relates in her own words the tale of how she became Snow White for one bizarre night, about which the Academy now maintains a sense of humor. When approached for comment, COO Ric Robertson said: "We're pleased to join The Hollywood Reporter in saluting the 'Snow White Incident' on its 24th anniversary. This important piece of Hollywood history should never be forgotten."
I've never spoken publicly at length about this. I basically fell off the turnip truck from San Diego and landed in L.A. I went for what I thought was an audition for Beach Blanket Babylon at the Beverly Hills Hotel; they gave me 15 pages of music to learn. I auditioned, and [director Steve Silver] said, "We want to see if you fit into the dress." There was a Snow White outfit and a hairstylist and makeup person. I got dressed and made up, and they said, "Now we're going to go somewhere." There was another girl there, too. So you have a Mercedes with two Snow Whites in the back, and we were told, "Close your eyes, you can't see where we're going."
Our first stop was Allan Carr's house. I remember his swimming pool had pink water in it. He had a 30-foot Oscar outside his door and auditioned us in a robe. The other girl and I looked at each other thinking, "What is happening?"
Our next stop was Marvin Hamlisch's office. We were told to hold hands and walk down the street so people would go, "Ooooh." We auditioned and were whisked back to the hotel. In the elevator, Steve Silver asked me, "How are you with famous people?" I thought, "Well, they're like anybody else." He said, "You got the job." I said, "Oh, great!" He said, "Do you know what this is for?" I said, "Beach Blanket Babylon!" And he said: "No, honey. This is for the Oscars."
I rehearsed for a week-and-a-half. It was my first AFTRA job, and I was paid scale, $350 a week. They brought Rob Lowe in to be my Prince Charming. He was wonderful. He could see where things were headed at the dress rehearsal and took me aside and warned: "You need to be careful. There are sharks in the water, and you have to be really careful who you work with after this." He had never sung before and was kind of insecure about that, so we bonded.
Our rehearsals were on the Fox lot, and they were closed. I mean, like Fort Knox. And the producers knew exactly what they had in me. I wasn't asking questions. They came up to me daily and said, "You should be paying us for this."
I remember Bob Mackie said, "Why am I making a Snow White outfit?" I fainted once during a fitting because I hadn't eaten. I woke up, and Bob was going, "Honey, are you all right?" He gave me juice. My dress was bought for $23,000 by someone involved with the production who was buried in it. It was a man. I'm leaving it at that.
The show itself looked like a gay bar mitzvah. Middle America must have been like: "What is going on? There are dancing tables, there's Snow White singing with Rob Lowe, there's Merv Griffin with people with coconuts on their head!"
I was told not to go to Robin Williams in the audience because God knows what he would do. But running down that aisle, all I could see were the back of heads, and I was thinking, "I'll just go to Kevin Kline!" But they were sitting one row apart, and I accidentally went up to Robin. I was like: "Abort! Abort!" Martin Landau grabbed my hand with both of his, and he just looked at me; he was precious. Tom Hanks was wonderful. But all these poor people were like, "What the hell are you doing?" That number was 15 minutes long from start to end, and I remember looking at Rob Lowe, going, "It's finally over!"