This post has been corrected, as detailed below.
Academy Awards producer Brian Grazer and producer-director Don Mischer definitely had host Billy Crystal's back on the red carpet before the show started.
"He's really excited to be back here after seven years and he's got some very special and surprising things," Grazer said.
Added Mischer: "He's extremely quick on his feet, and that is invaluable in something like this. ... He loves the movies, loves being there and he's really done his homework. So I think he's going to do great, really well tonight."
Grazer saw one great challenge ahead: to entertain.
"We always have the great challenge is to make the show entertaining, to offer some surprises, but don't go crazy with it. Try to keep it classy and try to keep it funny."
And, Grazer said with a laugh, to keep it "as close to on time as possible. Which we've been wrestling with all morning."
As for the host, hours before the Academy Awards were set to begin, a jeans-and-sneakers clad Crystal had taken the Oscar stage at 3:25 p.m., mouthing his routine to himself and gesturing with his hands as he rehearsed in the empty theater at the Hollywood & Highland Center.
Behind the curtain at Crystal's back, the sets still smelled of wet paint and a stagehand pushed a broom across the floor. A phalanx of security officers discussed how they would be transporting the gold Oscar statuettes to the backstage area, and a crewman delivered a cart full of props for the Cirque du Soleil show.
After five minutes of rehearsal, Crystal quietly left the stage. Presumably on time.
[For the record, 8:54 p.m. Feb. 26: This post and video originally referred to Don Mischer incorrectly as Don Hahn.]
-- Geoff Boucher and Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Billy Crystal opens the 2012 Academy Awards. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times