Director-producer Brett Ratner of "Rush Hour" fame, who is producing the 84th Academy Awards with Don Mischer, said that it was beshert -- the Yiddish word for "meant to be" -- getting Eddie Murphy to host the ceremony on Feb. 26 on ABC.
"When I was asked to produce the Oscars, I analyzed what was done in the past and I realized I wanted to go back to a single host," said Ratner over the phone from New York late Tuesday afternoon. "I knew before Eddie's name was in the pot, I needed a single comedian. Then I kind of casually mentioned it to Eddie and he thought it was a great idea. That is a hard thing [for a producer] to walk away from."
Rumors that Murphy was in contention as Oscar host swirled over Labor Day weekend, becoming a reality on Tuesday morning when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 50-year-old Murphy's selection.
Murphy, who hasn't been seen on the big screen since his 2009 flop "Imagine That," also happens to be in Ratner's new film, "Tower Heist," opening Nov. 4. Ratner said choosing Murphy wasn't a publicity stunt for the movie. He noted that the media-shy Murphy agreed to host the awards because the two have a good rapport. "I am hoping I can do my next few movies with him because he is really a comedic genius," Ratner said.
Mischer said he and other awards producers have tried for years to get Murphy, who began his career as a stand-up comedian more than three decades ago, to host. So he was rather surprised and thrilled when the actor agreed.
"I have tried to book Eddie Murphy because we all have such respect for him," Mischer said. "Anytime he's on stage, he hits it out of the park. He never agreed to do anything of this kind before, and when Brett first said to me, 'I just talked to Eddie and he didn't say no,' I said, 'No way he's going to do this ... ."
Ratner said Murphy also agreed because he has "so much love for the academy. He is not only a legend in the business, at least in my eyes, he is also a student of the business. He knows every movie ever made."
Over the decades, many comedians have hosted the Oscars, including Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock. This last ceremony, the academy courted young views with actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Critics were not impressed.
Mischer said they may go back to two hosts at another time, but both he and Ratner wanted a quicker pace for the Oscars. "From the beginning, Brett shared the vision I had of really letting the show take off and flying," he said. "It is just much better to do that with one host, especially a host who has got the comedic chops Eddie Murphy has. It really felt right to go with Eddie by himself."
And here is a little Oscar trivia -- Murphy made his debut on the Academy Awards in 1983 as a presenter with Elizabeth McGovern of the visual effects Oscar, which went to "E.T." The hosts were Walter Matthau, Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore and comedian Richard Pryor.
-- Susan King
Photo: Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in Brett Ratner's "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures