- Associated Press - Thursday, November 10, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Maybe the Academy Awards need to launch a “Draft Billy” movement. Or even a “Draft Kermit” campaign.

A return to the Oscar stage by Billy Crystal would be a true Hollywood ending after this week’s debacle that started with Brett Ratner’s resignation Tuesday as producer of the show over a gay slur, followed by his pal Eddie Murphy’s departure Wednesday as host.

The most popular host of the Oscars in recent years, Crystal could be a real white knight if he returned to run the show for the first time since 2004.

“There’d be cheers across Hollywood for Billy’s return,” said Tom O’Neil, editor of the awards Web site GoldDerby.com. “That could be the happy ending for this story.”

Murphy’s replacement is the talk of the town, with people in Hollywood speculating whether other past hosts such as Steve Martin or Jon Stewart might return or whether a first-timer such as Tina Fey or Neil Patrick Harris could get the job.

There are even pages on Twitter and Facebook pushing Kermit the Frog and his Muppets pals as Oscar hosts, a truly clever notion that could be just the sort of rainbow connection to bring some fresh magic to Hollywood’s big night.

With the Feb. 26 Oscars still more than three months off, organizers have plenty of time to replace Murphy, so there’s not likely to be much fallout for the show itself. Just hours after announcing Murphy’s exit, organizers signed up Brian Grazer, the Oscar-winning producer of “A Beautiful Mind,” to fill the producing slot vacated by Ratner.

Grazer’s a class-act choice compared to Ratner, who is best known for directing the “Rush Hour” flicks and drew the scorn of comic-book fans for “X-Men: The Last Stand,” widely considered a feeble finale to that superhero franchise trilogy.

It’s now up to Grazer and Don Mischer, who is co-producing and directing the Oscar show for the second-straight year, to find a replacement for Murphy.

Ratner departed the show because of the uproar over a pejorative term for gay men he uttered during a question-and-answer session at a screening of his new comedy, “Tower Heist.” Coincidentally, Grazer is a producer on the movie.

Murphy, who stars with Ben Stiller in “Tower Heist,” was picked by Ratner for the Oscar gig, a choice that puzzled and intrigued awards watchers who wondered if he would be up to the challenge as host of one of the most widely watched TV events of the year.

The once cutting-edge star of “Beverly Hills Cop” has lapsed into bland or outright dreadful family comedies in recent years, and unlike the beloved Crystal, he’s not exactly known around town as a people person.

Murphy already had a shaky history with the Oscars, where he was the front runner the one time he earned a nomination, as supporting actor for 2007’s “Dreamgirls.” He showed bad sportsmanship that night, notoriously leaving the Oscars early after losing to Alan Arkin for “Little Miss Sunshine.”

There also were homophobic overtones from Murphy’s early career, when crude gay jokes were part of his standup routine.

“I’m afraid of gay people. Petrified. I have nightmares about gay people,” Murphy joked in his 1983 comedy special “Delirious.”

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