Ghetto Fabulous: Andre Harrell Created a Culture of Black Excellence

“My goal is to bring real black America — just as it is, not watered down — to people everywhere through music, through films, through everything we do.”

This was the manifesto of 32 year-old, newly-minted entertainment mogul Andre O’Neal Harrell, in conversation with the L.A. Times in 1992 about his $50M multi-media deal with MCA Records.

Harrell, who founded Uptown Records, died on Friday, May 8th of an apparent cardiac episode at the age of 59. As the music industry mourns this unexpected loss, a refrain keeps echoing through posts and tributes: Andre’s impact on music and culture was never properly celebrated. 

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Dude. #AndreHarrell man. He gave you the best soundtracks of your life man and you didn’t even know it. We never gave him his flowers. He redefined the party! Def Jam was the artform. Bad Boy was the attitude Death Row was the muscle But without even knowing it? Uptown was ALWAYS the party. I’m sitting here going through my crates STUNNED at the amount of six degree to Andre records I’ve spun weekly on a regular basis for the last 35 years yo. The is a staggering loss. We never gave Andre Harrell his flowers. Name em: Al B Sure/Heavy D & The Boyz/Guy/. I mean mentoring Diddy alone brings in Jodeci/BIG/Mary J/Father MC/Christopher Williams—-and even in those names the success with THOSE artists come Missy/Timb/Neptune’s But let’s not stop there: first time we really paid attention to Halle Berry was in a Harrell film called Strictly Business Let’s throw “Candy Rain” in there or Lil Shawn’s “I Made Love”—-I may be dating myself but man Mgruff’s “Before We Start” got MUCH play round my way. Jeff Redd (who brought Blidge to the label) had a banger with “You Called And Told Me”—-“Touch It” from Monifah STILL bangs to this day. & back to Diddy, I’m absolutely w/o a doubt certain that he feels his success is also Harrell’s success so in a round about way there is no Bad Boy w/o Harrell. (Lemme also remember Daryl Chill Mitchell’s “Hip Hop’s Here To Stay” another classic uptown jawn. Horace Brown too….. Too Many Classics Let’s not forget NY Undercover & all the clever music moments in each ep. We never gave him his flowers. This isn’t even half of his achievements nor does this even bring to light the people’s lives he changed or his loved ones left behind. He literally introduced a new sound to the world (the first new jack swing projects were on Uptown)—-wait hold that——his label changed music TWICE because hip hop soul’s music picked up where New Jack left off and on the same label. Such a short time to paradigm shift music TWICE!!!!!!!! Damn man. We never gave him his flowers man.

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In conversations about culture shifters and modern music moguls, Andre Harrell is often relegated to a supporting character role in the Sean Combs story. He’s the person who gave Puff a break, granting him an internship at Uptown; and who pushed him towards his destiny by later firing him from Uptown. Harrell has played a senior executive/consigliere role for Combs and other music insiders over the years through Bad Boy, REVOLT, and most recently Combs Enterprises; the sage voice of wisdom and reason behind the talent.

Tributes to Harrell across the internet since Saturday night include gratitude for advice, knowledge, resources and career guidance. In 2019, BET announced an upcoming biopic about Harrell and Uptown Records; sorely needed, because Harrell’s name should always be mentioned in founder conversations along with Russell Simmons or Combs, but isn’t.

Uptown’s — and by extension Harrell’s — impact spanned beyond making music to creating culture; and Harrell gave the world more than Heavy D., Jodeci, Mary J. Blige and Puffy. Uptown Records was often dubbed the new iteration of Motown; a label where Black artists were seen and nurtured, and Harrell the heir apparent to Berry Gordy. The label set trends and created moments that still reverberate today: It was the home of the New Jack Swing; the incubator for the marriage of hip-hop and R&B with hip-hop soul; the proof of concept for ghetto-fabulousness; the predecessor for labels like So So Def and Roc A Fella, and the direct parent of Bad Boy; and one of the first labels associated with party vibes and fly s–t. Uptown was the first urban lifestyle label, and Andre was the first executive to understand how to sell Black glamour that embraced, rather than ignored, its street edge.

The Bronx-born and bred Harrell’s vision and instincts were that of the rare, landscape-shifting music men, like Gordy, Clive Davis, Ahmet Ertegun. Uptown’s ethos came from Harrell’s combined experiences as a NY nightlife VIP; an ad sales exec; an early rap star in his own right as part of duo Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: European suit wearing, suitcase carrying lyricists who touted a style called Champagne Rap; and his experience helping develop burgeoning Def Jam talent like LL Cool J and Whodini as part of Simmons’ Rush Management.

He had a clear vision for the smooth, party-friendly fusion of hip-hop and R&B that became Uptown’s calling card, leading him to leave Rush and Def Jam and venture out on his own to start his company at 26 years old. Where Def Jam’s traded in raw hip-hop and grit, Dre had visions for a more aspirational feel of music. “Russell’s a suburban kid who likes extremes on the inner-city tip,” Harrell explained to Vanity Fair in 1993. “I’m an inner-city kid who knows the reality of being poor. I’m looking for escapism. Fun music. Good-time music.”

He also had a clear idea of his audience. In the same 1993 Vanity Fair interview, Harrell broke down his four echelons of Black consumers — he wasn’t concerned about crossover, at least not yet — based on class and lifestyle. His target audience for the aesthetic he alternatively called “ghetto fabulous,” “high Negro style,” and “ghetto glamor,” superseded self-identifying boxes. “The best of all these situations, from ghetto to color to elitist intellectuals, is to be black — when you can be who you truly are in any situation and feel good about yourself. If you don’t feel like you have to conform in your dress or your attitudes, you become a black person. You cross all boundaries. And that is the idea behind Uptown.” 

It perhaps goes without saying that Harrell had an eye for talent, with a roster of artists that include some of the most impactful acts in both R&B and hip-hop. But he could see the potential where others couldn’t. A turning point in Simmons and Harrell’s professional relationship came when Russell dismissed an artist Andre was feeling: Mount Vernon rapper Heavy D. Heavy once recounted to New York Magazine: “(Andre) spent months trying to convince Russell that we could be a hit, and Russell was like, ‘But he’s fat,” and Andre would say ‘Yeah, but girls will love him.’” Andre built Uptown around Heavy, and “the overweight” lover was not only a consistent platinum seller for most of his recording career, but is credited as one of the rap artists that helped chart hip-hop’s path into the mainstream. He also took the helm as the company’s president once Andre departed.

Harkening back to the Gordy/Motown method, Harrell prioritized artist development. He knew how to sell the brand. He put new acts through camps that included styling, media training, and choreography; but also kept a close eye on them himself. “He’d talk to us after every show,” Heavy D once shared. “It was part pep talk and part critique.” Uptown’s first R&B star Al B. Sure, credited Dre for his heart throb status, “Andre taught me about style,” Al B. Sure told New York Magazine in 1995. “How to be a sex symbol. He put me in suits and coached me like a director; dress this way, smile that way, look at the camera from a certain angle.”

Andre had an understanding of who his artists were, where they came from, what they were facing as new stars, and what they needed to navigate pitfalls and succeed. When Mary J. Blige abruptly cut a 1995 New York Times interview short after a long day of press for her sophomore album My Life, Andre explained, on record, that the young singer was still unlearning trauma. “She lacks the self-confidence of someone of her stature because she grew up with someone telling her, ‘You ain’t nothing, and you’re never going to be anything.’ In the end, she turned out to be…something very special. But… she doesn’t know it yet.” As he was departing Uptown for Motown, he told Vibe of his artist relationships, “I talked to his mother, his girlfriend, his babies’ mother with the two children, dealt with his drug counselor, and whatever other… problems he has.”

He had a similar eye for executive talent; Harrell curated a company full of people who lived the very lifestyle Uptown was selling. The urban entertainment industry has been populated with Uptown alumnus as label executives, managers, stylists, creatives, etc, for the last 20 plus years, the most famous of which is Bad Boy Records impresario Sean (Puff Daddy, P Diddy, Diddy, Brother Love) Combs. Andre gave his staff latitude to wear multiple hats and work across disciplines of the business — latitude that ultimately led to him famously letting Combs go after the young, brash executive had become what all parties agree was unmanageable. But it was also Andre who told Puff to call Clive Davis for his next move, which led to Bad Boy as a JV under Davis’ Arista Records. Andre also let Puff walk away with newly discovered Biggie Smalls, because the rapper didn’t fit with Uptown’s party brand. 

Also like Gordy, Andre saw a bigger picture for Black media and entertainment, and had massive plans for developing Black stories and content under his multi-media with MCA. His first movie project, 1991’s Strictly Business featuring a young Halle Berry in her first major role, was only a moderate success — which Harrell blamed in part on having to tone the storyline down to appease studio heads. He fared better with his first TV venture in 1994: New York Undercover, a collaboration with procedural drama god Dick Wolf. The series, following two young undercover NYC detectives, was the first police drama with two actors of color in the lead, and was perfectly set with the street fashion, lingo, and most critically the music of the day.

Unfortunately, other film and TV projects in development featuring Heavy D, R&B group En Vogue, and rap duo Kris Kross never came to screen. It was a disconnect that spoke to Dre’s biggest frustration: Black execs had a ceiling with creative control in a business were the top-level decision makers didn’t look like them, or come from where they came from. The $50M dollar Uptown Entertainment partnership was widely viewed as a bust in the industry, but those in the know said the fault wasn’t with Andre, but with MCA, who wouldn’t give him real autonomy or put the support Harrell felt was needed behind his projects for them to thrive. As a result, he was looking at a long game to put Black executives in decision-making roles, realizing that senior level corporate heads rarely saw the big picture.

Even in the mid-’90s, as the business of hip-hop was growing and joint ventures were being handed out left and right to serve as urban music pipelines for major labels, Dre saw the jig. Black executives were valuable while identifying and building the talent, but once artists reached star status, those execs were moved aside. 25 years later, his words to VIBE in 1995 still resonate: “Black music is becoming the music of the popular culture… But as Black music becomes more important, there should be more Black presidents and more Black chairmen. As soon as the Black executive’s artist reaches platinum, suddenly the artist and manager have to deal with the president…because he controls the priorities at pop radio. As (the Black executive’s) music gets bigger, his power diminishes. He’s more or less told, ‘Go find the next act and establish it.’”

In 1995, driven by conflicts both with parent company MCA and inside the label — Mary J. Blige and Jodeci, now the label’s most prominent acts, took on Suge Knight as management; and with Andre putting increasing focus on TV and film, new releases weren’t coming quickly enough for MCA — Harrell left Uptown to become the new CEO of Motown. Unfortunately, Harrell was stepping into a Motown far removed from the legacy label’s heyday: The biggest contemporary act on the imprint was Boyz II Men, and Andre was facing a massive rebuild. But Motown, itself in a struggle with former parent company MCA after accusing MCA of failing to promote its acts, was too deep in a hole for Andre to quickly turn around. Harrell estimated it would take him five years to turn the label around. He was there for two.

After a very public ousting, Harrell served as president of Bad Boy for a while, then co-founded Nu America Records with singer/songwriter/producer/label-founder Babyface, a vehicle through which he signed and helped develop a young Robin Thicke. He then ran his own venture, Harrell Records, for a while before rejoining Puffy in 2014 to help run REVOLT and Combs Enterprises, where he spent the remainder of the decade. All the time, Dre has poured into new talent, executives and entrepreneurs in the game, offering jewels on how to win while remaining authentic.

Kings are lauded, while kingmakers are acknowledged quietly, but Andre Harrell — kingmaker and culture-creator — deserves to be celebrated with all the fanfare and energy he made part of our lives. Telling us we didn’t have to code-switch or assimilate to be fly and fabulous. To celebrate the marriage of street and luxury, paving the way for the bling era. For making music fun. For giving us champagne and bubbles aspirations.

Andre’s legacy is well known and respected among industry insiders and those who were there to bear witness in real time, as evidenced by the outpouring of love and sharing of stories on the Internet, but he was never as big a public figure as label heads like Simmons, protégé Puffy or Suge Knight. Andre had expressed at various points his preference to stay out of the spotlight; the ease of it. But as Puff was becoming notorious for being “all in the (Bad Boy) videos… dancin’…” and Harrell was about to take the reins of Motown, he realized he’d leveraged some personal brand power by not putting himself in the front, but instead putting his energy towards creating avenues for new talent to shine – for both artists and executives.

“The thing that Berry Gordy led the way with was the idea that the label head becomes the image of the label,” he told VIBE in 2005. “Myself, I allowed whatever celebrity occurred in my career to happen through the artists. I was so consistent with the kinds of artists who were on my label, after a while it was like ‘Who’s behind all this?’ I was behind it.” 

Billie Eilish Working on New Song in Quarantine

Billie Eilish is making the most of her time in isolation at home by fostering puppies and recording new music.

In a video uploaded to YouTube on Saturday (May 9), the singer chatted with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe about launching her father-daughter Apple Music show, but they mostly talked about how she’s feeling in quarantine.

“I know that everybody, like the beginning of this really got to people,” Eilish said. “I didn’t really have that experience because I cheated. I rescued two puppies, or fostered two puppies. I was completely distracted.”

And when she’s not spending time in the yard with the pups, she’s been getting the creative juices flowing.

“We’ve been in the ‘stu,’ which just means Finneas’ basement, basically. We actually, we wrote a whole song in its entirety — an entire song, which is kind of rare for us. I really love it. It was like exactly what I needed to say when we wrote it,” Eilish revealed.

Although she misses touring and being on stage — “that feeling does not exist anywhere else” — she’s trying to stay positive while staying home during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Honestly, I feel great,” she said. “The song I was talking about earlier that we wrote a couple weeks ago that felt so right was … I wish I could sing it for you, but I can’t. It was just about, there was this part in it — I needed to say this — which was I know I’m supposed to feel unhappy right now because of this break and because I’m not seeing anybody … I feel like there’s this kind of thing that I feel like is floating around of like you’re supposed to be missing people. You’re supposed to be missing this person and be missing people in general. I kind of have this feeling of like, I miss my really close friends, I miss people, of course I do, but I also at the same time am liking the space.”

Eilish added: “I’m liking that everybody can kind of grow right now. I hope that people are letting themselves grow instead of just reminiscing and wishing they were with other people.”

Watch the full interview below.

WME Partner Richard Weitz’s Pandemic Parties Surpass $2 Million Raised With Star-Studded Nashville Edition

Six weeks ago with the coronavirus shutdown already in full effect, WME partner Richard Weitz celebrated his daughter Demi’s 17th birthday with a virtual party with guests including as LL Cool J.

The event proved so popular, Weitz and his daughter knew they were on to something and turned their Zoom party, dubbed RWQuarantunes, into a nationwide invite-only weekly event with a charitable tie in for COVID-19 relief.

Each subsequent edition has drawn more entertainment industry insiders and big name performers — including Josh Groban, John Mayer, Rick Springfield, Boy George, Michael Bolton and Fantasia — to what has become Friday night’s hottest ticket and the feel-good event of the week.

For last night’s (May 8) pandemic party, Weitz and his daughter turned their sights on Nashville with the CDC Foundation, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Hope Lodge of the American Cancer Society as beneficiaries. By the time the Zoom party closed a staggering five-and-a-half hours after its 7 p.m. CT start, the event had raised more than $375,000, taking the five-week tally to a staggering $2 million plus. An incredulous Demi exclaimed, “The theme for tonight is dreams. I dreamed we would raise $10,000 when we started.”

Weitz opened the Zoom fest, which drew more than 900 attendees, by giving props to Nashville-based manager Ken Levitan, who helped get the ball rolling for the Music City Edition. Among those tuning in were managers Clarence Spalding, Joel Hoffner, Ty Stiklorius and Chris Parr, legendary music exec Clive Davis and Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who addressed the attendees. (Past editions have included Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.)

The evening included performances by Marc Cohn, Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, Jeffrey Osborne, Michael McDonald, Valerie Simpson, Shawn Colvin, The War & Treaty, Johnny Gill, Ryan Tedder, Yola, Jake Owen, Rita Wilson and Dan Wilson, many of whom stayed on throughout the event to mingle and praise their colleagues’ performances. The event was indisputably live, with occasional technical glitches, delays and people forgetting to turn off their mics, but that’s what made it so human at a time when everyone is seeking connection.

Among the most memorable moments:

The stories behind the songs: Many of the performers told the backstories behind creating their most famous hits, including Cohn on “Walking in Memphis,” McDonald with “Takin’ It to the Streets,” Tedder on “I Live,” Dan Wilson on “Closing Time,” and Rucker on “Let Her Cry,” which was inspired by the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels” and originally written for Bonnie Raitt.

Geeking out: Often after an act finished, another artist would unmute and chime in to praise the performance or just shower some love, including McDonald, who famously recorded Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Or sometimes, they offered an observation. After Dan Wilson showed how many of his songs are based on the same chord progressions at “The Christmas Song” and “Bali Hai,” including Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” Jimmy Jam excitedly asked about the major seventh chord Wilson uses, and suggested that Weitz plan a special songwriter edition of RWQuarantunes. Jam also shouted out to McDonald, recalling the duet between McDonald and Chaka Khan he produced on her 2008 Grammy-winning project Funk This. “When all this ends, I’ve got to get in a room with you at some point,” Jam said. Similarly, Rucker good-naturedly chided Tedder, asking him why he’d been eluding him. Tedder answered, “I gave you my number during the Bush administration!” before adding that he was writing a lot of country songs right now. The two made plans to discuss further.

Star-making performances: In an evening full of notable performances, two relative newcomers stole the show and made connections that will serve them long past the evening, given the high-powered executives watching on Zoom. The War & Treaty’s Michael and Tanya Trotter literally had jaws dropping during their stirring performance of “Long Dark Road,” which garnered them an opening slot on a Rucker show in the future. Yola’s gorgeous “Far Away Look” left Davis “knocked out.” He added, “Right now, when hip-hop is dominating, we’ve all got to make sure that voices like yours, in the tradition of Aretha and the tradition of Whitney, have got to be heard.”

The personal stories: One of most moving moments of the night occurred when Osborne, who had performed at last week’s event, talked emotionally about the death of his manager of 39 years, Jack Nelson, from COVID-19 days earlier. “He passed a week ago,” Osborne said. “He fought hard, but he couldn’t fight through the battle.” Though clearly in mourning, Osborne wanted to return Friday night in part because the evening was raising money for Vanderbilt’s medical center, which is where his manager had received care.

Nashville really is Music City: While there was a smattering of country music during the evening, including Bryan, Rucker and Jake Owen, the event really showed the breadth of Nashville’s music talent, including Lauren Patton, star of Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill, who performed a passionate “You Oughta Know,” as well as McDonald, Yola and War & Treaty.

Jake Gyllenhaal Sings ‘A Love Song for Quarantine’ in Viral Monologue Series

As part of its viral monologue series, The 24 Hour Plays released a bonus track on Friday (May 8) featuring Jake Gyllenhaal.

In the clip, the actor sings a musical piece written especially for him by Broadway composer Jeanine Tesori and playwright David Lindsay-Abaire.

Titled “Across the Way,” the tune dropped on Instagram and was described in the caption as “a love song in the age of quarantine.” In the accompanying musical video clip, Gyllenhaal sits facing the camera in an orange T-shirt.

The song includes lyrics such as “Day 32, I washed my hands, you made a cornish hen. Day 36 you sewed a mask, I washed my hands again.”

The four-and-a-half minute piece was written and recorded in a 24-hour period, per the social distancing instructions of the series. The artistic endeavor was launched in March as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, and involves a host of participating actors such as David Cross, Patrick Wilson and Rachel Dratch.

View the clip below and more information about the viral monologue series here.

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.

Taylor Swift Checks In With Cute ‘Caturday’ Photo

It’s just another crazy “caturday” for Taylor Swift in quarantine.

Swift, who’s been popping in with casual updates from home on social media recently, added a meme-ready photo of one of her cats, Olivia Benson, stretching out and looking ready for takeoff on her Instagram stories Saturday (May 9).

“In her mind she is zoomin through space and I love that for her,” she captioned the snapshot, along with the appropriate hashtag #caturday.

Eagle-eyed Swifties were quick to point out that the mat that is partially obscured in the picture is likely this oh-so-fitting “I HOPE YOU LIKE CATS” doormat.

Catch up with Swift’s Instagram updates and see her latest story saved in a fan tweet below.

Demi Lovato & Max Ehrich Share Romantic Kiss Dancing to ‘Stuck With U’: Watch

Demi Lovato and Max Ehrich let everyone in on an especially lovey-dovey moment inspired by Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande’s “Stuck With U.”

The apparent couple shared a video showing a romantic slow dance — and some smooching — together in a starlit room Friday night (May 8).

“Happy to be a part of something so special right now,” Lovato gushed. “Like really REALLY happy if you can’t tell… #stuckwithu.”

“my whole heart. #stuckwithu,” Ehrich wrote on his own Instagram, where he posted the same sweet video.

A short clip of their endearing dance made it into Bieber and Grande’s actual “Stuck With U” video — one of many celebrity cameos in the star-studded project, which is benefiting the First Responders Children’s Foundation.

Watch the couple’s dance below.

Little Richard Never Won a Grammy, But He Brought Down the House at the 1988 Grammy Awards

Little Richard never won a Grammy in competition, but he provided one of the most memorable moments at the 30th annual Grammy Awards, held on March 2, 1988 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

That was a strong Grammy show to begin with. It was the year Michael Jackson gave one of the most captivating performances in Grammy history, and U2 won album of the year for the first time.

Little Richard and David Johansen, former leader of the New York Dolls (who recorded solo as Buster Poindexter), walked onstage to present the award for best new artist. Richard pointed out that Johansen’s hair was styled in a pompadour nearly identical to one that Richard had made famous in the ’50s. “I used to wear my hair like that. They take everything I get — they take it from me.”

That led into a hilarious, if also somewhat cutting, bit playing on the fact that Richard had not gotten his due at the Grammys and other award shows. The routine began when Richard held the envelope and said, “And the best new artist is — me!”

As the audience laughed, he said, “I have never received nothing. Y’all ain’t never gave me no Grammy and I been singing for years. I am the architect of rock ‘n’ roll and they never gave me nothing. And I am the originator!” By now, the audience was on its feet, showing Richard the respect he had not formally gotten from the academy. Richard returned to the envelope and said “and the winner is…still me!”

And there was this: “Being a brown Jew from Georgia, I had to tell the truth.”

Richard’s tone was genial and good-natured, but you can bet that it reflected a genuine sense on his part that his role as a rock’n’roll pioneer had been under-appreciated.

After Richard left the stage, Billy Crystal, who was hosting for the second year in a row, mined the bit, particularly the line “being a brown Jew from Georgia.” Crystal joked that Richard would be releasing new versions of his old hits– “Long Tall Shirley,” “Good Golly Miss Molly Goldberg” and “Tutti Frutti, So Sue Me.”

There are two main reasons that Richard never won a Grammy — and, in fact, was never even nominated. First and most importantly, many of his classic hits (including “Tutti-Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally”) were released before the 1958 inception of the Grammy Awards. Second, the Grammys had little appreciation for rock ‘n’ roll in their first decade of existence. Richard’s 1958 hit “Good Golly, Miss Molly” was eligible at the first Grammy Awards, but the voters of that era were more into easy-listening trifles like Domenico Modugno’s “Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu (Volare),” which won record and song of the year that first year.

The Grammys have sought to make amends to Richard — and other early rock ‘n’ roll artists who they shunned. Richard received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 1993. Four of his recordings have been voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame — “Tutti-Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille” and the 1957 greatest hits album Here’s Little Richard.

There are two post-scripts to this story. When Richard finally announced the best new artist winner it was Jody Watley, who had had a big pop/R&B crossover hit in 1987 with “Looking For a New Love.” She won despite the fact that she had previously received a Grammy nomination as a member of the popular trio Shalamar. Today, an earlier nomination would disqualify an artist in this category.

And Crystal did such a good job as Grammy host, he was asked back the following year as well — before he moved on to an even bigger awards show stage. He would ultimately host the Oscars nine times.