Campus & Community

Crystal Sparkles

5 min read
Billy Crystal gazes coyly at Harvard student Brian Smith ’02 (left) as mermaid Lano Williams ’00 looks demurely on. Photo by Jon Chase.

When the quintessential master of ceremonies took the stage to accept the Pudding Pot at the Hasty Pudding Theatre on Thursday night, he got exactly what he bargained for.

Six-time Academy Awards show host Billy Crystal was cajoled into roping a mock cow, expressing his feelings for a pig, and acting out the calf-birthing scene from City Slickers, before being honored with the Man of the Year award from the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. Emcees Daniel Bress ’01 and Bruce Haggerty ’00 kept the comedian on his toes during the roast, making repeated references to some of Crystal’s lesser roles, as an airline steward in the highly forgettable made-for-television movie SST: Death Flight, and as the world’s first pregnant man in Rabbit Test. The festivities ended in time-honored Hasty Pudding fashion, with Crystal festooned in a silver sequined bra and brunette wig.

The Man of the Year, flanked by Bruce Haggerty ’00 (left) and Daniel Bress ’01, clenches the Hasty Pudding pot in his teeth. Photo by Jon Chase.

Not that Crystal minded any of this. As he told reporters later, “It took me two seconds to say ‘yes’” when asked to come to Harvard for the ceremony. Several of Crystal’s friends, including Robin Williams and Mel Gibson, have been honored by Hasty Pudding in previous years, and Crystal said he was beginning to wonder “Why not me?”

Crystal displayed his enthusiasm during the ceremony by parading around onstage with the Pudding Pot swinging from his mouth, curtseying before the audience, and posing for photographers, accompanied by two very tall cross-dressing actors. “This is how I started in the business,” Crystal joked later, “so it really wasn’t all that bad . . . I was expecting worse.”

The audience roared its approval, and the feeling was mutual. “I was thrilled by the reaction from the audience and the students,” Crystal said, “I love the spirit and the energy” of the event. “I’m so happy to be the guy holding the pot, and not getting arrested for it!”

City slicker Crystal puts his foot on Harvard senior Bryan Leach after roping him during an onstage routine. Photo by Jon Chase

The comedian brought his wife Janice and daughter Lindsay along to share in the festivities. Early in the day they toured the campus. Later, in the afternoon, wife and daughter watched as Crystal hosted an hour-long question-and-answer session with Hasty Pudding club members in the Crocodile Room at the Hasty Pudding Theatre. Crystal was presented with several gifts from the club, including a baseball bat, an autographed baseball, and a crimson Harvard sweatshirt. “What would you give me if I wore this on the Oscars?” Crystal quipped.

Crystal will host his seventh Academy Awards show in Los Angeles on March 26, and he admits the program is always a difficult assignment. “I always feel the pressure to do well,” he said, “That’s what makes it so interesting for me.” Crystal has no predictions on this year’s Oscar winners, saying only that there are “a lot of good movies out there, but no clear-cut favorites…and that makes it difficult.” The ceremony is being held on a Sunday this year, as opposed to Monday, which has been the tradition in years past. Crystal says that change may take away from the energy of the broadcast, since he enjoys the thought of people “rushing home from work to watch the show.”

A cringing Crystal’s discomfiture is enjoyed by a group of Pudding luminaries. Photo by Rose Lincoln.

As far as future projects are concerned, Crystal is setting his sights on a possible one-man show, something that is “more theatrical with a lot of characters.” Despite his box-office success with such motion pictures as When Harry Met Sally and Analyze This, Crystal says he loves performing live, as he did for one season on Saturday Night Live, calling it the “best juice of all.” For now, however, Crystal admits he’s still trying to overcome his fear of diving headfirst into such an all-encompassing project, saying that he’ll “know when it’s the right time.”

Crystal’s timing was impeccable Thursday night, which also marked the opening performance for The Jewel of Denial, the 152nd production of Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the longest continuous-running theater company in North America. The show, which tells the fictitious tale of the search for the world’s most valuable gem, will run through March 19th at the Hasty Pudding Theatre. Tickets are available through the box office at 12 Holyoke Street or by phone at (617) 495-5205. Two shows are also planned for March 24and 25 at the Morris Haft Auditorium in New York City, and five shows are planned for Bermuda, March 29 through April 3.