Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

All on Eyes on Ellen: Our Favorite Trailblazer Already Has America at Her Feet-And Now, as the First Openly Gay Host of the Academy Awards, Ellen DeGeneres Is Ready to Win Hearts All over the World

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

All on Eyes on Ellen: Our Favorite Trailblazer Already Has America at Her Feet-And Now, as the First Openly Gay Host of the Academy Awards, Ellen DeGeneres Is Ready to Win Hearts All over the World

Article excerpt

It should come as no surprise that Ellen DeGeneres is hosting the 79th annual Academy Awards. How could she not? With her warm. welcoming vibe and unparalleled comic timing, she's probably the best performer alive for the job But the occasion is no less momentous for that.

Think of it: On February 25, on televisions around the globe, a handsome, out American lesbian sporting a tuxedo will be the face of the Oscars, the mother of all awards shows, the biggest night in the entertainment universe. And Ellen will be making history--again.

DeGeneres is the 66th performer to host the Academy Awards, and only the second woman to host solo. There's a reason that group is so small. "The show is L-I-V-E, and there's no two ways about it," says Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "It doesn't mean it's live minus an hour, it means it's live."

Live is what Ellen DeGeneres does best. Remember her knockout performance as host of the 2001 Emmy Awards? (Another historic first: out lesbian, tux, etc.) TV's big awards night had been canceled in the wake of September 11 and, amid fears of both bad taste and further violence, canceled again. Third time around, DeGeneres got the green light, took the stage, and gave America some much-needed communal laughs. Her send-up of Bjork's outrageous swan dress, which had been the talk of the 2001 Oscars, got gender into the joke. Striding onstage bare-legged, DeGeneres seemed to be saying, See how silly it would be for me to come out here in a dress? Even more to the point was her thank-you to CBS head Leslie Moonves, who was seated in the audience, for choosing her to host: "What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?"

Famous as she was then, we didn't know her as we do now. Since 2001, DeGeneres has logged at least 1,000 hours of TV time--and won 15 Daytime Emmys--with a daily talk show that industry watchers once snickered at, predicting it would never get off the ground. Now The Ellen DeGeneres Show is one of TV's true powerhouses, and Ellen herself, having long ago transcended gay fame, is closing in on Oprah fame.

No other performer has so successfully conquered Main Street America while living an authentic gay life. At 49, happily coupled with Portia de Rossi, DeGeneres is sharper than ever at her craft, and while she has always had an abundance of all-American good looks, she's become quite beautiful--leaner, sexier, more extraordinary--a simply smashing woman. DeGeneres has found her inner Cary Grant at the exact moment America has come around to embracing him. Or maybe DeGeneres just charmed America until all resistance crumbled.

What has propelled her to excel in so many ways, to log so many firsts as an entertainer and a person? "A strong belief that there are no limitations and that I can accomplish anything," the star says. "I have always felt like if I set my mind to it, it can happen."

She set her mind to hosting the Oscars long ago. "That was a goal I had from the beginning of my career," DeGeneres explains. "I wanted to be the first woman comedian that Johnny Carson invited over to the couch and that happened, and I've achieved other goals, but this is one of the biggest."

Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that Ganis and producer Laura Ziskin decided the 79th Academy Awards hosting gig had DeGeneres's name on it. "This was the time, this was the year," says Ganis. "Ellen has gotten to a place now where audiences know her, not a character she's playing. Audiences adore her. And I think that's enduring. It gets down to 'This is who I am,' and as she portrays who she is to the audience, they just eat her up. They love her more and more."

So do we.

How long did it take you to say to yourself, "Wow, I'm the first gay woman to host the Oscars"?

I didn't really think of it that way. I'm excited just as a woman, as a human being. …

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