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Arts and Entertainment

Oscars Telecast Producer Compares Best Picture Chaos To The Hindenburg Disaster

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Michael De Luca, the veteran film producer behind this year's Oscars telecast, has broken his silence on the Great Best Picture Fiasco Of 2017 in an exclusive interview with KCRW's The Business radio show, excerpts of which appeared in The Hollywood Reporter this morning.

De Luca, according to The Hollywood Reporter, was just cracking open his third Diet Coke of the night when all hell broke loose. "It was like the Hindenburg report. I literally heard, 'Oh my God! He got the wrong envelope!' And then it was slow motion. You perceive things slowly as the adrenaline rises and the cortisol floods your system," he said.In 1937, the German Hindenburg airship suddenly burst into flames while attempting to land at a naval air station in New Jersey. The incident resulted in the deaths of 35 passengers and crewmembers (one worker on the ground was also killed). The report De Luca is referring to is that of Chicago radio journalist Herbert Morrison, who recorded a famously stunned play-by-play during the disaster, as remembered in the Chicago Tribune:

His very human reaction to the tragedy would become one of the most famous news radio broadcasts of all time: "It's burst into flames. ... Get out of the way, please; oh my, this is terrible. ... It is burning. ... This is one of the worst catastrophes in the world ... oh, the humanity!" Morrison chokes up and sounds like he is sobbing. At times, he apologizes to listeners and falls into stunned silence, only to return moments later to describe more of the scene.

However, unlike the Oscars telecast (and contrary to popular belief!) Morrison's dramatic reaction wasn't actually aired live, but rather recorded for later airplay and broadcast the next day. Still, asNPR affiliate WSHU explained, "the Hindenburg disaster is attributed as being the first time that something of this nature and magnitude occurred live and unplanned while a radio reporter was on the scene."

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De Luca was next to fellow producer Jennifer Todd at the time, seated at the backstage producers' table where they watched the telecast. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs rushed back stage with Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and De Luca went to grab his wife and kids from the theater to bring them backstage to the production office.

"By the time I went back to the green room, Dawn was already in midconversation with the players, just trying to figure out what happened. Everyone was a little shaken. Everybody looked white-faced and the blood was just drained from [them]," he told the Hollywood Reporter, who also reported that both women were furious that no one stepped up to accept the blame sooner, with it instead piling up on presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway:

In the immediate aftermath of the event, much to Boone Isaacs' and Hudson's fury, nobody was prepared to accept blame, which instead seemed to accrue to Beatty and Dunaway. Beatty himself seemed upset in an email to THR two days after the show: "Rather than for me to respond to questions from the press about the Academy ceremony," he wrote, "I feel it would be more appropriate for the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, to publicly clarify what happened as soon as possible."

In what is now starting to feel uncannily like a chapter from Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, the blame for the historic Hollywood event now seems to be falling squarely on the shoulders of PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Brian Cullinan, who the Reporter describes as a "Harley-riding Malibu resident and self-proclaimed Damon look-alike (he has proudly announced that on Facebook)."

Cullinan was responsible for handing Beatty the wrong envelope, as well as engaging in some backstage tweeting mere minutes before the mishap. It later emerged that he had been expressly banned from tweeting during the telecast (he put up a picture of Emma Stone about five minutes before handing Beatty the wrong envelope).

On Tuesday morning, Variety published backstage photos that show Cullinan looking at his phone and "mixing two red envelopes" in the buildup to the chaos:

Related: A Frame-By-Frame Breakdown Of The Two-And-A-Half Minutes When 'La La Land' Was Best Picture