Oscar auds get antsy during hit-and-miss show

GOOD MORNING AND CONGRATS OSCAR WINNERS. It seemed like the audience had been waiting all night to give the winning cheers to “Forrest Gump.” And it was a long wait. When the audience in the Shrine Auditorium started to applaud for Tom Hanks when his film clip was still onscreen, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Hanks and the “Gump” gang would be the winners, as it soon followed with Robert Zemeckis and the three producers for best picture, SteveTisch, Wendy Finerman and Steve Starkey … This was the most active theater audience we’ve seen at an Academy Awards in a long time. By active, I mean they were up and out during the commercial breaks in enormous numbers to make their way to the restrooms. It was undoubtedly due to the cold temperature that David Letterman is noted for requiring in his halls … Although the hall was cold, there was no question that the Academy members wanted to and did give David Letterman a very warm welcome when he made his first appearance, and they seemed to want to cheer him on with almost every so-called ad-lib between awards, even though many of them were not particularly funny … Among the moments that did go over with the audience in the Shrine was Jamie Lee Curtis’ arrival by helicopter, although there were a lot of tense moments earlier in the day during rehearsal, when the copter was caught in the wires and everyone held his breath that it would work properly for the show. Jamie Lee was very popular outside in the arrivals, making her way slowly to my stand, and when I asked her what everyone was asking her, she said, “All they want to know is what I’m wearing”… And talking about wearing, I thought the ladies this year wore particularly beautiful gowns and were exquisitely groomed. As for the men, I guess I’ll never get used to no ties at a black-tie affair … Although Letterman used his Top 10 list, it was not hilariously received by the Shrine audience. However, his Stupid Pet Trick was. It had even been planned to lengthen his dog chasing his tail trick if time allowed. As it turned out, of course, there was no time for any more stupid dog tricks. Letterman was also going to give away a car — as a gag, of course — as he had earlier said he was going to try to keep the show to 45 minutes and present a car. It was to go, by the way, to Sally Field as a joke, but the rehearsal proved unfunny and it was scrapped. The highly touted opening number, using interactive scenes and live gimmicks, was not lively with a live crowd at the Shrine … Letterman did — thanks of course to his writers — make ample references to all the “in” Hollywood situations, the Academy and its foibles as well. References to the lack of recognition for “Hoop Dreams” and to DreamWorks were received happily by the audience from its New York visitor.

THE AUDIENCE IN THE THEATER was able to hear winner Martin Landau’s tribute to Bela Lugosi, “wherever you are,” even though he was cut off by the director and producer … The Academy and its presenters used the occasion well to plug the plight of the NEA, and all mentions of it got half the applause at the Shrine. Another victim of the quick changes required because the show was going over in length was Paul Newman, who was not able to announce all the cinematography nominations, as they whizzed by too quickly … The first standing ovation didn’t come until 8:15, for Michelangelo Antonioni, and another hour went by until another one, to Clint Eastwood. But the most emotional moment until “Gump” picked up awards steam was the overpowering in memoriam to so many greats who have died since the last Oscars. Each one’s name brought prolonged applause and it would be hard to say who was missed the most. Let us say they all are. Another warm moment to which the audience responded at the Shrine was Elton John’s dedication of his Oscar to his grandmother, “who sat me down at the piano when I was 3″… The Shrine was a good venue for the show, even though its wide stage was not used to full advantage, except in two of the “Lion King” numbers. Although the Shrine presents good uninterrupted viewing, someone ought to check the seats themselves. I was sitting in one whose springs were poking out, and that gets a little uncomfortable after 3 1/2 hours.

THE SHRINE OR THE MUSIC CENTER? Which hall is the choice — at least for the TV director of the Oscars, Jeff Margolis? “The Shrine is easier in every way,” he said, seated in his control truck juggling the screens and cameras (the same as last year from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion) …”We didn’t have to sweat this year,” Quincy Jones said of himself and pal Clint Eastwood. Jones, of course, was the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award winner and Eastwood, the Thalberg awardee. Jones reminded he once conducted the Oscars and was nominated seven times “and not one win!” He admitted, “It’s too painful.” He and Clint have known each other since 1948, when Eastwood would come into the Seattle ballroom where Jones’ band was playing. “I had no idea he was there at first,” said Jones. “We’ve been friends — and both of us pals of Steve Ross.” Jones, who got theNABOB lifetime achievement award last week in D.C., said, “Every time you get an award (like the Academy’s), people think you’re ready to retire”; but Jones, 62, said, “It’s only the beginning.” He’s now recording “Q’s Juke Joint,” an album of tunes from the ’40s to ’90s, and says, “It’s the most fun I’ve ever worked on.” He was honored Sunday at lunch by Marilyn Bergman and ASCAP at Drai’s with friends on hand, including Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Sidney Poitier, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Jam and Oprah Winfrey (who presented to him Monday) … Miramax was celebrating Sunday at the Jersey Films party, following the “Pulp Fiction” Spirit Awards wins. Jersey’s Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher hosted in the DeVitos’ garden with all their movies’ stars on hand plus exec VP Richard Gladstein (who said Miramax would never move offices into the Disney Studio). The company wound “Sunset Park” last week and starts “Feeling Minnesota” April 17, with Dan Aykroyd and Tuesday Weld joining the cast. Harvey Weinstein said references to Karl Lagerfeld have been “bleeped” from “Pret-a-Porter” in Berlin, “but audiences know what’s being said and they laugh!””Pulp Fiction’s” Ving Rhames heads to London for “Mission Impossible” and says his role’s been changed from villain to hero. He also says it’s anticipated there will be three “MI” features.

THE “FORREST GUMP” NOMINEES were “all loose” at Wendy Finerman and Mark Canton’s party for ’em Saturday night, said Alan Silvestri (nominee for the score of “Forrest”). “Then it all quieted down as the hour approached,” he added , at Sunday’s brunch hosted by Sherry Lansing at home over the weekend for all Paramount’s nominees. Silvestri found a way to relax — he got his pilot’s license in a Cessna 150! … Flying here to the Oscars, Tim Robbins, with nominee Susan Sarandon, was busy writing the script of their next, “Dead Man Walking,” in which she stars with Sean Penn. Tim will direct the drama, which should get people to think about the death penalty. Robbins, you recall, co-stars in “Shawshank Redemption,” also prison-set, for which many believe Robbins, as well as Morgan Freeman, should have received an Oscar nomination.

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