Celebratory mood infectious on historical night

With the telecast running four hours and 21 minutes, there have been few times in Oscar history when the audience was so primed for the Governors Ball. The black-tie masses might not have been huddled, but they were yearning to breathe free.

“Lots of Hollywood marriages don’t last that long,” Miramax’s Mark Gill said as he exited the Kodak Theater.

Producer Laura Ziskin acknowledged the show’s length but pointed out, “There were seven standing ovations. But who’s counting?”

Arriving at the same time as Ziskin was writer Bruce Vilanch, who said the only problem he encountered was “lots of coffee and not enough bathrooms backstage — a lethal combination in a four-hour show.”

Most comments about the new hall were positive. One industryite’s remark — “The seats were great. I just couldn’t sit in them for four hours” — was the norm.

Nominee David Lynch said he thought the Kodak was “fantastic,” but complained, “Smokers were shunted off to a low-class area and made to feel like criminals.”

Tom Sherak thought the Kodak was “a beautiful venue,” but added he “wished more Academy members were able to attend, as they can at the Shrine.”

There were surprisingly few comments about the Oscars being held in a mall. Maybe the crowd was just so hungry by the time they got to the ball (co-chaired by Alan Bergman and Cheryl Boone Isaacs), but the subject rarely came up.

“It’s too soon to tell” whether the Kodak will be Oscar’s permanent home, according to Saul Zaentz, who downplayed the mall aspect. “Once you’re inside, you don’t know where you are. You could be anywhere.”

The ball itself got off to a rocky start when electrical problems played havoc with the complex lighting that’s an essential element of the ballroom’s decor, created by Sequoia Prods.’ Cheryl Checchetto.

First the room went dark and was lit only by candles (that wasn’t so bad), then the ceiling lights flooded the room with bright, incandescent light (that was bad), then the lights went on and off until the problem was solved, probably by unplugging the outside heat lamps.

Ironically, Vanity Fair’s party at Mortons also was plagued by electrical problems.

The joke that “the Vanity Fair Oscar party packed so much star wattage that the power went out” started making the rounds just moments after the lights blinked off at 1:30 a.m., putting a premature cap on the mag’s annual soiree.

“Nobody panicked,” magazine rep Beth Kseniak marveled. “Immediately, security guards were shining their flashlights around so it wasn’t pitch black.”

The evening offered plenty of illuminating conversational couplings: George Lucas looking up at Nicole Kidman, Paramount topper Sherry Lansing emoting with Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer chatting up Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks conferring with Edward Burns and Robert Duvall talking arts and crafts with painter-director Julian Schnabel.

Over dinner, 170 guests at Mortons didn’t seem to mind the record length of the show, especially during Halle Berry’s speech, which acknowledged guests Winfrey, Angela Bassett and Vivica A. Fox. Winfrey stood and cried along with Berry.

“The level of emotion was a throwback to old Oscar ceremonies,” Lansing said. “It started with Sidney Poitier and just went on from there.”

When the main event went dark, the electricity was just starting to flow at the Hollywood Hills bash thrown by DreamWorks production prexy Michael De Luca and Endeavor percenter Patrick Whitesell.

In a glass-walled manse high atop Sunset Plaza Drive, the bold and the beautiful feasted on breakfast food and partied until the panoramic view grew rosy at dawn. Among those populating the dance floor — not to mention the serpentine limo line — were Tyra Banks, Jay-Z, Sean Combs, Janet Jackson, Mark Wahlberg, Tobey Maguire, Ben Stiller, Cuba Gooding Jr., Patricia Arquette, Ray Liotta, Chris Kattan and Neve Campbell.

Down the block from Mortons at the Elton John/InStyle AIDS benefit, Sir Elton was promising the 1,000 guests at Moomba that his band was “gonna blow away those old farts over at Vanity Fair.”

While John was taking a more aggressive stance in the party wars, InStyle mag’s incoming managing editor Charla Lawhon was being diplomatic. “There’s room for everyone,” she said. “He’s very passionate, and it’s for an incredibly good cause.”

Lawhon was pleased with the eclectic crowd, which included Kevin Spacey (having his picture taken with Olympic gold medalist Derek Parra), Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, the Backstreet Boys, Olympic gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno, Melissa Joan Hart, Jane Kaczmarek and Bradley Whitford, Eric McCormack, Denzel Washington andJanet Reno.

Lawhon said she was “very pleased with the way things are going. It’s a very personal night for me. It’s our sixth year doing this, we want to support Elton.”

Other Oscar-night parties included DreamWorks, Universal and USA Films celebrating together at Twist in the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel; New Line at Maple Drive; Amnesty Intl. at Ago; and the Night of the 100 Stars at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

In New York the Academy’s official viewing party was at Le Cirque 2000 and Entertainment Weekly’s fiesta was at Elaine’s.

(Shalini Dore contributed to this report.)

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