GOOD MORNING AND CONGRATS OSCAR WINNERS: Everyone was pleased with the move of the Academy Awards to Hollywood’s Kodak Theater — at least, that’s what they said when I interviewed them as they arrived at my platform on the red carpet. They also seemed pleased judging by their repeated standing ovations, certainly a record for any Oscar show I’ve covered — since 1946! There were complaints long before the Oscars that the Kodak Theater had sound problems, and we were repeatedly informed that the Academy was bringing in their own sound folk and assured this problem would be solved. Unfortunately, that was not totally true. As many around me in the parterre section of the theater said, Tom Cruise, at the start, was barely audible. And throughout, depending on where the performers spoke — in other words, where their mics were located — the sound was iffy. Glenn Close and Donald Sutherland backstage, for example, were loud and clear … The first ovation was an early one for an Oscar show: It was for Woody Allen. They followed to the Cirque du Soleil and to John Williams — who only last week received an ovation at the Shrine, where he conducted the “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” return live. Sidney Poitier received two ovations, one at his introduction and another on completion of his remarks. I have seen a lot of standing ovations at the Oscars, for Charlie Chaplin, Ingrid Bergman, etc., but never one as long and heartfelt as the one for Poitier. Randy Newman also received a standing ovation, for his win, and of course Robert Redford got one after his introduction by Barbra Streisand. But Halle Berry’s reception took on added meanings, as she outdid both the emotional Sally Field and the lengthy Greer Garson when each of those ladies won their Oscars. Berry’s acceptance was one really for the memory book … The ovation parade continued for best actor Denzel Washington, director Ron Howard and the final award, to best picture “A Beautiful Mind” … You can’t blame the audience for being emotional, but you also can’t blame them for wanting to stand up once in a while during this marathon! Oscarcast producer Laura Ziskin displayed tremendous showmanship in the presentation, but she also learned that the show must go off … Host Whoopi Goldberg (and her writers) missed no opportunity to remind the audience this is an industry event with her repeated references to subjects totally strange to the television audience at large, like the Weinsteins, CAA, etc. Then there was Whoopi’s reference to the marvels of “Moulin Rouge,” which she said was “obviously made without a director,” referring to the fact that Baz Luhrmann wasn’t Oscar-nominated. This stuff goes over big at every Academy Awards … The industry audience was happy to see Ryan O’Neal as a presenter with Ali MacGraw, since most know he has a major health problem. The community also was pleased with the Jean Hersholt Award to Arthur Hiller … Once again, monitors in these giant halls proved invaluable. It is impossible from any but the very closest seats to appreciate the true talents of performers, particularly those delivering the nominated songs … One of my more difficult tasks on my red-carpet stand was to explain my admiration to John Nash, who, while most polite, was obviously overwhelmed by the giant Hollywood procession for the 74th Academy Awards on Hollywood Boulevard. The fans in the stands, by the way, voted as their favorite actor and actress Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. But, as we all know, the real winners were Washington and Berry.
THE OSCARS ARE NOT married to the Kodak Theater in the Hollywood & Highland complex. I got this word from both current Acad president Frank Pierson and his predecessor, Bob Rehme, as the curtain was readying to rise for the first Oscarcast from the Kodak. Pierson said the theater’s sound “was not adequate” and had to be replaced “with our own,” and added if the rest of the venue did not live up to expectations, “We would again talk to the Shrine and the Dorothy Chandler.” He was, however, totally impressed by the way the show — his first as Acad president — came together under producer Laura Ziskin. “It was amazing to see so many people trying to find a way as fast as you can to spend millions of dollars!” And he laughingly admitted that he tried “to stay out of everyone’s way.” He had quick-tripped up to Toronto last week and returned Friday after setting personnel for his Showtime pic “Soldier’s Girl,” a romantic drama set in 1996. He was comfortable with the care that had been taken to secure the site for the Oscars. “We learned from the (Winter) Olympics,” he added. As for past president Rehme’s thoughts about the future site of the Oscars, he assured me that although there was a “20-year” pact with the Kodak, the Acad had rights to go elsewhere — like back to the Shrine or Music Center. And he was confident that if the Shrine does complete its planned renovation — seats, toilets, etc. — that the huge hall would be attractive for a return engagement. His sentiments were repeated by another former Acad president, Fay Kanin, who was seated with the Rehmes at a special occasion honoring another past Academy president: Karl Malden. It was Malden’s 90th birthday and he was surprise birthday-partied by Dan Tana at Tana’s landmark eatery in West Hollywood. Malden and Tana are “more than friends,” Malden said: “He is my brother.” Sadly, Malden was not able to attend the Oscars; he has an eye problem. His wife, Mona, and granddaughter Kami represented him. Malden, in addition to being an ex-prez of the Academy, is an Oscar winner for “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1961). At his party, the Academy’s Bruce Davis recalled Malden’s tenure: “He always showed up for meetings hours before anyone!” Among the many longtime friends toasting him: Edie and Lew Wasserman, Malden’s longtime agent Mike Zimring, Robert Wise, Norman Lloyd, Hal Kanter and Brad Dexter, who co-starred with Malden in “Winged Victory” in 1944. Tana also produced the feature “Twilight Zone” starring Malden — they shot it in their ancestral Yugoslavia. Tana, who never before opened his restaurant for lunch, prepared a typical Serb menu for Malden’s 90th. It was an afternoon of many movie memories and past Academy Awards.
TALK ABOUT THE LACK OF SEATS for Academy members continues each year. And this year, Jonathan Dolgen came up with this suggestion. Since the Oscars are at the Kodak, which is next-door to the newly refurbished and glamorous Grauman Chinese Theater, Dolgen suggested the awards ceremony be close-circuited from the next-door Kodak to the Chinese for the hundreds of Acad members who didn’t make the cut to get ducats to the live show. Mebbe next year? Dolgen was among the elite at Ed Limato’s annual dinner “and celebration” of the Academy Awards at his showplace home. Limato’s invitation specified “Dress: Casual chic” and no one more personified it than Limato — as always, barefoot. Among the “chic-est” of the glamour brigade on hand was Donatella Versace. A palatial tent on Limato’s grounds was the setting for dinner (Along Came Mary), which followed the de rigueur schmoozing in the main house. Tom Hanks, before last night’s best picture presentation, was talking to his former film partners Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Hanks, fresh from scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio (“Catch Me If You Can”), and Grazer, from work on the DVDs of “A Beautiful Mind” and “Splash” (with Hanks in 1984). Howard, with no definite start on any pic, continues to prep “The Alamo.” John Frankenheimer was talking about his next, the prequel to “The Exorcist,” in which Liam Neeson will play a young Father Merrin (Max von Sydow). Sidney Poitier was getting congrats from all in advance of last night’s standing ovation. He and his “In the Heat of the Night” director Norman Jewison were reminiscing. Poitier told me he’s working on his “final” book, but it will take 3½ years to complete. Among the nominees at Limato’s, Sissy Spacek was telling friends she’d been having such a good time pre-Oscars, “I don’t have to win.” Others on hand were Winona Ryder and a very exuberant Don Rickles, with a rare night off, reminding Frankenheimer of his dramatic credits. A quick look around the room and chats with: Diana Ross, as glamorous as ever, Alan Ladd Jr., Joel Silver, Mace Neufeld, Arnold Kopelson, Harvey Weinstein, Bernie Brillstein, Anjelica Huston and Robert Graham. Limato continues to exude the same enthusiasm for the biz as a kid.
LEST ANYONE SHOULD MISS OUT on getting congrats Sunday night, parties on Saturday night gave the nominees ample opportunity to be congratulated, toasted, hugged, kissed, complimented and, of course, kidded in the rounds of lavish celebrations. The “kidding” came as usual with the parodied but star-laden Miramax bash, this year at the Mondrian in lieu of its usual Beverly Wilshire Hotel site. Ah, remember the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” The Sunset Strip on a Saturday night is not exactly the place to try to hold an intimate affair for a few hundred pals. But it was the launching pad for the next Saturday night “celebration” — this one high atop Beverly Hills in the aerie of the Bob Shayes, where they and Michael Lynne hosted their tribute to the talent of “The Lord of the Rings” as well as “I Am Sam.” The adult filmmakers were joined by “Sam’s” remarkable youngster Dakota Fanning who had recently savored the fame as a SAG nominee.
NEXT, DOWN TO THE FLATS OF BEVERLY HILLS to its most famous foodery, Spago, where Universal and DreamWorks’ party was so huge that a long line of would-be partygoers waited outside for fire department clearance and the departure of some guests so they could get in! Wolfgang Puck personally supervised the menus — in the kitchen with his helpers — at the Shayes’, and then made his way to do ditto duties in the kitchen of Spago. A most remarkable man — and crew. The menus were lavish and delicious. Another deserving credit for the successes of getting the high-priced guests from/to the parties was Chuck Pick’s parking, winding cars through the hills of Beverly for Limato as well as the Shayes.
AS THE HOURS DWINDLED down pre-Oscars, I met another interested observer at the Kodak Theater — the Shrine Auditorium’s general manager, S. Douglas Worthington. He complimented the site, but reminded me the Shrine starts its $6 million renovation in June. Stay tuned.