Showbiz town thrives on awards-day madness

Hollywood spends millions catering to kudos

HOLLYWOOD — For a very few lucky people, Academy Awards night means going home with Oscar. For a few others, it means regret drowned in champagne.

And for a whole lot of other people, it means cold, hard cash.

Hollywood’s biggest night has long been a bonanza for businesses that cater in one way or another to the event, pushing millions of dollars through the Los Angeles economy in an annual ritual for which little or no expense is spared.

Stars and studios figure that, with a good portion of the planet watching, they have no option but to put Hollywood’s best and costliest face forward. After all, there are movies to be sold.

Hence the extraordinary attention paid to how everyone looks — well, the women, anyway — as they sashay down the red carpet and, if they’re blessed, onto the big stage inside. Couturiers, who usually donate the apparel, and jewelers, who hand out baubles on loan, reap the rewards of imitation in the marketplace. There’s even a residual effect on hair stylists.

Hair apparent

“You get photographs taken of your ‘dos — you get noticed and you get new business out of it,” says Beverly Hills hairdresser Anthony Hano, who’s been in the business for 27 years.

For the stars, attaining the right look is crucial, a task that ropes in all manner of highly paid assistance.

“It’s pretty intense,” says Neil Letham, artistic director at the Jose Eber beauty salon on Rodeo Drive. “They’re attending an awards ceremony: They’re sitting with the best-dressed, the best-styled people — no one likes to look like they missed the boat. Not in L.A.”

To immortalize every nuance of silk and lace, an army of photographers will be on hand, some of them having traveled at considerable expense from around the world. The images will be seen again and again in the ensuing months, as magazines and newspapers snap them and publish them for the avid perusal of fans everywhere.

“This is a very important time for photographers, a very aggressive period,” says veteran shooter Lee Salem, referring to Hollywood’s three-month award season. “Nothing else happens during those days. For the celebrity photographer, the paycheck for this time can last for months, with the recycling of the pictures. The fashions are what the magazines like to go back to as secondary stories.”

In addition, photographers may get lucky by snapping stars who, as Salem puts it, “tend to be reclusive when they’re not promoting a movie” and whose only other appearances may be at award shows like the Oscars. “That may be the only time to get them.”

The entire award season gives a yearly kickstart to hundreds of L.A. enterprises.

“We absolutely do more business between January and the end of March,” says Karen Wood, owner of Backstage Creations, which assembles pricey gift bags for presenters and performers at events such as the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the American Music Awards. “That’s definitely when we see the most income generated for our company.”

At Sequoia Prods., which puts on the Governors Ball after both the Emmys and the Oscars, a staff of six balloons to several hundred for the actual events, which involve a combination of militarylike precision, sumptuous surroundings and sycophantic servitude.

Although Wolfgang Puck is catering the Oscar ball, the Sequoia people are organizing almost everything else for the bash, says Yunmi Park, one of the company’s event coordinators.

“We do all the nuts and bolts, from getting two-way radios to finding valets, from figuring out what color lights to what color linens,” Park says. “We do the decor, the sound, the lighting, a gazillion flowers, orchids, trees — you name it. And we’re having fish tanks, with goldfish in them, at all the tables.”

Adrenaline rush

The aura of the Oscars impresses even those who must sweat to make them happen. “It sure is the hottest event in Hollywood,” Park says. “It’s always exciting.”

This year, the Academy Awards will be held for the first time at Hollywood & Highland, an upscale shopping plaza that has become a draw for the once-tawdry district. Although businesses at Hollywood & Highland will be closed March 24, the day of the Oscars — in fact, many of the stores’ windows will be covered altogether — there’s little doubt they will benefit, both before and after, from their proximity to the Academy’s big event.

One of the clearest signs of an award event is an endless parade of black limousines. On Oscar night, about 2,000 limos are pressed into service, renting for $70 or $80 an hour — that’s $10 or $20 more than on a normal night — for a minimum of eight hours, says Roger Hall, an operations manager for Continental Limousine, which, boosted by such largess, has evolved from a single car in 1987 to a fleet of 22 limos.

Even smaller outfits, like Tony’s Limousine, which has just four cars but provides bodyguard service, manage to cash in on the Oscars and related events.

“Generally, the stars are very nice,” says owner Tony Spann. “They know we can guarantee their confidentiality. They have their lives, we have ours. You’ve got to be careful. They can pick up the phone, and one phone call can ruin your life.”

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