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GOOD MORNING: As I arrived at the BevHilton Monday for the 24th annual nominees luncheon, I was blinded by a battalion of flashing cameras. The reason: I entered the hotel simultaneously with nominee Annette Bening escorted by her husband, Warren Beatty. In December, we stood and talked like this before — but then, it was Beatty being feted as one of the Kennedy Center Honorees at the White House, while Annette was standing alongside, mostly tending to their four children with them. On Monday, it was Warren who was standing alongside his wife, a nominee as actress in a leading role for “Being Julia” and Warren was trying to be the background. “You two will have to do something together,” I suggested. She smiled and said, “We have to do that.” When I asked Warren for his input, he smiled and said, “We do that every night.” I thought it was time to change the subject so I asked Warren whether he’d seen “The Aviator,” since I’d been asking Beatty about the progress of his Howard Hughes project forever. “Yes,” he said, he’d seen Martin Scorsese’s Leonardo DiCaprio starrer. Any opinion? Beatty, never to be cornered for/by anything, smiled, “We’ll have to have a long talk.” I knew it meant a long wait. I continued into the Ballroom to seek answers, hopefully to other questions.

ACADEMY PRESIDENT FRANK PIERSON headed the greeting line where all nominees had a chance to get their pic taken with him. Between arrivees, I asked his take on this year’s Oscars and the preceding array of award shows and winners. “They’ve been trying to imitate us for years,” he acknowledged, “but this year we’ll give them something different.” When I tried to get him to reveal what would be “different” the Acad’s Bruce Davis noted, for starters, that the host is Chris Rock and that he will make a difference in getting an audience … Rock was warmly engaged in conversation with double nominee Jamie Foxx (“Ray” and “Collateral”); Chris assured Foxx he needn’t worry about being barbed by his monologue. But Rock wouldn’t promise safety for others on the show, while telling nominee Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) that he might do extra duty by entertaining the audience in the Kodak theater during the deadly, boring commercial breaks … “Ray” director Taylor Hackford said he has three films in the works and positively would not have to wait 13 years (as he had for “Ray”) to start another. Yes, he and Foxx will definitely reteam: “We’re a partnership.” Foxx told me that during production of “Ray,” he tried to launch “Damage Control” with Hackford, but it’s now gone to Universal with Michael Mann directing him as an attorney who defends sports figures … DreamWorks Animation chief Bill Damaschke (“Shark Tale”) told me work is well along on “Shrek 3” to hit the screens in ’07 … Oscar show producer Gil Cates, decrying the fact he’s lost four work weeks preparation for the Oscar show because of its early date, promised me one thing: “It will positively come in under 3½ hours.”

NEXT AWARDS SHOW in L.A. is the Grammys Sunday and Pierre Cossette says this, his 35th, will be his last. Cossette, who got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Monday, was inducted by pals Don Rickles and Bob Newhart (and Johnny Grant, natch). The Newhart-Rickles team was among the many at Cossette’s Super Bowl bash, which took over Spago where guests served ’emselves with hamburgers, chili, desserts, etc., as they paraded through Spago’s kitchen. Wolfgang Puck didn’t even wear an apron for this menu; chef de cuisine Thomas Boyce was in charge. Wolfie and Gelila Assefa explained they were leaving the party a little early as Gelila is expecting their baby in July … Oscar-nominated guests at this Super Bowl bash included Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen, well as past winners Sidney Poitier and Red Buttons … Dr. Gary Gitnick, no stranger to the showbiz community, and his wife, Cherna, hosted a Super Bowl party at their home, where guests included Revolution’s Tom Sherak, Rick Rosner, Sandy Climan, Rob Fox, Charles Fox, Tawny Little. Civilian guests included L.A. mayoral candidates; Gitnick told me he’d invited them to talk (as they did at half time) on education (no campaigning) to help his Fulfillment Fund efforts … Triple Oscar-winning songwriter Ray Evans was toasted on his 90th birthday with a lavish, love-filled party at Hillcrest hosted by Joan and Fred Nicholas. The inimitable Corky Hale accompanied the entire show of those performing Evans’ and partner Jay Livingston’s (died Oct. 17, 2001) tunes: Melissa Manchester (“Never Let Me Go”), Gogi Grant (“Que Sera, Sera”), Byron Motley (“To Each His Own” and “Mona Lisa”) and Arthur Hamilton sang his medley-parody, “Ray, Hurrah, Hurrah.” Evans also intro’d his latest, tune, “Christmas in Brazil.”

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