Night Before party to bring in $7.5 mil

Even before the first envelope is opened on Sunday night, Oscar season has a clear winner: The Motion Picture & Television Fund will reap $7.5 million from the fifth annual Night Before party, thought to be the biggest take of any single event in the showbiz arena.

The Night Before caps a frenzied cavalcade of pre-Oscar events that will see honchos scurrying among rock fetes, private soirees, agency-hosted bashes and studio events.

Besides providing a bonanza for caterers, car parkers and hairdressers, some of the parties will raise big bucks for philanthropic causes. The Elton John AIDS Foundation hopes that its Sunday event will outperform last year’s, which netted almost $1.9 million after expenses.

MPTF chief exec Ken Scherer believes the Night Before — set for Saturday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel — has become the largest single event in the Los Angeles area in terms of funds raised, despite the lack of an auction.

Guest list of about 800 includes Oscar nominees in major categories, Night Before host Jeffrey Katzenberg, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Justin Timberlake, Hugh Jackman, Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld and Jennifer Aniston, along with producers, directors, studio executives and lawyers.

Event aims to be low-key. “What Jeffrey’s always wanted to do is to make this like having friends over to his living room and a way of giving back,” Scherer said.

Tickets to the Night Before, started by Katzenberg and Daily Variety in 2003, sold out over the weekend and start at $25,000 for a group of four.

Woodland Hills, Calif.-based MPTF is a vehicle for offering charitable relief for those in the film industry, and it dates back to 1921. The fund currently provides assistance to 100,000 individuals annually through five health centers, a residential retirement community and child-care center, as well as human services and financial assistance.

“More people bug us for Night Before tickets than for the Oscars,” said a studio event planner. “I think it’s because it’s a no-cameras, relaxed event.”

The socializing shifts into high gear tonight, with Al Gore, Hilary Clinton and Van Morrison as the non-Hollywood headliners.

The U.S.-Ireland Alliance’s Oscar Wilde party at the Wilshire Ebell Theater has Al Pacino presenting its annual award to Morrison, who also performs. Sen. Clinton attends fund-raisers at the homes of Haim Saban and JDF Investments founder Sim Farar. And Entertainment Weekly is throwing a party at the home of Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas for Gore and “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Miramax is toasting its “The Queen” and “Venus” nominees at the Sunset Tower hotel. Ebony magazine is holding its party at the Jim Henson studios. Vanity Fair’s annual Amped party at Boulevard 3 features a Macy Gray perf. LA Confidential’s party is at the Skybar. The Motion Picture Pioneer of the Year dinner honors Sony’s Jeff Blake at the Century Plaza.

For the more artistically minded, the Gagosian gallery has skedded an opening reception for the Damien Hirst exhibit that should draw art world heavyweights; Architectural Digest hold its party for art directors at the Century Design Gallery.

Friday night boasts three affairs hosted at agents’ homes: Endeavor’s Ari Emmanuel, CAA’s Bryan Lourd and ICM’s Ed Limato.

While the agents are having parties at their homes Friday, Warners and Fox Searchlight will be holding receptions for their nominees. The studios have pretty much been out of the Oscar-night-party biz for almost a decade. These pre-affairs “when everyone is still a winner” for nominees and their families work well — and they’re a cost-effective alternative to an Oscar-night blowout.

While these affairs are usually modest dinner parties, Fox Searchlight is going a bit further; its do will include a live, mini-version performance of Cirque du Soleil’s watery Vegas show “O” (the private residence where the party will be held has a swimming pool that’s being enhanced for the perf.)

Also this night, the Italian Culture Institute is honoring Ennio Morricone, who’s receiving an honorary Oscar. The German consul general is hosting a dinner for “The Lives of Others.” There’s a dinner party for Jennifer Hudson at the Hollywood Roosevelt. And the Night Before the Night Before party is at the BevWilshire’s Cut eatery, with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill giving a special live perf.

The big evening event on Saturday is the Night Before party, at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Earlier, the Independent Spirit Awards are being presented in Santa Monica, with the IFC throwing a post-party at Shutters. The sound editors present their Golden Reel awards at the BevHilton. Barry Diller and wife Diane von Furstenberg host a luncheon at their home. The Intl. Documentary Assn. hosts its annual DocuDay screenings at the WGA.

Guillermo Arriaga is feted at an early evening reception in West Hollywood. And the Society of Composers & Lyricists have their annual reception at a member’s BevHills home for the music nominees.

Giorgio Armani takes over Ron Burkle’s estate for an early evening reception that includes his private couture fashion show. HBO is having a small party at Social Hollywood for its documakers. And Harvey Weinstein could throw a last-minute restaurant/bar party, if the mood strikes him. There are no set plans.

On Oscar night, there’s no change in the Vanity Fair and the Governors Ball setup, but the Elton John AIDS Foundation is changing the way it throws its Pacific Design Center fund-raiser. This year the fund-raiser will be a viewing dinner for 600 followed by a James Blunt perf. There will be no after-party.

With a pricetag slightly over $1 million, it’s not cheap to stage this event, but with a 2006 after-expense net of almost $1.9 million, the EJAF is surely the most successful party ever to use Oscar watching as a premise.

Starting around midnight, there will be a party for 150 hosted by People mag and the Maloof family at a BevHills residence; also starting late is Patrick Whitesell and Rick Yorn’s fiesta.

And Sunday boasts three fund-raisers: SBE Entertainment’s viewing party hosted by Jennifer Love Hewitt at the Abbey benefiting APLA; the Night of 100 Stars at the BevHills Hotel; and Children Uniting Nations at the Fonda Theater.

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