No sooner had the question of whether war would be waged been answered last week than a new preoccupation seized the hearts and minds of countless Americans: What effect would bombing the bejesus out of Iraq have on the 75th Academy Awards?
Indeed, as bunker busters rained down on the city of Baghdad, it was the population of Holly-wood that seemed most truly in turmoil. The specter of war forces each of us to confront grave issues we might prefer to sidestep. But stars, being the special human beings they are, were confronted with special challenges.
Announcing his Tuesday decision to 'truncate" the show's traditional red-carpet ceremony, producer Gil Cates shared with reporters his concern for 'celebrities who might feel uncomfortable discussing films and fashion while American soldiers [are] putting their lives on the line."
Not that stars didn't feel a sense of duty. Some designers found themselves besieged by 11th-hour cries for help. 'We have had... calls from people who want something more understated," Escada's spokesperson reported to the Associated Press. 'We certainly understand if they don't want to wear something over the top."
In a related story, Giorgio Armani and Donatella Versace canceled trips to Hollywood, according to Variety. Throughout the week agents, handlers, publicists, assorted entertainment insiders and the stars themselves issued a flurry of bulletins to a public presumed to be on pins and needles. Early in the week, for example, Best Actor contender Daniel Day-Lewis pronounced that it would 'seem obscene if we're seen bouncing up the red carpet grinning when people are dying."
'Seen," as it turned out, was the operative word here. What quickly became apparent was that the stars were less uncomfortable with the idea of indulging in a nightlong orgy of narcissistic glitz than they were worried about appearing on the front page doing so. Early in the week planners for the most glamorous parties weren't sure which way the winds of war would blow. 'We're taking it one day at a time," cautioned a spokeswoman for Vanity Fair, which traditionally hosts one of the night's biggest A-list soirées. 'It will be clearer as the week goes on."
And clear it got. In the end, virtually everybody who is anybody was expected to show, despite hostilities in the Middle East. Everybody, that is, except the press. 'The Governor's Ball is still scheduled, though neither photographers nor camera crews will be permitted," Reuters reported at midweek, adding, 'Parties by Vanity Fair and Paramount are restricting press access to prevent stars from being quizzed about the war."
Organizers for other high-ranking shindigs, including that of Women's Wear Daily, quickly fell into step, and producers of the Academy Awards broadcast itself informed nearly 500 media members representing 300 news outlets that they weren't invited after all. The stage was set for the first Stealth Oscars.
As the week wore on, celebrities continued to search their souls. Barbara Walters shelved her annual pre-Oscar special, which this year included interviews with Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore and Renée Zellweger. 'With such serious issues facing the nation," Walters intoned, 'it is the right decision to postpone the special."
Sure, particularly since it was assumed ABC would cut away for battlefield updates throughout the evening, preempting a substantial portion of the broadcast, anyway. Now Walters has the option to air the show when interruptions are unlikely.
Nicole Kidman informed reporters that she was of two minds about taking part in the festivities. 'There are two arguments," she said, 'where they say you need to continue on with things... and then there's the other thing, where you just say of course it would feel very strange to show up."
On Wednesday Cate Blanchett, scheduled to be a presenter though she's shooting a film in New Mexico, denied rumors that she planned not to attend. 'She'll be there," a representative assured, adding that the only reason for any possible bow-out would be her 'fluctuating filming schedule." Uh-huh. It can be awfully complicated getting all the way to L.A. from New Mexico.
The following day Will Smith informed Oscar producers that he would not act as a presenter as planned in light of 'the world situation." Accord-ing to his publicist, the actor felt that 'now [is] not the time to celebrate." (I felt the same way after watching Men In Black II.) Later the same day, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki announced he would stay home in protest against the war. The response from within the entertainment community was immediate: 'Aki who?"
By Thursday, news services were reporting that the red-carpet ceremony had been canceled altogether, causing mass confusion among celebrities, fans, designers, producers and Joan Rivers. The host of E!'s annual pre-Oscar special appeared on that morning's Howard Stern show to inject a note of reason. Asked whether she too wasn't worried about the possibility of a terrorist event, she didn't hesitate: 'I'm willing to get blown up for my country."
By week's end Angelina Jolie had made it official: She'd be a no-show. So would Jim Carrey and Meg Ryan. The two-time Oscar winner Elizabeth Taylor added her voice to the highly concerned chorus, announcing that her appearance as an honoree on Sunday 'will be my swan song on the stage. I've retired from acting. It doesn't really interest me that much anymore. It seems kind of superficial, because now my life is AIDS, not acting." As if all that weren't nutty enough, the oblivious screen legend apparently forgot to show up.
In the end, of course, all the hair pulling turned out to be much ado about nothing. Joan Rivers presided hilariously over a mini-ceremony during which stars sprinted a few yards from their limos to the safety of the Kodak Theater, where metal detectors awaited. ABC's pre-show was as superficial as any in history. Viewers were even invited to vote online for the best Oscars gown of the past 75 years. And master of ceremonies Steve Martin did a brilliant job, kicking off the show with a reference to the weeklong controversy: 'No red carpet - that'll send them a message!"
Except for the fact that acceptance speeches were kept to a crisp 45 seconds, the whole affair really couldn't have been much more business-as-usual. Stars preened for the TV camera, Martin kept the audience laughing, and divas pretty much came dressed to the nines. As Rivers noted, 'It was just crap that everybody was going to wear black."
Bowling For Columbine director Michael Moore's podium outburst provided a vicarious vent for the audience's antiwar faction, virtually all of which was content to let their peace pins speak for them. That so many normally vocal celebrities remained on their best behavior in spite of world events was one of the night's several surprises. Others included upsets by Adrien Brody, who took home the Best Actor statuette for his performance in The Pianist, and Roman Polanski, who stayed home and watched himself named Best Director for his work on the same film. Chicago's selection as Best Picture certainly came as no surprise, but was every bit as goofy. Despite the tight security, Daniel Day-Lewis and Martin Scorsese were robbed.
Things went pretty well, though, all things considered. The 75th Academy Awards may have been attended by more members of the National Guard than paparazzi, but its mission was accomplished. The beautiful people threw themselves a hell of a private party, Joan Rivers made it through the night without getting blown up and, most importantly, not a single star was asked to give an opinion on the war.
God bless Hollywood. Oh, and, if you see Liz Taylor wandering around looking lost, you might want to call her a cab.