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The glitter, the glamour, the war
Hollywood's new buzzword is "appropriate."
That's appropriate as in "respectful," "subdued" and "sober," not to be confused with "somber," which has yet to be invited to the Oscars.
Will Smith, who was scheduled to be a presenter at this year's Academy Awards, dropped out because he did not feel it would be "appropriate" for him to be there.
But Anjelica Huston, who is scheduled to appear on stage in Sunday's tribute to past Oscar winners, said on Wednesday she still plans to attend the event.
"There is another faction that feels this is an inappropriate time to don jewels and sashay down the carpet," she said. "But the Academy Awards has stayed blessedly neutral throughout the years and so I am not as conflicted about it."
Within minutes of the academy's announcement that there would be no red carpet for the arrivals, ticket holders were anguishing over "appropriate" choices on everything from attendance to accessories, from politics to attire. Wednesday night's bombings heightened the tension. Reports of celebrity cancellations raced through town, and the possibility of the academy's postponing or even canceling the event hung in the air. Although the major party planners, including those for the Governor's Ball, Vanity Fair and Miramax, said they were moving forward in a scaled-down fashion -- no red carpets, no paparazzi, no press inside -- they were taking things one hour at a time.
On Rodeo Drive, Denise Faye, assistant choreographer for "Chicago," said she had begun looking for a new dress. "It's a big mess. I'm totally revisiting my selection. I think it's probably inappropriate," she said.
Faye's first pick was a pink lace gown embellished with freshwater pearls. "I'm thinking black is probably the way to go," she said. But, she wondered, "where are all these black gowns going to come from?" Faye had just finished getting a blowout at the Frederic Fekkai hair salon and was headed to an appointment with her gown designer, Mark Zunino. "You want to think global," she said, "but, at some point, the personal intrudes."
As she spoke, a young woman walked around with a silver tray offering delicate glasses of Perrier-Jouët champagne. Because this is still Oscar week after all.
Throughout the ages, a tenet of the entertainment community has been to perform under duress. From the orchestra playing on deck as the Titanic slid into the icy sea to Bob Hope's tireless USO trips,the show has gone on under all sorts of circumstances.
That doesn't mean it's easy. The line between show-biz pluck and narcissism is often a fine one, as the celebrities slated to attend this year's war-clouded Oscars are discovering. Many are conflicted about the best image to project -- unquenchable glamour or tasteful citizenship.
Even before President Bush issued his 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, Hollywood was grappling with this dilemma. Lead actor nominee Daniel Day-Lewis voiced many people's concerns at last week's nominees' luncheon. "It would seem obscene," he said, "if we were trouncing up the red carpet, grinning and waving, while people are dying somewhere."
His words were quoted often during the days that followed by folks in the industry who wondered about the etiquette of an awards ceremony in times of international strife. In making the announcement about the curtailed festivities, producer Gil Cates explained that the decision to forgo the red carpet came about because so many celebrities were asking if they could just sneak in the back way.
Not that they're scanning EBay for sackcloth and ashes. Although the millions of dollars of diamonds that are out on loan from De Beers and Harry Winston may be toned down, there's still plenty of sparkle. Many feel that there is an obligation not just that the show go on but that it do so with glitz intact.
Stylist Phillip Bloch is recommending that his clients, who include Halle Berry, Jennifer Tilly, Faye Dunaway, Iman and Jim Carrey, wait until this morning before contemplating any change. Bloch is sure his clients "are wearing what they planned to wear" which was more subdued than in past years. "It's not about big, beaded dresses. It's going to be a more toned-down Hollywood, an overall lack of flash and a more minimal, comfortable, relaxed glamour look."
And, he says, glamour remains a necessity even in times of war. People watch the Oscars "and love it. For a few hours they can escape -- and we need an escape now more than ever."
Others, including sharp-tongued fashion commentator Joan Rivers, who traded in her gold sequined Scaasi gown for a Pamela Dennis suit, are turning to fashion Plan B. And B, of course, stands for black.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a lot more black or dark colors worn," said Patty Fox, this year's Oscar show fashion coordinator, who offers advice to stylists and stars. "Now that the world situation has changed, I think it's important to always be appropriate ... elegant rather than flashy."
Designer Gai Mattiolo canceled his trip from Rome to Los Angeles because of current events, but that didn't prevent him from having his staff set up shop at L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills. Sixty of his gowns, many brightly colored, were made available to actresses, but many, including Diane Lane and Kate Hudson, requested black gowns that were delivered to their homes for consideration.
"We've heard from many actresses who seem to be switching to a demure color -- and especially black," said Mattiolo's publicist, Piera Rossi Blodwell. "Thank God, he sent black dresses." And more than 20 pairs of black shoes from Cesare Paciotti had been snared by actresses who went with "the more appropriate look" said Blodwell.
"Everything has changed," said publicist Howard Bragman. "People are going to dress down ... you're going to see a lot of [political] messages, whether they're diamond peace signs or whatever. The whole gestalt of the Oscars will reflect the new reality."
"This is a serious situation," says Steven Cojocaru, West Coast style editor for People magazine whose red-carpet commentary was yanked from ABC's scaled-back of its pre-show, "This is not the time to fixate on someone's strappy stilettos."
Not that Cojocaru, who will cover the evening for AccessHollywood, expects to see many stilettos. "The whole town is scaling back," he said. "The fashionistas are all erring on the side of safety because over-the-top glamour is just not appropriate. The only people I feel sorry for," he added, with a glimpse of that old red carpet spirit, "are the women who got their surgeries and their Botox. Now no one will be able to see them."
According to etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, there is nothing at all inappropriate in participating in an awards ceremony in times of war. "You're celebrating achievement in the arts. It's a part of the process that makes a country great and makes you proud of your country. It's not really frivolous, celebrating; the frivolity comes from the way people dress and behave."
In fact, the format of the Oscars was shaped for war, by war. Before 1944, the ceremony was held as a dinner dance in fancy local hotels. But in mid-World War II, academy officials decided this was too frivolous and moved the show to a theater, to give it a more professional feel. During those war years, many of the attendees, and a few of the winners, wore military uniforms.
"They even banned orchids, which were all the rage," says Oscar historian Tom O'Neill, "because they were too expensive."
Thus far, the planned pre- and post-Oscar parties are taking their cues from the academy -- moving forward with limited press and no paparazzi.
"We're all toned down emotionally," said Jeffrey Best, of Best Events, which is handling the Miramax party on Saturday and the Paramount party on Sunday. "But we're not going to change anything." The Miramax party won't have the movie skits for which it is famous.
The décor for the Governors Ball will be understated, with a black-and-white color scheme, said event producer Cheryl Cecchetto, "because, this year, it's all about the academy's history, so the decorations are extremely respectful and nostalgic."
With similar sentiments in mind, handbag designer Kathrine Baumann ditched her Diamond Jubilee collection, which included a $2.9-million model designed specifically for this year's 75th Oscar celebration, and reintroduced her America the Beautiful line, a collection of eight to 10 patriotic pieces launched after Sept. 11, 2001.
Mindy Perrin, Baumann's publicity director, has had a phone in her hand pretty much ever since. "What we spend our entire year gearing up for is inappropriate," she said.
Other accessories may include peace pins of one variety or another -- silver ribbons are from Roots of Peace, an anti-land-mine group, the more traditional peace sign from Artists United to Win Without War -- and even statement vehicles. A few celebrities who are not Ed Begley may show up in gas-electric hybrids to protest the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
Cates has reiterated that although presenters are expected to stick to the script, winners are entitled to say whatever they want, as long as it doesn't exceed 45 seconds. David Hare, nominated for his screenplay adaptation of "The Hours," has publicly condemned a war with Iraq, and Stephen Daldry, the film's director, has vowed to denounce the war from the podium should he win.
"I thought it showed a real open-mindedness on Cates' part that he invited Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon to be presenters," said O'Neill. Any nervousness over potential antiwar remarks, he added, is completely misplaced. "Politics will have a starring role at the awards, and that is completely appropriate," he said. "Some of the best movies have been antiwar movies, and although it might have been unpleasant, if it hadn't been for Hollywood, the Vietnam War would have probably gone on longer than it did.
"So there is nothing wrong with Michael Moore, who is being honored for a film railing against guns in schools, to rail against guns in Iraq."
Unfortunately, O'Neill added, even the best-scripted political speeches can backfire, as Vanessa Redgrave, who has barely lived down her 1978 pro-Palestine speech, can attest. "That was a very elegant, balanced speech," he said, "but that is not how it, or she, was remembered. Most stars are not politically sophisticated, so they almost always blunder. But then that's what makes a good show."
Back on the red carpet that was, Andre Leon Talley, editor-at-large of Vogue, said he hopes the stars will practice moderation in all things, including black.
"If they've got red, they should wear red. They should be triumphant. And if they need to make a statement about the war," he said, "they should throw a cardigan over their dresses. There is nothing as great as an American cardigan."
Which is, of course, completely appropriate.
Times staff writers Booth Moore, Gayle Pollard-Terry, Gina Piccalo, Rachel Abramowitz and Lorenza Muñoz contributed to this article.