As we all learned from last year's surgeon general's report, secondhand cigarette smoke can kill you. What the audience at Saturday's Directors Guild of America awards dinner learned is that it can also kill a good monologue.
Comedian Red Buttons was in the final stretch of a hilarious speech--he had just made a joke about God saying Charlton Heston was wrong for the part of Moses--when a smoke detector on the ceiling of the Sheraton Premiere Hotel ballroom wheezed and triggered a shrill fire alarm that sent some of the black-tie crowd scampering for the exits.
The confusion lasted about 10 minutes and, though Buttons recovered nicely to finish up, the interruption punctuated what proved to be some bad location scouting by the event's organizers.
"It's a new hotel, they have got to get the bugs out," emcee Carl Reiner said, trying to quiet the crowd after the fire drill. New hotel. True, and the Titanic was a new ship.
The evening began and ended with gigantic traffic jams, as cars, limos and buses clogged the two-lane Universal City road carrying passengers to the DGA dinner and to the Paul Simon concert up the hill at the Universal Amphitheatre.
Inside, they made the best of it. Reiner, apparently working off the cuff, had the audience roaring with his story about getting lost earlier in the garage of the wrong hotel (the Sheraton Universal), and Buttons proved himself the funniest Hollywood toastmaster this side of Hal Kanter.
Ah, yes, the awards.
Oliver Stone, as expected, won the DGA's feature film directing award for "Platoon," cementing his role as the favorite in the Academy Award race for the same honor. Only three times in DGA history has the winner not gone on to win the Oscar as well.
"It's an honor to be in this room with all the idols of my youth," Stone said as he accepted his plaque from last year's Oscar winner, Sydney Pollack. "I shall cherish this award for the rest of my life."
There were none of the dramatics of last year's DGA dinner, when Steven Spielberg walked away with the DGA's best feature directing award. Spielberg was not nominated for an Oscar for "The Color Purple," though the movie had 11 other nominations. His DGA award was viewed by many as a rebuff of the directors branch of the motion picture academy.
The other DGA nominees were James Ivory ("A Room With a View"), Woody Allen ("Hannah and Her Sisters"), Randa Haines ("Children of a Lesser God") and Rob Reiner ("Stand By Me"). Haines is the only American woman ever nominated for the DGA award.
Earlier in the evening, during festivities in New York, Elia Kazan was presented with the DGA's D.W. Griffith Award for outstanding achievement and lifetime contribution to film. The films of the 77-year-old director and novelist include such classics as "On the Waterfront," "East of Eden" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." His last film was the 1976 "The Last Tycoon."
The Frank Capra Award for career achievement by an assistant director was presented to Henry "Bud" Brill, whose 50 years in the industry included service under such directors as John Ford, Cecil B. DeMille and Capra himself.
The bulk of the DGA awards are for work in television. In fact, most of the guild's 8,000-plus members work in television. The DGA membership is made up of dramatic film and television directors, TV sports and news directors, assistant directors, unit production managers and stage managers.
Terry Hughes won the award for best direction of a comedy show for the "Isn't it Romantic" episode of NBC's "The Golden Girls." The two other comedy directing nominees were James Burrows for the "Tan 'n' Wash" episode of "Cheers" and Paul M. Lynch for the "Symphony in Knocked Flat" episode of "Moonlighting."
Oddly, "Moonlighting" had nominees in both the comedy and drama categories, which is not much help to those of us who have yet to figure out what that show is.
Will MacKenzie won the nighttime drama directing award for the "Atomic Shakespeare" episode of "Moonlighting." The other nominees were Donald Petrie, for the "Venus Butterfly" episode of "L.A. Law," and Mark Tinker, for the "Afterlife" episode of "St. Elsewhere."
Catlin Adams was voted best director of a daytime drama show for her "Wanted: The Perfect Guy" special for ABC. Also nominated were Leslie B. Hill ("God, the Universe and Hot Fudge Sundaes") and Donald Petrie ("Have You Tried Talking to Patty?").
The musical/variety award went to Walter C. Miller for his "Liberty Weekend" direction for David Wolper and ABC. The other nominees were Emile Ardolino, for a New York City Ballet special and Dwight Hemion, for the "Neil Diamond . . . Hello, Again" special for CBS.
Veteran TV sports director Harry J. Coyle won the sports award for his direction of coverage of the 1986 World Series. The other nominees were Andy J. Kindle and David Michaels, who co-directed CBS coverage of the Tour de France bicycle race, and Doug Wilson, for his direction of the national figure skating championships for ABC Wide World of Sports.
Perry Miller Adato won the documentary direction award for "Eugene O'Neill: A Glory of Ghosts." He won over Kyle Good ("48 Hours on Crack Street") and David Heeley ("The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn").
In the dramatic special category, actress/director Lee Grant won for "Nobody's Child," aired on CBS. The other nominees were Gregory Hoblit, for the pilot of "L.A. Law," and George Schaefer, for "Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry."
Joe Pytka won over four other commercials directors for his spots for such products as Henry Weinhard's beer, John Hancock and Pepsi Cola. The other nominees were Jeremiah Chechik, Leslie Dektor, Rick Levine and Sid Myers.