“For three weeks you are the most powerful person in the town. But don’t worry,” counseled Allan Carr, who is producing the 61st Academy Awards show. “I’m not turning into Little Caesar.” The producer (“Grease”) is living out a childhood fantasy-- he’s producing the Oscars !--and mostly he’s behaving himself. So are the people around him. Very little ranting and raving. Even the “crankies,” the Hollywood veterans who see everything through jaded eyes, are stunned. Such synchronicity! Three weeks before Oscar Night, the all-star presenters were virtually set, the million Dutch tulips were on the way, the 50,000 beads for the Shrine curtain were affixed--by hand.
“There’s been no coercing and no bribing,” said the producer with some wonderment. “And no cajoling, like you might expect with Oscars. You know why? Because secretly everybody wants one.”
The producer was standing in a bleacher at the ABC Hollywood studios on a recent Monday night watching a group of young actors (including Tyrone Power Jr. and Tracy Nelson) rehearse the Young Hollywood number for Wednesday night’s Oscar show. “This generation sees Oscar in a different way,” decided Carr. “They have this burning desire for it, but it’s unspoken. They know when their time comes . . . they want to be ready. So they sort of save themselves for the nomination. Three of the kids said that to me, in so many words, and it wasn’t said with arrogance.”
Allan Carr lives in “the town,” as he calls Hollywood, with total devotion--an insider in a private community. Not that he functions like other movie producers, particularly; “showman” or “promoter” are the terms people usually use for him. Winning the Tony for producing the Broadway musical “La Cage Aux Folles” was probably the quintessential Allan Carr moment. Nothing in show business is more real to him than Broadway magic--last September he co-produced “Broadway at the Bowl,” a starry, memorable benefit that renewed his reputation. His movie version of the Broadway hit “Grease” was an oil-gusher, but that was a decade ago. And Carr knows enough about Hollywood to say “a producer today must be attached to a star, or a star property, really, to exist.” So Allan Carr wears the showman identity.
But he takes Hollywood with him wherever he goes. Even to Fiji, at Christmas, “because I had an Oscar rash, and I was escaping.” With him went the “A” and “B” lists, and the 12 zillion thoughts on every element from montages to limousine rules (“Don’t argue with your driver.”) “The night is 10% for the town, and 90% for the world,” he would say, but the town is on his mind night and day.
“That thing about absolute power corrupting absolutely?” he asked rhetorically the other day. “It’s not true. You don’t get anything by bashing people around. I’ve grown up enough in my career and my life to finally know that. Two nights after Oscar is the Vanity Fair party in honor of the Man Ray exhibit, the next night is something else. So if you are lucky, and this works, it’s only for one wonderful moment.”
But it’s worth it. Oscar is a star-struck producer’s dream project--all that free talent! From the day in October when the Oscar offer came, Allan Carr knew what was handed him: a moment. Not that he stumbled into it. All those openings, all the free counsel he’d given through the years, all the career-boosting. In Hollywood, “Dangerous Liaisons” is a favored film because the machinations are completely understandable--they seem modern. Example: For years people who had no business presenting Oscar were up there, and people like the late director George Cukor would be bumped almost without notice. It’s traditional backstage politics--and even if it’s changing, this producer understands those moves.
At Northwestern University, Carr studied journalism, but what he really wanted to know was who’s who. If his wish-fulfillment would have been to be a columnist--to wield the influence of a Walter Winchell--in real life his needs were more lavish. (In New York, during the Broadway run of “La Cage Aux Folles,” he did live for a time in Winchell’s penthouse atop the St. Moritz.) Originally, he became a manager (Ann-Margret, Marvin Hamlisch) and then a producer. On holiday in Acapulco, he acquired the U.S. rights to the exploitation movie “Survive,” and overnight became a millionaire. The parties followed, and the large reputation, and the excesses, the caftans--until the ‘70s stopped being fun, and Carr got tired of always being host.
The 50th Oscar Governor’s Ball in 1978, replete with Malossol caviar and George Lucas huddling with Steven Spielberg, and Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rogers, went so far into the night nobody forgot. Ten years later, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences asked him back again. “He’s a true showman,” says agent Irving Lazar, who will briefly leave his party at Spago to do a guest appearance in Oscar’s opening number. (“Because I went to see Irving and asked him,” remembered Carr). “I was flattered,” said the agent (whose clients include Larry McMurtry, David Brinkley and Henry Kissinger.) “Allan is a good chum, a mover and shaker, and not somebody who’s burned any real bridges.”
Academy president Richard Kahn chose Carr because “there was this wonderful shorthand between us over the years. I was always leaving companies as he was arriving. I remember leaving Columbia to join MGM in spring of ’75 when he got there; it was the time of ‘Tommy,’ which Allan promoted rather vividly.” The selection of an Oscar producer is up to an academy president, and Kahn remembers “getting advice and counsel, but the choice of Allan was mine.”
It surprised some and seemed appropriate to others. “To people who don’t know him,” said Marvin Hamlisch, “he seems flamboyant. But the flamboyance is mainly for fun--for other people. He always puts himself in the mind of the audience. He is the voice of the audience, if you want to know the truth. ‘Smart flamboyant’ is better than ‘not smart, not flamboyant.’ I see him as a Chicago boy who never lost sight of what he wanted to do. Let’s face it--a caftan does not a heart make.”
Allan Carr (born Alan Solomon in Highland Park, Ill., in 1942) doesn’t want to be Little Caesar anymore--he just wants to be accepted, to be included, to be invited. He liked it when Richard Dreyfuss said to him: “We’ve been around long enough that now we’re the Establishment.” He liked the positive responses from the stars about Oscar night. He liked hearing “yes.”
But it’s a temporary power, and Carr has gradually come to understand it since the day in October when Kahn “came over to see me for 15 minutes, and asked me.” Three days later, Carr went into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for hip replacement surgery, and he took his note pads. There, on painkillers, in the hospital bed like the one he has at home in Benedict Canyon (in the Ingrid Bergman-Kim Novak-James Caan house) he made notes. Would Lana Turner appear with Ava Gardner?
Certainly the offer to produce Oscar was unexpected. When the academy didn’t ask, after he coordinated the 49th and 50th Governors Balls that follow the Oscar ceremony, he was “frankly a little disappointed.” Finally, he stopped thinking about it. Then when they got around to asking, all these years later, his hip went out. But the baton was passed now, and “it’s all based on a baton theory,” the producer explained. “On the Oscar show itself, watch how one star introduces another star. It’s a matter of passing the baton.”
And it’s his turn. Young Hollywood may not remember Allan Carr in his “Grease” days, when flamboyant was not a strong enough adjective to describe him. But there was no time for image correction. Gossip columnists he could deal with, but he didn’t have time to do the first-person TV Guide piece, or the piece for Vanity Fair--he’s concentrating on the show.
“People told him in November not to start so early,” said his longtime executive assistant Tony Lutz. “But that’s why he’s calm now.” Calm is relative in Hollywood, where fuses are short. “But neither of my nightmares came true,” said Carr gratefully. “I was afraid I’d either be desperate for stars, or driven crazy by them. But, nope. People want to be in the business again. So this isn’t a story with a lot of secrets.”
Loretta Young would only do it if she could present Best Picture--alone. (“I stand on my own two feet,” were her exact words.) Michael Caine and Sean Connery are doing it together because they are stars of equal rank and friends. Dennis Quaid is not doing it with Susan Sarandon because she’s too pregnant to fly in from New York. Dennis Quaid is doing it with Michelle Pfeiffer because they make a hot couple. Goldie Hawn is doing it with Kurt Russell because they are a couple in real life--and this reminds everyone. Raquel Welch is doing it because she is one of the most calculated and political glamour stars in the history of Hollywood. Doris Day is doing it because a dog sitter was found, and she felt comfortable leaving Carmel. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward aren’t doing it because she doesn’t fly anymore. Bob Hope is doing it because he’s doing it with Lucille Ball. Jane Fonda could do it with an astronaut if she wanted to--or by herself--but that’s because she’s Jane Fonda. Patrick Swayze is doing it instead of John Travolta because he said yes and Travolta said maybe. Ava Gardner isn’t doing it because she wants people to remember her the way she was.
“Allan Carr, who has been running around the Shrine making preparations for the March 29 Academy Awards--despite the fact he’s only recently recuped from hip surgery--tore cartilage in his left knee. But it’s not stopping him. --Army Archerd, Daily Variety, Feb. 17, 1989.
Nothing is going to stop Allan Carr from crossing the finish line. “He has a passion for two things,” said Kahn. “Film and movies--and they are two different elements entirely. He has a love of movies, but also a sense of the industry. Other Oscar producers have divided their interest and time. Allan is undivided in his attention.”
Allan Carr was being massaged one day in 1978 by the legendary now-retired Dona Freeman--he’d just finished with the 50th Governors Ball--when it hit him: The true stars at the Oscars should be the presenters. That’s when the theme of this year’s show--Couples, Costars, Companions, Compadres--took root. Star talent, however, is the one branch of Hollywood power every other branch is terrified about. Do you ask Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson at the same time? Or do you ask her first? The hurdles could seem insurmountable.
There is also an assumption about the Academy Awards--that a producer can get any star he wants for that night only. But Oscar is an intricate chess game that begins with wanting Brigitte Bardot and can end with settling for less. “Stars instinctively know when their time is,” says talent coordinator Danette Herman, a veteran of the Tonys, Grammys, two inaugurals, the Olympics, Kennedy Center Honors and 14,000 Academy Awards. “A star knows when it’s his time to be there or not.”
To get a list that includes a Tom Cruise and a Tom Selleck, you have to think early and think big. Extravagant is a label stuck to Allan Carr with some very thick glue. So, yes, an original master list did include Warren Beatty with his friend Jack Nicholson. And Robert Mitchum with Deborah Kerr. Janet Leigh with Tony Curtis. Janet Leigh with Jamie Lee Curtis. Debbie Reynolds with Carrie Fisher. Mia Farrow with Robert Redford . . .
Yes, Brigitte Bardot was approached and she did say yes--if she could talk about animal rights. “We’re on her side,” said Carr earnestly. “And I promise there are no furs on the show. But also no speeches. We are not planning on Sacheen Littlefeather--or a speech on animal rights.” So, no Bardot.
There are no small categories was an Oscar rule this year. “Big people don’t ask to do certain categories,” said the producer, taking a deep breath. “The town went with this idea,” he said with much relief. Carr claims complete cooperation, with only a few exceptions. “Loretta Young one year presented Best Picture, and demanded to again, by herself, because she felt a precedent had been set. And I was offering her (Rudolf) Nureyev as a co-presenter!”
Then there was Sophia Loren (whose role in “Two Women” is the only non-English language performance to win an Oscar): “I wanted to do a tribute to her and Carlo Ponti (Loren’s producer-husband) . . . a tribute to her films and the films Ponti did without her, like ‘La Strada.’ I offered her the moon--Oscar tickets for her kids--anything. But no. Her advisers Anna Strasberg and (publicist) Bobby Zarem told her not to. So instead, she accepted a benefit in Florida for the University of Miami, three nights later! And she could have done both!”
(Other award shows are a tricky subject here, March having been the cruelest month, with “People’s Choice,” the AFI Life Achievement Award to Gregory Peck and the ABC-aired tribute to Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor’s tribute meant Carr didn’t ask her to do Oscar.)
“I saw Barbra Streisand at a small dinner party,” Carr responded when asked about the star. “She said she liked the Oscar Watch in the trades.” (The daily dribble of presenters was this year masterminded into the feature “Oscar Watch” in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, beginning in February.) “Barbra Streisand said to me, ‘I see the boxes every day.’ That was a perfect opportunity to ask her to do the show, but I didn’t. Anyway, she’s in the movie musical montage. So Barbra Streisand is on the Oscars doing what she does best. Singing.”
Some ideas went out the window early. Two years ago, Roseanne Barr did the charity Share Boomtown party, and Carr thought of pairing her with Meryl Streep, with whom she’s now co-starring in “The Life and Loves of a She-Devil.” Said Carr: “To Roseanne Barr’s credit, she said: ‘No--it’s not fair to the Academy Awards. I’m still a TV star.’ So it’s not her turn. But that doesn’t mean that one year, it won’t be.”
It also is not Michael J. Fox’s turn: “His wife is very pregnant, he’s doing the sequel to ‘Back to the Future,’ and they were doing back-to-back episodes of ‘Family Ties’ in case of a strike. Do you see what I mean about no real secrets? There are always reasons why somebody does or doesn’t do it.”
Like: Bill Murray, whose name was on the original master list. “Who for six months straight had said: ‘If you need me, I’m there.’ But he will be in post-production on ‘Ghostbusters II’ in New York. So I said, ‘If you took the 9 a.m. flight, I could have you back in New York the same night.’ And he said: ‘If you need me, I will do that.’ As of this day, I don’t know if I need him or not. I won’t bother him unless I need to. But it’s the antithesis of a Sophia Loren.”
Like: “Willem Dafoe and Edward James Olmos are flying in from Poland where they’re making that movie about Auschwitz (“Triumph of the Spirit”), both of them with shaved heads. The temptation is to do skullcap jokes, but we’re resisting.”
Allan Carr resisting? “People think of me as just fun and games. . . . But I didn’t hire any jets to fly people in. So I spend a lot of money on flowers!”
So: “That’s how I got Barbara Stanwyck to come to the 50th Oscar (Ball). I sent her two dozen yellow roses every day for two weeks. Finally she sent word: ‘I’ll do the show. But no more flowers.’ That was the year she did it with William Holden, and called him her Golden Boy. Those moments are worth everything,” said the producer, not stopping even to breathe. Although he did take one more phone call--from a publicist.
“Is it a yes or a no?” he wanted to know. “Because I’ve only got one category left. And if it’s a no--then I’m going with Jack and Meryl.”
“What is that muff in my face?” Carr asked a cameraman from “Entertainment Tonight” on a recent afternoon. He was referring to the feathered boom mike setup for the “E.T.” interview. “I thought you were here to clean the Shrine!” Carr was on a phone in the La Cienega offices the academy provided for the duration of Oscar season. That the rooms are filled with computers throws the non-mechanical Carr. He says it’s like walking into a roomful of Pac-Man machines, only the Pac-Men are eating up Dudley Moore’s dialogue.
“I like her,” Carr said into the phone, regarding a call from a publicist about a possible presenter. “We were at the fat farm in England together three years ago--she’s terrific. But I’ve got biggies on the waiting list.”
Carr hung up. “Let’s do a rundown!” he said to assistant Rob Newman, whose 10th Oscar show this is. They were joined by Danette Herman, the talent coordinator.
“Raquel Welch,” said Carr without any emotion. “We have to fax her material in Australia where she’s working. She gains a day, so the timing is tricky. She may not get here. . . Mia Farrow is now not coming . . . Ursula Andress and Placido Domingo I want to do the cutaways from the (Governors) Ball, but she’s in Italy. Where her child is in school. So you get up in the middle of the night to call, and with my Italian . . . I’m saying to her child ‘Where’s your carbonara ?’ ”
“What about Martin Short doing short subjects? It’s an open category,” someone said.
Carr pounced. “Omigod,” he said, as if he’d discovered something rare and beautiful. “An open category! We can think about Bill Hurt. Or what do you think of the Karate Kid and Pat Morita?
“I like Martin Short short subjects,” said Danette Herman.
“Here are the names on the waiting list,” said Rob Newman. “Olivia Newton-John, Olympia Dukakis, Christine Lahti, Bill Murray.”
“He’s a whole other category,” said Carr quietly. “Olympia Dukakis is doing the ‘People’s Choice’ awards, which I’m not thrilled about. But she was last year’s (Oscar) winner.”
“Steve Guttenberg?” somebody asked.
“Special,” said Carr, who first put Guttenberg in “Can’t Stop the Music.” “I need to hear from Tom Selleck’s producer where we are. I think he’s shooting at the Carson City, Nev., woman’s prison. Tom called me Sunday. It was his only day off.”
“There’s almost no more room,” said Danette Herman, “and three weeks from today is the show.”
“I want Patrick Swayze’s people to see the tape of the movie musical montage,” said Carr. “I want to see how he feels about it.”
Another of the aides slipped into the office with what sounded like bad news. “Don Ameche can’t do the show,” she said nervously. “He flew to New York to be in ‘Our Town.’ ”
“I knew that three days ago,” said Carr impatiently. “What world are people living in? They better wake up.”
“You took care of Angie today, so she’s happy?” Allan Carr asked Tony Lutz. The trusty assistant nodded, in regard to Angie Dickinson. But he had a question. “Should we use your Cadillac to pick up Angie or Cyd Charisse?”
“Use the Cadillac for Angie.”
The occasion was a Wednesday morning press conference to talk about wardrobe for Oscar night. On the Monday before, 15 people (primarily publicists) met to make plans at the Salon of L’Hermitage in Beverly Hills, where the press conference was to be held. Not since the detailed days of David O. Selznick has anyone been to this many meetings and pre-meetings.
When Carr entered the Salon, the buzz in the room stopped. “The first thing people will see is Cyd (Charisse) with me. I’ll use my cane as I walk in,” he said, referring to the cane he sometimes uses since the hip replacement surgery. “I’ll bring my good gold cane, my Susan Hayward cane.” He was referring to the cane Hayward used on Oscar Night 1974, the year before she died.
At a table by himself was the impeccably groomed retailer Fred Hayman, formerly of Giorgio and now of Fred Hayman Beverly Hills, who’s acting as Oscar wardrobe consultant. “The eye tells you immediately,” said Hayman, “if a star is secure enough to dress herself properly. People like (actress) Geena Davis and (writer) Anne Spielberg know what to wear. But sometimes insecurity masks itself as security.” In previous years, the multiple Oscar-winning designer Edith Head oversaw star’s wardrobes, but as Hayman candidly put it--"Edith Head is dead, and it shows.”
He casually walked over to the trio of blue-jeaned models who would be wearing ball gowns on Wednesday as examples of Oscar night glitter.
“You’ll look very glamorous,” he told the women with complete conviction. “Wear whatever is sophisticated and glamorous. You want to give the people what they expect. Are they nice dresses?” he wanted to know.
“To die for,” said the model named Victoria. “I’m wearing Oscar de la Renta,” she said, lighting a Marlboro.
“You are my Oscar de la Renta girl,” said Allan Carr.
“It’s shocking emerald green with a boa and--".
“Wait-wait-wait,” interrupted Carr, with much drama. “No fur! Not during Oscar season!” Then he paused long enough to collect himself. “Our show is so lavish and so beautiful that Oscar de la Renta is doing background.
“You’ll pose in different positions,” Carr told the models. “Then you’ll be dismissed.” The producer pointed to the mock-Modiglianis on the Salon wall, which would show behind the models.
“Do these come off the wall?” Carr asked nobody in particular. “Or are they screwed on the wall? It would be nice if we could replace them with academy-winning posters.”
“It’s called Only in Hollywood,” said one model to another, bumming a cigarette. “Posters are more important than art.”
Two days later at 9 a.m., a perfectly groomed Cyd Charisse waited in a suite at L’Hermitage. “Angie isn’t here yet,” Charisse said softly, and in a moment Angie Dickinson appeared, and gave Cyd Charisse a quick kiss--it was Cyd’s birthday. Then four of the best legs in Hollywood history walked together down the hotel hallway to tell the press over coffee about Oscar at 61.
Production designer Ray Klausen was telling the small group about details: The re-creation of the Cocoanut Grove for the opening number, the names from the Grove-era like Alice Faye, Dale Evans, and the Nicholas Brothers; the 46-piece orchestra (led by Hamlisch) and the overture; the 30-foot-high curtain. “I’ve designed it with more than 50,000 beads and sequins, to be hand-applied. There are the million tulips from Holland, 6 million stems altogether. . . . It goes on forever.”
“Don’t tell too much,” Carr told Klausen. “Let’s say there will be 11 sets and 106 stagehands.”
Offhandedly Klausen added: “It’s like an obsession. Everything is overstated and very glamorous.”
One of the models, now gowned and waiting to be presented, said, “It sounds like planning an invasion.”
“There will be sparkling drapes. . . . “
“But we have to have beautiful people in front of them,” said Carr before presenting fashion coordinator Hayman, who in turn introduced model Wendy Walsh in bugle beads with a fox boa after all. Then it was Angie Dickinson’s turn.
“Next to Bob Hope,” said Allan Carr, “this woman has probably been on more Oscar shows than anybody.”
“I finally got back on,” said Dickinson, who’s done Oscar eight times. “I love the gown Fred Hayman chose for me, but I want to wear the curtain . . .”
(In a year when fashion is being re-emphasized Giorgio Armani is possibly the predominant designer; star participants and executives alike sought his advice, by phone. Armani is staying put in Italy: “If I’m not personally there,” said the designer the other day from Milan, “then I can criticize the things I see.” Armani admitted an Oscar fantasy would have been to dress Barbara Stanwyck in her prime. “I was very fascinated with her great character and style. For me many actresses of her era were too much make-believe, too naive. Doll-like women with heart-shaped lips don’t appeal to me.”)
One afternoon sitting at a roundtable with assistants and attendants, Carr stopped his publicist Linda Dozoretz on her way out the door: “I need to talk to you about my TV appearances. About (ABC’s) Joel Siegel. I need a meeting with (“Entertainment Tonight’s”) Jeannie Wolf. . . . I want them to show the three faces of the Shrine. Let’s show how dreary it is now. Then the ‘Star Is Born II’ stage. Then the day before the Oscars, ‘Entertainment Tonight’ should do the Shrine when it looks like something. . . .”
Don’t get the producer started on the Shrine as it is now. “The dressing rooms? Last year? Hideous!” he said disgustedly. “Mrs. Kahn (Mrs. Richard Kahn, wife of the academy president) is leading a group to personally inspect the dressing rooms. I told the Shrine people, if they don’t wash the windows, we are going to break the windows, and bring back nice fresh air. Last year, everything was filthy. The staircases were so dreary.”
This year, there is Club Oscar, the private green-club stars-only club the producer is installing outside the Shrine. It’s a reward for the stars who schlepped downtown. Carr visualizes the trek east from the happy acres of Holmby Hills as a kind of luxurious film noir . “From the moment you leave the house, I want it to be like a movie. I wanted soft drinks in every ice chest in every limo. So I practically threatened the corporate world. I said to Coke and Pepsi: ‘I will go myself to the Price Club in the Valley and pay wholesale for the soft drinks.’ But Coke came through. Now I want mineral water in the ice chests too. It’s these little red-carpet amenities.” (The show’s budget, approximately $3 million, “is enough, but you could always use more.” The producer is unpaid, and much of the staff works for a third of their usual fees.) “What we want is to make-and-do so everybody feels comfortable.”
The role model here may be the annual gala Christmas-for-600 gold-tented Marvin Davis party. “Barbara (Mrs. Marvin) Davis gives you more gifts than you give her,” explained Carr. “At parties in Europe, they do this routinely. We are going one step further. . . . Silver collar stays from Perry Ellis, boxes for stars from Villeroy & Bosch, perfume donated by Revlon Chairman Ron Perlman and his wife, the former gossip columnist Claudia Cohen.” Less is not always more.
Like: the 1950s movie musical montage that runs from Carmen Miranda to “Carmen Jones.” (Oscar insiders are taking bets that John Travolta will wish he had said yes to introducing the montage, instead of hemming and hawing.)
“You know what’s thrilling?” asked the producer, in an aside. “The momentum thing is thrilling when somebody actually wins an Oscar. In one category, we are going to follow a winner from the podium to the backstage to the press room--and capture that barrage of flashing lights. It will be like cinema verite. “