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Apple Appeal : <i> Paparazzi </i> on Hand as Hollywood’s Brightest Turn Out at Awards Show for Favorite Performers and Scrooges

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was the kind of Christmas party you can only have in Los Angeles.

There were carols and candy canes and Christmas trees, but there was also super agent Pat Kingsley, deciding who would have access to super client Jodie Foster. And, at this party, you didn’t have to content yourself with watching Jimmy Stewart embody the holiday spirit in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” America’s Father Christmas was there in the flesh, drawling seasons greetings to colleagues and fans.

The occasion was Sunday’s 51st Annual Golden Apple Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, at which the Hollywood Women’s Press Club handed out golden and crystal apples to favorite performers and sour apples to those deemed most obnoxious.

Before the luncheon ceremony began, paparazzi elbowed each other in the lobby, urging famous arrivals to look their way. “Say hi, Raquel.” “Over here, Jackie,” they called to presenter Jacqueline Bisset.

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“There’s Maureen O’Hara!” a fan cried. “In the red hair?” a younger someone asked.

“As long as you keep moving and look like you’re looking for someone, you’re all right,” a practiced ceremony-crasher advised a tyro. “Did you see Jodie?” the seasoned fan asked his wide-eyed companion. “She’s so tiny.”

David Cassidy, a teen idol 20 years ago, appeared in an iridescent suit described by one wag as the color of housefly wings. “I used to love him,” sighed a woman who had been a teen-ager when Cassidy was a heartthrob. “Who is he? " someone asked, as a slim, handsome man surrounded by security staff caused the photographers to swivel en masse away from Cassidy.

He was Kevin Costner, sporting a new hairdo that looked an awful lot like an Eisenhower-era buzz cut. Not everybody approved. Sniffed one woman, “They look so much better on the screen--all of them.”

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Mr. Blackwell didn’t notice Costner’s hair. The acerbic arbiter said he was too busy looking at the female guests, although he insisted he doesn’t spend every minute assessing them “from nose to toes to see how everybody’s dressed.”

The Academy Awards ceremony and many other industry events begin in the afternoon but are taped for presentation on prime-time TV, forcing people to put on their evening gowns and tuxedos while the sun still shines. This event was strictly an afternoon affair and it wasn’t scheduled for broadcast later, but sartorial chaos reigned nonetheless.

Depending on whether the women dressed according to the clock or their interior wardrobe mistress, they chose anything from executive-suite suits (Foster) to catsuits (O’Hara) to evening gowns (Zsa Zsa Gabor). A number arrived in furs.

Mr. Blackwell’s judgment on the overall effect? Hated it. “There’s absolutely zero statement anywhere in the room,” he said. “You go from something that’s been in a time capsule since 1940 to that see-through skirt over there, and you wonder what’s happening. It’s absolutely impossible to tell that we’re at one event.”

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While fans waved stills to be autographed, the press interviewed the famous in a room off the lobby. Kathy Bates, who won the best actress Oscar this year for her performance in “Misery,” chatted between journalists’ questions with her sister Mary Wehbi. Wehbi spoke up when the women were asked what they thought of the Sour Apple Award, one of the few institutionalized raspberries in a kiss-kiss industry.

“I’m a schoolteacher,” she said, “and I get sour apples all the time. I think they should spread them around.”

A group of reporters surrounded Luke Perry, the star of TV’s “Beverly Hills 90210" who has been described as James Dean without the attitude. Perry, whose picture is inside a million girls’ school lockers, was eagerly sought after by reporters who had one thing in common--teen-age nieces. Asked what accounted for the show’s extraordinary popularity, he answered, “Two things. Aaron Spelling produces our show, and he believes in actors.” Some skeptics continued to suspect that nieces had more to do with it than Spelling.

Later in the afternoon Perry was named Male Discovery of the Year, “the first thing I’ve won--ever.” Female Discovery was Lynn Whitfield, who starred in HBO’s “The Josephine Baker Story.”

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As 1990 winner, Zsa Zsa Gabor got to present the highly uncoveted Sour Apple to “the star who most believes his or her own publicity and has provided the worst image of Hollywood to the world.”

“I didn’t pick it up last year because I didn’t deserve it,” an unrepentant Gabor told the audience. “I didn’t hit that damn policeman, but I will yet.”

Cable film critic Bill Harris, who was in the audience, suggested that sour apples are made, at least in part, by the media. Look at Zsa Zsa, he said. “She’s our fault. If we ignored her, she’d disappear.”

The Hungarian-born actress mangled the names of several of this year’s nominees, notably “Toyota Jackson.” La Toya is “Michael and Janet’s older sister,” Gabor read from her script, ad-libbing an obviously sincere “that’s a terrible thing to say.” But La Toya was ultimately an also-ran, beaten out for worst behaved by Sinead O’Connor and the team of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.

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Mr. Blackwell observed that the Sour Apple was the only award anyone cared about. Pick the best and the world snoozes, “but say who’s the worst--just ask the man who invented the list--and everyone will print it.”

Foster was chosen Female Star of 1991, the year that saw both “The Silence of the Lambs” and her directorial debut with “Little Man Tate.” Before her Golden Apple was announced, she noted that the lag time between making a movie and its release makes it hard to predict what awards, if any, you will win. “You’ve done the work so long ago, it feels more like bingo,” she said.

The Male Star award was shared by Costner and Robin Williams. There was much joking about which man was funnier. You guess. Clue: The man who said, “You are funny, Kevin. Believe. Tell the joke. They will laugh.”

Actually, some of the best jokes were cracked at the tables, where guests ate their turkey-and-dressing lunches between presentations. One reporter dipped into the remarkably rich soup with which the meal began and said, “Mmmmmm. Cream of cream.”

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The afternoon ended with the presentation of a special crystal apple to James Stewart. In essence, Stewart, 83, was honored for having become the Spirit of Christmas Eternally Present by playing George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” as ubiquitous a sign of the season as eggnog and overload.

Kathy Bates’ introduction of Stewart underscored the parallels between today’s grim economy and the hard times of Capra’s dark classic. But there was something--well, darn it, heartwarming--about seeing a young Stewart smiling on the screen and then an older one smiling on stage, wishing everyone a merry, merry Christmas and a wonderful 1992.

“It must be great,” one reporter whispered to another, “to be at a time in your life when you will never again get anything but a standing ovation.”

Then they both stood up and clapped like crazy.

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