Where Were They on Oscar Night? We're Just Asking

So where were Meryl and Mel, Jodie and Kevin, Barbra, Sly, Robin, Julia, Arnold, Michelle, Denzel, Jack, Warren & Annette and Demi & Bruce on Oscar night?

Did they forget to show? Were all the limos taken? Was there a shortage of designer gowns?

Such were the pressing concerns of the camped-out looky-loos and die-hard fans whose hopes of seeing the A-list stars last Monday night were dashed when Hollywood's Big Night Out turned out to be Hollywood's Big No-Show. And such was the buzz of Hollywood in the days after the Oscar telecast.

The Academy Awards, after all, has always been the night more than 1 billion folks around the globe can count on seeing their favorite movie stars mug for the cameras and parade around in some weird, or hopefully, risque attire.

But not this year.

When contacted by The Times, missing stars' agents and publicists served up sundry excuses for the MIAs:

* On location, on vacation or preparing films: Jodie Foster is in Asheville, N.C., working on "Nell," Mel Gibson is prepping "Brave Heart," Arnold Schwarzenegger is rehearsing for Ivan Reitman's "Junior," Julia Roberts is in Paris shooting Robert Altman's "Pret-a-Porter," Sylvester Stallone is in Miami making "The Specialist," Bruce Willis and Demi Moore were out of town on a "personal holiday" and Meryl Streep was in Hawaii on vacation.

* Why bother?: If someone wasn't a nominee or a presenter, the attitude was why bother with the hassle and expense of showing up? Richard Gere lives in New York and didn't want to travel west for one day just to be seen. Eddie Murphy just returned from Jamaica, where he was celebrating a one-year anniversary with his bride, Nicole. Michelle Pfeiffer isn't a big fan of event/party hopping anyway. And Denzel Washington did it last year.

* Showing up without being a presenter or nominee now carries the connotation of being a bit desperate: Who wants to take the chance of hearing "Why is he here?" or "Her star must be falling since she's obviously here to be seen. What other reason could it be?"

* Hollywood has become much more of a big business: The one-time family community spirit of turning up just to support your nominated colleagues has basically exited, stage left.

Agents generally shied from having their names mentioned here. But all say their clients just didn't feel like they should attend unless they had a purpose for being there.

Publicist Nancy Seltzer, who represents such stars as Julia Roberts, Warren Beatty and Annette Benning, says, "Jack (Nicholson) doesn't come unless he's doing something on the show. Most people don't. Annette showed up last year because she was presenting."

Some also said simply showing up without a real reason for being there makes stars feel awkward. "What are they supposed to do, just stand around? I tell my clients they don't have to go," conceded one top agent.

But for some veteran publicists who have masterminded various stars' past Oscar campaigns, the absentees were particularly noticeable this year. "It's tough to pinpoint the year it changed, but it has changed. This used to be the big night that almost all the stars would show up," says Dick Guttman, who represents Barbra Streisand. She, by the way, wasn't there because she's prepping for her new tour.

"Even those who skipped the awards ceremony used to turn up at Swifty Lazar's (Oscar party at Spago) to watch it on TV," he noted. But even Lazar's was starting to become the gathering spot for fading A-list stars.

One agent noted that after Lazar's passing this year, there was a boom on post-Oscar bashes and the sense was that there were too many parties, so little time. Such bother.

Stephen Brown, executive VP at Arnold Kopelson Prods., who co-produced "The Fugitive" (which won Tommy Lee Jones a best supporting actor Oscar), recalls: "When Arnold won the best picture for 'Platoon' in 1986, I remember looking around the room and seeing the place packed with familiar faces." This year, he says among the few recognizable studio executives and some stars, "there were lots of faces I had never seen and I remember thinking . . . there's definitely something missing."

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