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In a Time of War, Oscar’s Restraint Knows No Bounds

Nothing too fancy. That was the idea for the Oscars. Tasteful, but not extravagant.

There’s a war going on.

S. Lo rented a basic black tux ($95) at a dry cleaner/formalwear shop in Atwater Village. Then he went to Tony’s Barber Shop for a trim ($10), next to the KFC and the Dunkin’ Donuts in the Ralph’s shopping center on Glendale Boulevard.

Tony wanted to do something special with the beard trim.

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“It’s the Oscars,” he said, carving a neat V under the bottom lip while saying he used to get Starsky and Hutch in his former barbershop.

In a show of support for actors and actresses who made the ultimate sacrifice -- toning down the traditional red carpet entrance -- S. Lo nixed the limo and took the subway to the Oscars. He was transported by Subaru station wagon to the Sunset/Vermont station, and drew plenty of stares from riders unaccustomed to the sight of passengers in tuxedoes.

S. Lo proceeded to the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and stepped into an elevator with Steve Martin, host of the Oscar telecast. S. Lo does not hang out with a B-List crowd.

“Are you ready?” S. Lo asked Martin.

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“As ready as I’m going to be,” Martin replied.

S. Lo asked if Martin had been rewriting his script, given the intensified action in Iraq on Sunday, when American blood was spilled. Martin said he suspected there’d be some rewriting even during the show.

Another passenger in the elevator appeared to be hyperventilating, but finally gathered himself enough to ask if he could take Martin’s picture. He said he and his friend loved “The Jerk” so much, they watched it over and over and over.

In that moment, S. Lo’s doubts about Sunday’s celebration of artistic achievement were vanquished.

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Sure, it’s a little hypocritical for Hollywood’s antiwar crowd to throw itself a party on the worst day of combat in recent memory. But art transcends tragedy. And as this elevator scene proved, good work like “The Jerk” not only endures, it lifts the spirit.

S. Lo proceeded to the hotel lobby to see if the stars were toning down because of the war, and bumped into Kathrine Baumann of K.B. Beverly Hills. She introduced herself as the designer of a 20-karat, $2.9-million handbag for Oscar nominee Queen Latifah, from the cast of “Chicago.”

Joan Rivers happened to walk by, and S. Lo was almost trampled as Baumann tried to get the attention of Rivers’ assistant. Baumann explained to S. Lo that she’d designed several bags for Rivers, and was just trying to say hello.

Back to the $2.9-million purse, Baumann said it was a cylinder-shaped number, canary yellow, with brilliant stones and a three-part clasp representing the past, present, and future of Hollywood. Alfredo J. Molina shook S. Lo’s hand, introducing himself as the designer of the clasp.

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It was a bit intimidating for S. Lo to be wearing a $95 tux in the company of designers to the stars, but they both said S. Lo looked sharp. (Here’s a shout-out to Tony the Barber).

S. Lo was wondering about that $2.9 million, which could probably feed an army battalion for months. Would it have been a $10-million accessory in peacetime? Baumann said the number wasn’t pulled out of thin air. It represents the fact that the Oscars began in 1929.

“I just did a segment on ‘E,’ ” said Baumann, who told the TV audience she has designed five bags over the years that made it to the Oscars.

S. Lo had no idea she was that prolific.

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“I’m the bag lady of Beverly Hills,” she exclaimed.

On a less uplifting note, Baumann mentioned the telecast of the Oscars in wartime.

“Despite the tumult in the world, this is what our forefathers fought for,” she said.

S. Lo was not sure where this was headed. But in Hollywood, it’s always been life, liberty, and the pursuit of Oscars.

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“They fought for us to have freedom of expression,” Baumann went on.

That’s why she was disappointed to see the stars surrender their inalienable right of frolicking on the red carpet.

“That red carpet is so important to them,” said Baumann. “Why do they have stylists? So they can preen themselves. The more press they get, the more recognition they get, and the more tickets they’ll sell.”

S. Lo has never met a more honest person in Hollywood.

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The war went badly Sunday, but the toned-down Oscars bravely endured, making about $25 million for ABC.

S. Lo took the subway home.

*

Steve Lopez can be reached at steve.lopez@latimes.com

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