By midnight Sunday it was clear that, war or no war, some Oscar traditions cannot be compromised. And so the golden-statuette set headed to the Vanity Fair party at Morton's for their final victory lap. There was a beaming Nicole Kidman shaking everyone's hand, even those of perfect strangers. Adrien Brody bear-hugging his old roommate Orlando Jones. Harvey Weinstein, apparently skipping out early on his own affair at the St. Regis, waving to friends across the room. Chris Cooper on a sofa, balancing his Oscar on one knee. Farrah Fawcett writhing to the beat of the disco hit "Good Times." Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in a far corner, smooching like teenagers. And there, sitting at his usual table, was writer Dominick Dunne, who noted dryly: "Everyone ends up here eventually."
The annual Vanity Fair party has become the year's most glamorous experience, even for the initiated. Here, each glittering evening bag and tuxedo jacket was searched for cameras, not weapons. Because, after all, star worship is irresistible inside Morton's on Oscar night.
Outside the West Hollywood restaurant, after guests passed two security checkpoints, they reached a phalanx of black-tie valets, more security guards, two sheriff's deputies, and then, The List. It was clasped with both arms by a young woman wearing white faux fur and bearing a remarkable resemblance to Reese Witherspoon. She politely declined Illeana Douglas entrance, but after checking Donald Trump's laminated, color-coded pass printed with his appointed time and number of guests, granted him passage.
Jake Gyllenhaal stepped out of an SUV and met his date Kirsten Dunst at the curb, where she straightened his tie. With a gallant wave to their screaming fans across the street, they too were asked for their credentials. "Have a wonderful time," beamed The List holder. Douglas stood under a heat lamp and smirked.
The magazine ditched its red carpet this year to show solidarity with the academy, so aside from the helicopter overhead and the hundreds of waiting fans and photographers, there was no fanfare.
Inside, guests -- even the nobodies -- were suddenly thrust into a roomful of household names acting like old friends. Val Kilmer jotted something down on a napkin for Christina Applegate. Near the bar, Suzanne Somers recounted a painful memory of the nude photos that cost her the job as Ace Hardware spokeswoman. "And I wanted to tell the truth," she said. "I was 17! So, I went on Barbara Walters."
The restaurant had been transformed with minimalist precision. Everything was white. White and lavender roses topped white bar tables. Guests lounged on white leather sofas in rooms of white floors, white walls and white-shirted waiters. And per editor in chief (and smoker) Graydon Carter's explicit orders, the whole party was open to smokers. Jars of colored cigarettes were offered at the bar and each table featured an ashtray. Flat-screen TVs were positioned as art throughout, showing the taped Oscar telecast. Other larger screens projected views of the crowd over the crowd itself, so guests could stargaze from room to room.
"I just embarrassed myself," David Spade confessed to a friend. "I talked to Bono." The pop star bumped into him, he said, giving him the perfect opening.
Nicole Kidman arrived about 12:30 a.m. without her statuette but with her parents, Janelle and Anthony, in tow. "She works hard," Janelle said of her daughter. "She's serious about her craft." Kidman hardly stopped smiling, and to a friend she recalled hearing her name announced as winner. "I was shocked!" she said, holding a hand to her throat.
Melissa Etheridge waited her turn to congratulate Kidman. The rock singer said the party is a chance to catch up with friends. "This year, it's a little bit different," she said. But "there's a lot of hugging, a lot of kissing." Nia Vardalos modeled her sequined gown for Lainie Kazan, who played her mother in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." "Fabulous," said Kazan with maternal pride. While Sheryl Crow ordered a drink at the bar, Luke Wilson took it all in. "Well, the stars are out tonight!" he said. Nearby, the petite Dr. Ruth Westheimer stood, her chin barely reaching the tall table where her white wine glass sat.
Oscar nominee Martin Scorsese, who lost his bid for best director to Roman Polanski, wasn't long for the party scene. He arrived around 11 and left soon after. "I just stopped by to say 'hi' to Graydon," he said, rushing out.
By 2 a.m., the Vanity Fair party began to disperse, while a few miles away at the Miramax party, Catherine Zeta-Jones was still celebrating at the St. Regis Hotel in Century City. A crowd of black suits and photographers crowded around the couch that she and husband Michael Douglas shared. The pregnant actress showed more stamina than a group of publicists on a nearby sofa.
All women, they had kicked off their shoes and perched their stockinged feet on a low table. There, as their clients continued to shake hands with well-wishers, they sipped water and braced themselves for early mornings. And another Oscar night had passed.