AT about 11:15 -- and how was that possible? -- it was starting to look like an exodus from the Vanity Fair party. Brian Grazer and his shivering wife, Gigi Levangie Grazer, strolled out past the insanely aggressive stand of photographers. Close on their heels were Barbara Walters, Barry Diller, Diane von Furstenberg, Brad Grey, Steven Spielberg and his jeans-clad wife, Kate Capshaw. (“Jeans?” said a Vanity Fair assistant. “She has got to be kidding.”) But the party wasn’t over, far from it. As it turned out, the people with the little gold statues were just beginning to arrive from their obligatory stop at the Governors Ball.
Physically getting into the Vanity Fair bash Sunday night was like running a gantlet, especially for name-brand actresses who were screamed at, cajoled and blinded by the light of hundreds of flashes exploding in their faces.
“Can you fix my hair?” an intensely blond Brittany Murphy asked her publicist before she turned to face the lights. As she curled a long lock around her finger, she asked, “Does it look like baloney?” (At least, that’s what it sounded like she said.)
Anne Heche made the mistake of stopping to pose with her husband, Coleman Laffoon. “Anne,” they screamed, “can we have a single?” Laffoon gamely stepped out of the frame and instantly became Heche’s personal cheerleading squad. It was slightly weird, but endearing. “You’re so sexy,” he growled. “Let ‘em see it! Let ‘em love it!”
Uma Thurman, long, lean and gorgeous, was sweeping out toward the limos when the photographers waylaid her. “Wake up!” they commanded, and she obliged. A moment later, Samuel L. Jackson strolled out of the party, cooler-than-thou, with a Bluetooth thingy stuck in his ear. As he lighted a cigarette, he watched the bank of photographers, now screeching commands at Kristin Davis. “Oh my God,” he said under his breath.
Oh my God, indeed. Vanity Fair, which trimmed its guest list to about 800 this year, remains the holy grail of Hollywood status validation. Some popped into Elton John’s annual fete and even the new Us Weekly/Rolling Stone shindig (both down the road at the Pacific Design Center), but this one, it must be said, is where somebodies come to assert their somebodiness, and nobodies come to gawk.
The mood everywhere was upbeat, even relieved. (How can you be in a bad mood when everyone looks so damn good?) Although not all critics were entranced by host Jon Stewart’s low-key performance, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Sid Ganis was jubilant. “I’m flying,” he said, as guests settled down to a Wolfgang Puck-catered meal in a ballroom next to the Kodak Theatre, adding that it was his wife’s idea to hire the fake news guru for the telecast.
The best picture upset -- “Crash” instead of “Brokeback Mountain” -- was on people’s minds, but there was also a sense that everybody took something home. “Brokeback” co-producer and co-writer, Diana Ossana, who slung her writing Oscar over her shoulder, was philosophical. “How can you help but be happy about this? I’ve had an overabundance of riches with this film.”
Nibbling on hors d’oeuvres, “Crash” editor Hughes Winborne, who’d made a crack during his acceptance speech about being hard to live with the last few weeks, said he was happy it was over. “There were movies nominated other than ‘Crash’ that I liked more. ‘Munich,’ I thought was unbelievable. I liked ‘Brokeback,’ but it didn’t move me the way ‘Munich’ did.”
The rest of the “Crash” team reeled with its good fortune. They’d been so certain they would lose to “Brokeback Mountain” that when Jack Nicholson (so acutely aware of his status as America’s most precious acting resource that he opened his arms toward the audience to bathe in their adoration) announced that “Crash” had won best picture, producer Cathy Schulman said it took a moment to sink in.
Across town in West Hollywood, it was possible to stand unobtrusively in the big tent behind Morton’s restaurant that served as the Vanity Fair party’s central room and be dizzy at the star power in the near radius: Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Adrien Brody, Eric Bana (did you ever notice how tiny his mouth is?), Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan, all standing what would be whispering distance, if the music weren’t so loud, from the tiny Willem Dafoe and the surprisingly tiny Ben Stiller, who looks so big when projected on a 20-foot tall screen. Duh.
Next to that little clump of star power stood the also tiny Jennifer Aniston and her beau, the immensely tall Vince Vaughn, who chatted and laughed with Catherine Keener, who had figured out the only way to move around the party was to sweep the train of her tulle dress around her body like a cocoon.
Way back, against a far wall, Jennifer Lopez, whose wedding ring diamond is literally as large as a quarter, and her hubby, (the also tiny) Marc Anthony, conversed with Jon Voight, who doesn’t seem to attend an award show without that silk scarf around his neck. In the loo, one was distracted by a stunning Jacqueline Bisset in a gold strapless column trimmed with fur around the bust line.
One couldn’t help but ask: “Is that mink?”
“Oh, this old thing,” she said, fluffing her longish brown coif in the mirror “I don’t know. It’s something.” So is she.
In the very center of it all, on a long couch sat a man who looked so bored one could only wonder why he came. Oh wait. Salman Rushdie always has that half-lidded, wary look. He did spring ever so slightly to life when his incandescently beautiful wife, model Padma Lakshmi, joined him.
Fran Lebowitz, on the other hand, never seemed to get off the couch. She reclined in peace, watching the ceiling with artist Francesco Clemente, a dead ringer for Homeland Security’s Michael Chertoff. Except for the earrings.
A couch away, Rachel Weisz, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Burton and Keira Knightley leaned into one another in mostly British-inflected conversation. When Knightley arrived in a slinky black beaded gown and posed for the photographers -- who’d been shooting massive amounts of decolletage all night -- her exceptionally boyish chest raised the question: How on Earth did they give her cleavage in “Pirates of the Caribbean”? Oh the magic of movie making!
Around 1 a.m., Richard Johnson, editor of the New York Post’s venerable gossip column, “PageSix,” shared an In-N-Out burger with his fiancee. Shared is probably euphemistic. They were having a teensy little tug of war over it. The hors d’oeuvres trays were still being passed by waiters, but every year, Vanity Fair brings in an In-N-Out mobile station, which is really the only food that hits the spot that late.
(Three years ago, agent Ed Limato tossed a drink in Johnson’s face for something he’d written; except for the intense odor of marijuana in one corner, this year guests were far too well behaved.)
Johnson’s fiancee, Sessa von Richthofen, reported that Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter had announced to Johnson earlier that “the Hiltons are not invited to my parties.” Indeed, the party was a Hilton-free zone. But the Scary Skinny Girl contingent was well represented by the skeletal Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan, who looks like she could use a few double-doubles.
Over at one of the many bars, Michelle Williams reached for her glass of champagne and noticed the party favor, a lollipop imprinted with a head shot of underage actress Dakota Fanning. (It was a photograph from the magazine’s Hollywood issue, which had incongruously featured Miss Fanning in vintage Chanel.) “Oh my god, that’s disgusting,” said Williams, imagining untold hordes sucking on little Dakota’s face. “That’s almost pornographic!”
Speaking of inappropriate, a very congenial impostor had made his way into the party. Fred Karger, who had purchased a slightly sub-sized Oscar statuette at a trophy store, said he had managed, by brandishing the fake, to get through security with no questions asked. Karger, who described himself as a retired corporate public relations man, announced that he was part of the winning “King Kong” special effects team, and no one challenged him. (While chatting with Keener, he dropped the Oscar, nearly on her foot. It bounced.
On the other side of the room, a jovial Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in conversation with Jamie Foxx. Police Chief William J. Bratton arrived with his wife, Court TV’s Rikki Klieman, and like the mayor, said he was thrilled that “Crash” took best picture. Why? “Because it’s L.A.,” he replied.
“I think it was an overdramatization of a real phenomenon,” said the mayor. “There are real tensions in the city, but every day there are a thousand acts of kindness.”
(Among the acts of kindness committed was the generosity of the uniformed fire marshals, who arrived as conspicuously as any top-tier star and swept through the room around 1 a.m. looking for trouble. Finding none -- or perhaps being overwhelmed by the huge numbers of people smoking -- they departed.)
On a night when so many had been in suspense for so long, it was refreshing to encounter the “Wallace & Gromit” team of Steve Box and Nick Park. They felt rather bad admitting it, they said, but they knew they were going to win. Simple as that. “Everybody told us that we were a shoo-in,” Box said at the Governors Ball. This would explain why they’d had miniature versions of their oversized striped bow ties, made by designer Paul Stuart, ready to slip onto the necks of their Oscars.
And as Stewart made a triumphant entrance, with pats on the back and approving handshakes, he embodied the spirit of the glorious post-Oscar moment in his own way. “Oh, my God,” he said, “I am ready for an IV. Or cocktails. Maybe a beer IV.”
Times staff writer Ashley Powers contributed to this report.