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Oscar trivia

Sunday, March 26, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The first Academy Awards were handed out May 16, 1929, during a banquet in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Tickets were $10, and 250 people attended. No one had to worry about smiling in the face of defeat, since the winners were known in advance. (Sort of like the People's Choice awards but legitimate.) Results were shared with newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. that night. In 1941, the stakes were raised considerably when the sealed-envelope system was introduced.

It's about time! Tonight's broadcast will mark the first time that a woman -- Lili Fini Zanuck, working with husband Richard D. Zanuck -- has produced an Oscar show.

The Zanucks shared the Best Picture Oscar for "Driving Miss Daisy" and Richard received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, given to producers whose work reflects a "consistently high quality of motion picture production." Richard is the son of legendary producer and fellow Thalberg winner Darryl Zanuck.

The younger Zanuck says, "This awards ceremony is practically in my DNA. I've been going for 50 years. I've watched my dad win three Oscars. My whole life has been infused with this annual ceremony. I want to recapture some of that old Hollywood community spirit -- when you wouldn't dream of skipping the biggest night in town."

Billy Crystal rolls a seven tonight. This will be his seventh time hosting the Oscar show, which starts at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. He hosted four consecutive shows, beginning in 1990, and returned after a three-year hiatus for the 69th and 70th telecasts. This is the 72nd. Crystal's tenure has garnered him more Emmy nominations than any other host.

Before Crystal returns to center stage, the evening will start with an arrivals show, "Countdown to Oscars 2000," at 8 p.m. It will be hosted by Meredith Vieira from ABC's "The View," actress-model Tyra Banks and Chris Connelly, correspondent and editorial director of MTV News. They will interview celebrities as they reach the red carpet outside the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Although those dreadful dance numbers have been scrapped, we'll still get performances of the five nominated songs. Expected to appear: Phil Collins, Gloria Estefan, 'N Sync, Sarah McLachlan, Randy Newman and Aimee Mann.

In addition, a special medley of former Oscar-winning and nominated songs will be performed by Garth Brooks, Whitney Houston, Ray Charles, Isaac Hayes and Queen Latifah. The medley is being arranged and conducted by Burt Bacharach and Don Was, the show's music directors.

Actor Peter Coyote will be the "Voice of Oscar" during the telecast. He will welcome the TV viewers to the ceremony, announce presenters and tease awards to come. Coyote has made 50-plus theatrical and TV films and recently wrote a memoir of the '60s, "Sleeping Where I Fall." This won't be the first time an Academy member has handled the announcing chores: Ronald Reagan was the announcer for the radio broadcast in 1950.

Two honorary awards will be given tonight. Warren Beatty will receive the Thalberg Award. He is the only person to be twice nominated for producer, director, writer and actor. Beatty received those four nominations for "Heaven Can Wait" in 1978 and again in 1981 for "Reds."

Also being saluted: Polish director Andrzej Wajda, being recognized for his body of work, including a trio of Best Foreign Language Film nominees: "Land of Promise" in 1975, "The Maids of Wilko," 1979 and "Man of Iron," 1982.

Haley Joel Osment, who needed a hidden step to reach the podium at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, is among first-time presenters. Other newcomers include: Erykah Badu, Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt (right), Lucy Liu, Heather Graham, Tobey Maguire, Edward Norton and Jude Law.

"Get Bruce!" is proving prophetic once again. That was the movie (and now video) about Bruce Vilanch, one of the most sought-after writers in Hollywood. In the film, he is shown brainstorming with Crystal for a previous Oscar stint. Vilanch, on his 10th Oscar show, is now head writer.

If Oscar campaigns translate into Oscar wins (and they can), consider: The Los Angeles Times reports DreamWorks spent more than $774,000 promoting its "American Beauty" in the trade paper Variety. Disney forked over about $141,000 on "The Sixth Sense" and $198,000 on "The Insider." Warner Bros. spent $313,000 to plug "The Green Mile" and Miramax paid $350,000 to make sure "The Cider House Rules" rules.

If "American Beauty" turns all eight nominations into wins, it will join an elite club. Also winning eight: "Gone With the Wind," "The Best Years of Our Lives" (including a special Oscar for disabled vet Harold Russell, also honored as Best Supporting Actor), "From Here to Eternity," "On the Waterfront," "My Fair Lady," "Cabaret," "Gandhi" and "Amadeus." With one exception, "The Best Years of Our Lives," all of those movies had more nominations than "Beauty."

Sometimes, The Big One can still elude a movie that takes home eight Oscars. "Cabaret" did that but lost Best Picture to "The Godfather." You got a problem with that?

"Titanic" and "Ben-Hur" reign in the record books with 11 Oscars each. "West Side Story" won 10, and "The English Patient," "The Last Emperor" and "Gigi" each took nine.

"American Beauty" has a chance to join yet another prestigious group. If it sweeps five of the top awards -- picture, director, actor, actress, writing -- it will be only the fourth movie to do so. The others: "It Happened One Night," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "The Silence of the Lambs."

Jane Fonda can't bear to part with a dress she promised to auction after wearing it tonight. "I've fallen in love with it," she said of the strapless satin dress, designed by Vera Wang.

Fonda announced earlier this month that the dress would go to the highest bidder at a June 27 movie premiere, with proceeds going to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, which Fonda founded in 1995.

"I've changed my mind. ... Seriously, I can't just wear this dress for 10 minutes on Oscar night and then turn it over to someone else yet," she said.

Fonda, scheduled as a presenter, said she may be willing to auction the dress in 2001. Or maybe she can get a duplicate; Fonda can probably afford it.

Entertainment awards are proliferating, with 332 ceremonies last year, up from 252 in 1997, according to Variety.

The industry has ovations and backslaps for directors, writers and cinematographers, and salutes for the best movie trailers, publicity campaigns and raising of awareness on social issues. Even the awards shows can win awards.

One honor that stars can live without: the Golden Raspberry, given for the worst movie or performance. They were scheduled to have been announced last night. Nominees for the Razzies included "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," "Big Daddy" and "The Blair Witch Project."

Not all Academy members will be in Los Angeles tonight. The official New York Oscar Night celebration will be at Le Cirque, with cocktails at 6:30 p.m., a presentation by Robert Osborne, author of "70 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards," a four-course dinner and a telecast from the other coast.

Meryl Streep's 12th Oscar nomination, for "Music of the Heart," tied her with Katharine Hepburn for most nominations in performing categories. Hepburn's nominations were all for leading actress, while Streep has received two supporting and 10 Best Actress nominations. Streep has won twice, for her supporting part in "Kramer vs. Kramer" and the lead in "Sophie's Choice."

Hepburn is the most honored performer of all time. She has won four Academy Awards. Runners-up: Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan and Jack Nicholson, each with three.

When it comes to nominations for best foreign-language film, France leads all countries with 29. Runners-up: Italy, 26; Spain, 17; Sweden, 11; Japan, 10; USSR (as the Academy designates it), nine; Hungary and West Germany, eight each; Poland, seven; and Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Israel and Yugoslavia, six each.

Italy leads in wins with 10, plus three special or honorary awards, followed by France, with nine and a trio of special awards, too. If, as expected, Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother" wins, Spain's total will jump to three.

Actors are the ultimate arbiters of membership in the Oscar Club. The 1,300-plus members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' acting branch choose the five nominees for all four acting categories. The academy's entire 5,500 voting members select the winners. But the acting branch, which is three times larger than any other branch and makes up nearly 25 percent of all academy voters, clearly has the biggest say in the outcome.

Best Picture nominee "The Green Mile" is set in a prison's death row. The first film set in a prison to be nominated for best film was 1930's "The Big House," starring Wallace Beery and Chester Morris. It lost to "All Quiet on the Western Front."

Until now, only seven movies have won both Best Actor and Best Actress prizes: "It Happened One Night," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Network," "Coming Home," "On Golden Pond," "The Silence of the Lambs" and "As Good As It Gets." If Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening take the top acting awards, "American Beauty" will join that roster.

Only two movies have won three Academy Awards for acting: "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Network." No movie has ever won all four acting awards.

First-time nominee Russell Crowe remade himself for the role of Jeffrey Wigand in "The Insider." He gained weight, donned wire-rim glasses and dyed his hair for the part of the tobacco whistleblower whose life was forever changed by an interview with "60 Minutes."

Look for the real Wigand to attend with former "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman (portrayed by Al Pacino) and Marie Brenner, whose Vanity Fair article inspired the film. Although Wigand initially was snubbed in his request for seats, director Michael Mann and Disney came through with the toughest tickets in town.

If Denzel Washington, an early favorite for Best Actor, loses tonight, blame it on good buzz turned bad. Publicity about "The Hurricane" and how the screenplay took liberties with the truth (a charge that could be leveled at other fact-based movies) seems to have damaged its chances. If Washington wins, it will be his second statue. He won Best Supporting Actor for "Glory," released in 1989.

If Kevin Spacey is named Best Actor, he will become a two-time winner. He took home a Best Supporting Actor award in 1986 for "The Usual Suspects." His date that night was his mother, whom he thanked for driving him to acting classes when he was a teen.

When Richard Farnsworth's agent called to say David Lynch had offered him the lead in a new movie called "The Straight Story," the 79-year-old actor had a question and a concern, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. The question: Who's David Lynch? The concern: He wouldn't be physically able to play the part.

As it turned out, his wobbly legs and hip -- byproduct of an early career as a stunt man -- worked for him. Alvin Straight was a 73-year-old man who rode his lawn tractor across most of Iowa and part of Wisconsin to visit his ailing brother. Once Farnsworth realized Lynch directed one of his favorite movies ("The Elephant Man"), he was amenable.

If Farnsworth triumphs, he would become the oldest Best Actor winner. If he doesn't, Henry Fonda, who was 76 when he was honored for "On Golden Pond," will remain in the record books. Jessica Tandy was the oldest performer to win a competitive, not honorary, Oscar. She was 80 when honored for "Driving Miss Daisy."

Sean Penn, up for Best Actor for "Sweet and Lowdown," was nominated once before for "Dead Man Walking." He lost to "Leaving Las Vegas" star Nicolas Cage.

Janet McTeer may sound like a North Carolina gal in "Tumbleweeds," but the Best Actress nominee is one of Britain's most respected stage actresses. In 1997, her performance in Ibsen's "A Doll's House" won her the Tony for best actress (dramatic).

Thirty years ago, Jon Voight, the father of Best Supporting Actress nominee Angelina Jolie ("Girl, Interrupted"), received his first Oscar nomination -- for Best Actor for "Midnight Cowboy." He lost to John Wayne in "True Grit." Voight won the award for 1978's "Coming Home," beating Warren Beatty, Gary Busey, Robert De Niro and Laurence Olivier. His co-star, Jane Fonda, also won that year.

At 11, Haley Joel Osment from "The Sixth Sense" is not the youngest Best Supporting Actor nominee. Justin Henry (below, with co-stars Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep) was 8 when nominated for his film debut, 1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer." He lost to Melvyn Douglas, who didn't bother to show Oscar night. "The whole thing is absurd, my competing with an 8-year-old," he sniffed.

Tatum O'Neal is the youngest supporting performer winner. She was 10 when she won for 1973's "Paper Moon." Anna Paquin was 11 when she got the gold for "The Piano." Shirley Temple was 5 when she received a special juvenile award.

With his nod for "Angela's Ashes," composer John Williams is the most nominated living person with 38. His first nomination was for the 1967 cult favorite "Valley of the Dolls."

The first Oscars in the supporting acting categories were presented in March 1937. Walter Brennan won for "Come and Get It" and Gale Sondergaard for "Anthony Adverse."

Michael Caine, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, stars in Best Picture nominee "The Cider House Rules." In 1966, Caine starred in the Best Picture nominee "Alfie," for which he was nominated for leading actor. He also appeared in the 1986 Best Picture nominee "Hannah and Her Sisters," for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In one of life's little indignities, Caine wasn't there. He was stuck in the Bahamas where he was filming "Jaws: The Revenge," not one of his finer moments.

For whatever it's worth to last-minute Oscar pool participants: Pace University (New York) researchers analyzed the reported ages of every Oscar nominee and winner in the four acting categories from 1975-1999. On average, the women were younger than the men in all categories.

The average age of the winners in a leading role was 45.6 years old for men and 40.3 for women. In the supporting category, average age for men was 51.9 (last year's winner James Coburn probably boosted that) and 41.8 for women.

In case you'd like to try to duplicate the design of the Governors Ball at the Shrine's Exposition Hall for your next soiree: The ceiling will be draped with billowing white parachuting, which will be illuminated with projected images, including molten lava, ocean waves, cloud-sprinkled sky and brilliant stars.

Oval tables will be draped with iridescent pewter blue partial cloths. Square tables will be covered in burnt orange tailored forms with a silver mesh overlay.

They will be decorated with floral arrangements: bowls of Cymbidium orchids immersed in water and colored oils; tall cylinder vases with Obkai anthurium; and tall arrangements of Calla lilies surrounded by mounds of Mercedes roses on metal risers.

Guests at the ball will dine on food Cinderella could only dream about. It's being presented by celeb chef Wolfgang Puck and his new catering company, Wolfgang Puck Special Events.

Hors d'oeuvres, including such delicacies as roasted new potatoes with caviar and tuna tataki with wasabi cream, will be passed by waiters and on platters at each table. The meal itself: free-range chicken breast with wild mushroom risotto and black truffles with baby carrots and sweet peas. The wines will be Beringer's 1998 Napa Valley Chardonnay and 1996 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. And Laurent Perrier Champagne will flow freely.

Desserts, especially golden chocolate Oscars, will be aplenty.

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