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What You Won't See at Oscars : Pinkerton Sets the Stage for Safe Ceremony

March 29, 1993|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are three big secrets in Hollywood right now: the Oscar winners, "The Crying Game" plot twist and the security plan for tonight's 65th annual Academy Awards.

Gilbert Cates, the show's producer, has simply promised that "security will be total and complete" and will "go well beyond what we normally do."

Considering the political volatility in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and the anxiety following last month's World Trade Center bombing, one cannot be too careful.

Security forces, which include personnel from the academy, private guards, the Los Angeles Police Department, the California Highway Patrol and the Sheriff's Department, are being coordinated by Pinkerton Security, which has overseen the operation for the last five years.

"We assume that the worst is going to happen. Any given year the concerns might be different . . . but the precautions we take evolve out of a worst-case scenario," explained Peter Sawyers, vice president at Pinkerton Security.

The company recently implemented a new computer system, which Sawyers believes will increase safety. The Pinkerton Automated Resource System--or PARS--will monitor the entire security staff right down to which guard is where and what that person's specialty is. In the event of an emergency or staff changes, the system can adjust personnel as needed.

PARS monitors about 45,000 Pinkerton employees nationwide, but "with the use of high-speed modems, we can now utilize the system on-site," Sawyers said. The system was first tested at the Emmys earlier this year.

Sawyers said there is always intense security surrounding the event. "That has especially been true since the (Persian) Gulf War two years ago. I don't think we're any more nervous now than we were (then)."

In 1991, when the awards were held just weeks after the war's end, the precautions taken at the Shrine Auditorium were akin to those at the international terminal of LAX. Guests and fans alike passed through metal detectors. Purses were searched. All guests wore special security badges, which granted entry only to specific areas. The final security force totaled about 500 people.

Several weeks before the ceremony, casual access to the Shrine was sealed off. Every inch of the building was checked daily with the help of dogs trained to sniff out explosives. Fans, who often camp out overnight to get the best view of arrivals, were not allowed at the site until 8 a.m. on Oscar day. Items that could be thrown, including cameras, were banned at the gates.

Cates was also ready to snuff out any on-air disruptions with taped highlights of past awards, ready to roll at a moment's notice.

Last year, the problem was demonstrators. The homosexual-rights group Queer Nation had threatened to disrupt the ceremony, protesting negative depictions of homosexuals in films. About 10 people were arrested outside the Music Center, but the ceremony itself went uninterrupted.

"We do have special-interest groups from time to time try to gain attention . . . and those have been very smoothly handled without much of an incident at all. We and the academy are pretty proud of the way things have been handled," Sawyers said.

Jerry Moon, a former LAPD officer and professional wrestler who is chief of security for the academy, has been quoted as saying that this year he is keeping an eye on gay rights groups again, and the Irish Republican Army, whose members may be unhappy with their portrayal in "The Crying Game."

During Moon's 22 years at the job, no Oscar statuette has been stolen. The biggest security gaffe was the well-known 1974 incident where a man streaked past an unflustered David Niven and TV cameras.

But the award for most common security problem goes to . . . gate crashers.

"We get them every year. There are literally hundreds of attempts to become, say, an uninvited guest to the party," Sawyers said.

Wanna-be guests have been known to hide in the men's room two days before the event. Others--also caught--have stolen ushers' uniforms.

Crashers offer excuses that run the gamut from "My girlfriend left my invitation in the car" to "I'm Kevin Costner's cousin," Sawyers said. After the show, security guards swap creative excuses. Most crashers aren't serious security risks, he said, but simply want to be a part of "the world's most visible party"--seen by an estimated 1 billion TV viewers.

But some crashers are obsessed fans and are considered a little more dangerous. Academy security personnel reportedly are given photos of known obsessed fans, much like a Secret Service terrorist profile. Stars who have been threatened or are controversial are given personal security, though most bodyguards are not allowed in the theater unless their clients have arranged to get them seats.

So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Well, it's not that easy.

"There is a general view in the public that any warm body can show up and be a security officer, and I can tell you that is just not true. Our integrity test alone weeds out one out of three applicants," Sawyers said.

Kerstin Bagus, vice president of customer relations for Pinkerton Services Group, said their guards have to go through a personal integrity test, a computerized interview, an in-person interview and a background check all before being hired for any job.

Guards for the Oscars are selected based on how their skills match up with the assignment. A guard at the Oscars, for example, would need "better interpersonal skills than someone who works graveyard guarding a dock somewhere," she explained.

"Those people have to be very public relations-oriented," Bagus said. "They can't be the kind of people who are star-struck and are going to go follow a star off to get an autograph."

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