WOODLAND HILLS — Their Chasen's days are well behind them.
They no longer agonize over acceptance speeches, worry about what to wear on the big night or plan to dance at the Governor's Ball. But the 280 residents of the Motion Picture and Television Country Home still like to party hard on Oscar night.
"I like to get in my evening gown and sit with my feet up," said Pearl Lucille Smith, 81, who spent 30 years as a secretary in the publicity department at Universal Pictures, polishing the images of stars like Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis. With a twinkle in her eye, Smith then explained that her "evening gown" now consists of a flannel nightgown and bedroom slippers.
At this industry-sponsored retirement home in Woodland Hills, memories of classic movies and the people who made them are always easy to find. But on Oscar night, the stories and soliloquies really flow as the residents, many of whom still belong to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, gather to watch the telecast.
"I had eight nominations and I never won, can you imagine," said George Cooper, 90, the sound engineer on films such as "Death of a Salesman" and "The Long Gray Line."
"I was a good dialogue recorder. . . . It just happened that we were always going up against musicals."
Delores Albin, 88, was a dancer who hoofed with her husband as part of the Oscar entertainment in 1935 and 1936, when the awards ceremony was still held at the Biltmore Hotel. "Everyone used to dress so elegantly," said Albin, who chose to watch the telecast alone in the privacy of her cottage. "Today, they dress like freaks, paying $500 for what?"
Watching the pre-Oscar parade arriving at the Shrine Auditorium, Erna Lazarus, 91, identified herself as one of the founders of the Screen Writers Guild. Sipping sparkling apple cider with her friends in a community room, she offered her opinion of today's crop of actors and films.
"You look at it and laugh to see the same thing year-in and year-out," Lazarus said. "As long as there are fans, there will be stars. But I don't think the motion pictures are as selective. They are crude. There are things that should be left to the imagination."
But make no mistake. For all the griping about long-gone glory days, they still love the movies. By 6 last night, when the awards program began, the 40-acre campus was silent except for the sound of dozens of televisions. Each year, the Academy sends the Country Home a pile of the same printed programs the Shrine audience receives.
John Chambers, 72, a makeup artist who won an Academy Award in 1967 for his work on the original "Planet of the Apes," wasn't in any hurry to get to his TV, though. Although he is proud of the younger artists whose talents he helped nurture and who were among last night's nominees, retirement has been bittersweet. Asked whether he would return to making movies if given the chance, he smiles wistfully and blinks hard several times.
"Today I am a dinosaur. I don't know, maybe I could contribute something," he said. "But it's like that phrase from some old song I heard.
" 'When I've sung my songs, I'll sing no more.' "