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Flynt's All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go Monday Night

March 22, 1997|KATHLEEN CRAUGHWELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Noticeably absent from the Oscars Monday night will be the subject of Milos Forman's hotly debated film "The People vs. Larry Flynt."

Flynt, the mogul behind Hustler and other publications, had expected to be invited to the awards until a representative from Sony--the parent company of Columbia Pictures, which released the film--made it clear to him earlier this week that it would not make a ticket available to him. Speaking about the snub in a phone interview from his office late Thursday afternoon, Flynt expressed ill feelings toward the studio.

"They led me to believe months ago that if we got nominated I'd get a ticket. A couple of weeks ago I called, and everybody started giving me a song and dance and the runaround. I actually went directly to John Calley [president and chief operating officer of Sony Pictures entertainment]. He said it was not appropriate that I didn't have a ticket and that he would get back with me. One of his underlings called me back and said, 'Sorry, no tickets.' "

A Columbia spokeswoman said Friday morning: "The Academy Awards is not our event. Like every other distributor we have been given a limited number of tickets and we are lucky enough to have a large number of nominations from 'Jerry Maguire,' 'The Mirror Has Two Faces,' as well as 'The People vs. Larry Flynt.' In accommodating those films, their nominees and filmmakers--as well as our top-level executives--there are simply no more tickets available."

The film was not nominated for best film but its director, Milos Forman, was nominated for best director, and Woody Harrelson, who portrays Flynt in the film, was nominated for best actor. Columbia did invite Flynt to the Golden Globe Awards in January, where he sat with Harrelson and Courtney Love, who portrayed his late wife, Althea.

But that was before the Gloria Steinem campaign hit full throttle. Although Steinem's op-ed piece blasting the film for glossing over the contents of Hustler magazine appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 7, Hollywood paid little notice until the same piece ran in a full-page ad in Variety, titled "For Your Consideration," on Jan. 17, exactly two weeks before the Oscar nominating ballots were due, and two days before the Golden Globes ceremony.

Although Steinem has been widely credited with what is being called the backlash against "The People vs. Larry Flynt," Flynt himself finds more fault with the studio and blames it for both the backlash and the poor box-office showing.

"I don't feel that they [the studio] did what they could do to defend the film against the attacks by Gloria Steinem. They could have launched a campaign themselves and got some spokesperson out there, ya know, talking on the networks and talking to the newspapers. That wouldn't have been very difficult for them to arrange. They took out a couple of lame ads in the trade publications and nobody reads them but people in the industry anyway."

A savvy businessman himself, Flynt is not shy about criticizing the studio's release pattern. But it is the snub of not receiving an Oscar invitation that has really gotten under his skin.

"This offends me much more than the Gloria Steinem issue. And the ironic thing about all this," he says with a laugh, "is that this film is about censorship. That's what makes it even more unbelievable."

It is true that tickets to the Academy Awards are a scarce commodity even for A-listers, but Flynt is quick to point out that traditionally real-life subjects of nominated films have been invited. "Any time a movie was nominated about a subject that was alive, they were all there, whether it was Jake LaMotta sitting next to Robert De Niro, or whether it was Loretta Lynn and 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' or just last year the nun [Sister Helen Prejean] who wrote the book 'Dead Man Walking,' which Susan Sarandon won best actress for. They had her ticket, she was there."

Indeed another current film subject, pianist David Helfgott, was invited to the awards show by Fine Line Features, the studio that released "Shine," the Oscar-nominated film based on his life. But the current controversy surrounding Helfgott's concert tour is one that deals with artistic merit, not morality. And it is music critics who are eschewing Helfgott, not liberal and Hollywood-friendly activists like Steinem. (Helfgott declined the invitation.)

"I just think what Columbia has done is real cheesy. You know, I can live without going to the Oscars. I just feel compelled to speak out about that type of arrogance."

So what will Flynt be doing Monday night instead?

"I've got an invitation to a post-Oscar party at the Laugh Factory," he says with a laugh.

But, in his first unsure comment in the interview, Flynt adds: "I really don't know what I'm going to do."

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