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THE JAUNDICED EYE

For Want of an Oscar . . .

March 22, 1998|Bruce McCall | Bruce McCall is a regular contributor to the New Yorker

NEVIS, B.W.I. — A wildcat strike at Acme Novelties, Inc., has thrown the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences into a panic, barely 36 hours before official 1998 Oscar ceremonies are slated to begin Monday.

Only 32 of more than 100 "Oscar" statuettes had been struck before artisans belonging to Local 306 of the Tchotchke & Gewgaw Sculptors Union laid down their tools and walked off the job. Members are demanding fringe benefits ranging from an employer-paid Oscar night party at Sunset Boulevard's swanky Bar Marmont; their names on all Oscar statuettes in type no smaller than half that used for the winners, and a solidarity visit to their picket line by Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Scant support has been forthcoming from the Hollywood film community, however.

"If we give in to them," an academy spokesperson said, "next thing you know it will be Oscar stage escorts demanding speaking parts, ushers wanting name credits, Price Waterhouse guys asking for personal trainers. Where will it end?"

Offers of aid, meanwhile, have been pouring into academy headquarters. An emergency committee of prominent producers has rallied to offer the chromed Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornaments from their own Rolls-Royces as temporary Oscar substitutes, on the basis that these are rarer and cost more than the famed gilded figures. This mirrored a similar offer by key studio executives to donate the silver three-pointed stars from the radiators of their Mercedes-Benzes. In any event, both offers were declined.

"It would be humiliating for our many Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bentley Brooklands-owning Oscar winners to accept the symbol of cars that cost many thousands less," a Screen Actor's Guild representative explains. "Besides, it could depress the price for their next picture deal."

The academy's own short-term solution--beautifully engraved coupons, entitling the bearers to free tours of the Aaron Spelling mansion, Monopoly-style but real "Get Out of Jail" passes and 30% liposuction discounts, among other special offers--was quickly dismissed by the powerful Film Agents' Advisory Board as "so cheesy, even we blanched."

In a worst-case scenario, meanwhile, academy functionaries were reportedly fanning out all over Los Angeles today to ransack novelty and antique shops and flea markets for Santa Claus, Pinocchio the Michelin Man and other plaster statuettes to be used as "stand-in" Oscars on awards night. "Sprayed gold, and with clever camera work," an academy executive opined, "it just might work!"

Calls for previous Oscar winners to lend their cherished souvenirs have, alas, proved unavailing. "They all held out for two-picture deals," laments one movieland insider.

Appeals to the most talented art students at L.A.'s most prestigious private schools, to sculpt duplicate Oscars, met with no greater success. The academy offered free Universal Studios tours; the students countered with requests for production deals, and there the matter rests.

To accommodate the crisis, acceptance speeches for potential Oscar winners are currently being rewritten around the clock from Bel-Air to Brentwood by ghostwriters whose fees have skyrocketed in a race to mint the wittiest "Oscar-less Oscar Night" ad-lib. "Nicholson's got Joanie (Didion) and J. G. (Dunne) locked in his solarium," confides one source, "and (David) Mamet, Gore (Vidal) and Eudora (Welty) are holed up at the Beverly Hills Hotel, writing killer lines for Dame Judy Dench." Oscars master of ceremonies Billy Crystal was even forced to hire an extra patter-writer for the unusual turn of events, but was relieved, staffers say, when he found out the writer was himself.

Reducing the number of Oscars presented on Monday night to match the limited number of genuine statuettes was rejected out of hand by the academy. "The viewing public around the world expects an interminable ordeal of meaningless and instantly forgotten Oscars for everything from Best Documentary Musical Score Without a Harmonica to Best Catering on a Foreign Location Shoot for a Non-Musical Feature," an academy veteran said, "and we don't intend to disappoint them."

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