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BACKSTORY

The Movable Fete

Homeless For Seven Decades, Oscar Will Settle Down Next Year

March 25, 2001|SUSAN KING

The Academy Awards have been presented in nine different locations during their 73-year history--the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's Blossom Room, the Ambassador Hotel, the Biltmore Hotel, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Shrine Auditorium, the Academy Award Theatre, the Pantages Theatre, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Starting next year, though, the awards are scheduled to take up residence at the Kodak Theatre, currently being built at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The new theater is part of a $500-million retail, dining and entertainment development by TrizecHahn Corp. It will include a red carpet entryway for arriving guests and a 30,000-square-foot ballroom for the post-Oscar Governors Ball.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will not own the theater, but it will have a long-term lease that will guarantee the show a home for the foreseeable future. During the rest of the year, the 3,300-seat theater will be used for other live TV events, awards shows and even theatrical productions. But make no mistake, the theater was designed with the live Oscar telecast in mind.

A media "cockpit" has been created in the center of the orchestra seating and contains sound, lighting and camera positions, and the theater will be outfitted with cable and power routes. The orchestra level also will have a ring of seats next to the stage to give winners easy access to the podium.

Oscar has led a vagabond existence for a lot of reasons. From 1929 until 1943, the awards were presented in a banquet format. "Then after '43, they became a stage show," says Bruce Davis, executive director of the academy.

The Oscars began a three-year run at Grauman's (now Mann's) Chinese Theatre in 1944. "They wanted a big theater where they could do an elaboration of a Hollywood Canteen idea and make it something servicemen could enjoy," Davis says.

Economics also played an important part in the decision-making. Because the Academy is nonprofit, Davis says, "they were often going for what they could afford." In 1949, he says the organization could only afford to stage the show at its own 1,000-seat Academy Award Theatre on Melrose. "It was really a movie theater."

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was Oscar's sole venue from 1969 through 1987. Since 1988, the location has alternated between the Chandler, which seats 2,800 for the awards show, and the Shrine, which seats 5,800 for the Oscars. Davis said the Shrine was chosen because the Academy was "developing an uncomfortable backlog of members who would apply for tickets. We were not able to get them in. You have to get the nominees and the presenters in, and then you start with the membership."

With the Shrine's greater seating capacity, Davis says, "we found that we could eliminate those backlogs in just one year. Suddenly, everybody who wanted to attend could attend. So we kind of hit on a strategy of bouncing back and forth."

That arrangement also has eased the logistical conflicts the Academy has encountered at the Chandler in recent years. "We really are an intrusion on their schedule," Davis says. "That was always a little uncomfortable for them and for us."

Davis has promised that watching the awards in the new theater will be an "intimate experience."

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