"Every activity is allocated a certain number of minutes," says Basil Walter, the team's architect, who creates the look of the party each year. "It's a fascinating sight."
Time is a fixation because work on the Morton's space doesn't begin until the Friday before the Sunday night party, when the last diners leave the restaurant just before midnight.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 27, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Vanity Fair editor--A headline on a story in Tuesday's Southern California Living incorrectly referred to Graydon Carter as publisher of Vanity Fair. He is the editor.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 28, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Philanthropist's name--In a Tuesday Southern California Living story about Vanity Fair's Oscar party, the first name of philanthropist Wallis Annenberg was misspelled.
Workers take sledgehammers to the back wall to create a 20-foot square entrance to the 7,000-square-foot tent that rises over the parking lot behind the building. Woodroffe's intricate lighting systems for the interior and facade are erected. Curtains are sewn on site. Undulating 20- and 30-foot white couches are arranged.
Two party planners who asked to remain anonymous went category by category through the costs of producing an event like Vanity Fair's in L.A. and put the tab at $800,000. That estimate didn't include the salaries of the core staff over the months of planning, nor the cost of flying in additional support staffers from New York the week before the party. There's also the cost of relocating a number of the restaurant's neighbors to hotels for the night. Add an estimated $33,500 to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for overtime paid to 39 officers for crowd and traffic control, and $9,100 to the city of West Hollywood for permits and the use of scores of parking meters, and the total would seem to surpass $1 million.
Is it $2 million? When asked, Carter deflects. "Nowhere near that. It's less.... Half. Less than half."
For Carter, the party is a bargain. It "is a huge source of favor-giving," says Young, the former Vanity Fair contributor. "When negotiating with advertisers or other associates, it can be brought up, as in 'and I can get you in to the Vanity Fair party.' That's case closed, done deal." (The magazine includes 50 advertisers among its guests.)
Perhaps most significant, the magazine has tapped the party buzz with its now-fat Hollywood issue and, says Carter, "between the party and the issue, April becomes a blockbuster month."
This year, Carter has also used his time in L.A. to promote a documentary on legendary producer Robert Evans, of which he is the executive producer. Yet, he maintains, "I'm independent of Hollywood. I've got nothing to sell," he adds. "We're not of Hollywood."
How did an "outsider" become the social arbiter of Hollywood's biggest night? He appointed himself inheritor of "Swifty" Lazar's legendary Oscar night party.
Lazar's gatherings "provided the dazzle of what old Hollywood must have been," says Dunne. When the fetes began in the early '60s at the Lazars' home, they drew stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, George Burns and Shirley MacLaine, and it didn't take long for an invitation to become the ultimate status symbol.
In 1985, the expanding bash moved to Spago, Wolfgang Puck's new spot above Sunset Boulevard. Fans lined the steep slopes of Horn Avenue to cheer the arriving limos driving up to the restaurant.
Lazar ruled the room and kept a tight rein on his guest list. "It was like 200 people tops," says Joan Rivers. "I once asked him [if I could] bring Wallace Annenberg and he said 'No room.'"
Lazar's death at the close of 1993 left a vacuum that both Carter and producer Steve Tisch rushed to fill. On New Year's Eve, the day after Lazar died, Tisch called his friend Peter Morton to reserve his restaurant for Oscar night. "I said, 'Look, Swifty Lazar has died and along with his death goes his legendary Academy Awards party,'" Tisch recalls. "'Why don't we do one for our generation?'"
A few weeks later, Tisch heard from Carter, who wanted to co-host the event. As the two worked together, Vanity Fair's guest list quickly surpassed Tisch's, he says. "I was very aware of the 800-pound gorilla in the room."
By year three, the party was all Carter's. "I remember what I thought was going to be a lot of fun ... turning into a nightmare," Tisch said. "People were coming out of the woodwork ... with subtle and not so subtle threats. They were saying: 'If I don't get invited, it's going to affect your ability to do business.'"
Under Carter, the guest list grew, reaching 1,500 last year, before fears that it would lose its exclusivity led planners to pare this year's cocktail party by 500.
At 10:45, the party is gathering momentum.
The tables have been removed, and the only pieces of furniture inside are 20- and 30-foot-long curving sofas lining the wall, small plexiglass coffee tables, and a couple of tall tables with flower decorations. A DJ on a topiary-covered elevated platform gets to work, though his music will be background, not the main event.
As some dinner guests are leaving (producer Robert Evans sneaked out, closely followed by Vogue's Anna Wintour,) others went party hopping ("We'll be back," Joan Collins to the assembled paparazzi with a wave of her hand,) and the crush of after-dinner guests began arriving.
"It's great people-watching," says Bening.