Oscar's Red Carpet Fades to Black; Next Question, Will Show Go On?

March 19, 2003|John Horn, Gina Piccalo and Michael Quintanilla | Times Staff Writers

One of the Academy Awards' signature scenes -- the arrival of celebrities along the red carpet -- will be eliminated at this year's show over concerns that it would be an unseemly display for a nation on the brink of war, Oscar organizers said Tuesday.

At the same time, although there currently are no plans to postpone Sunday's ceremony, the academy has begun exploring options for delaying the show, including looking for other venues if the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood is no longer available.

Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, said it would be "useless speculation" to discuss a postponement, though he added that it would be "self-serving and frivolous" to proceed with the show if American troops were in combat. "But," he said, "we don't even know if the war will have begun by Sunday night."

So for now, saying they have been inundated by calls from celebrities asking to bypass the paparazzi-jammed arrivals area, academy organizers have chosen to roll up the red carpet for the first time in the award show's 75-year history.

"The academy is mindful that its celebrity guests would feel uncomfortable arriving at this year's awards at the beginning of a major war to face a business-as-usual phalanx of interviewers and photographers," said Gil Cates, who is producing the broadcast.

Also eliminated this year: the temporary bleachers along Hollywood Boulevard where more than 300 fans were set to watch the stars walk the red carpet into the theater.

Taking away the red carpet deprives the Oscars of one of its glitziest moments. It also dismantles the live, internationally televised runway that gives top fashion designers and jewelers a chance to show off their wares on some of the best-looking and best-known people in the world. It displaces fashionista Joan Rivers of E! Entertainment and 500 other journalists who cover the arrivals.

Although Cates and Pierson said at a news conference that they had no plans to postpone the broadcast, set to begin at 5:30 p.m. on ABC, senior academy officials have begun to consider options for holding the Oscars at a later date. Because another show is in rehearsals and opens April 2 at the Kodak, officials are looking at other possible venues.

"We are continuing our efforts to bring the show together on Sunday, but we do understand that ABC may adjust to war coverage if it is required, and that ABC News will cover news as it happens," Cates said. "Keeping in mind the world situation, the academy has elected to prepare a more sober pre-show and a scaled-back arrivals sequence."

Cates said guests arriving by limousine will get out of their cars on Hollywood Boulevard and enter the theater from a private side entrance outside the spotlight area. There will be no areas for interviews or cameras, he said.

The news rippled out swiftly among those with a professional interest in the Oscars.

As soon as Melissa Rivers, who handles red carpet duties with her mother for E! Networks, heard, she called Joan, who was at a Broadway show in New York.

"Who thought the day would come that the entertainment industry wouldn't want to talk about themselves?" said Melissa Rivers.

For agencies that sell Oscar photographs, the red-carpet scene represents $10,000 to $15,000 in one night.

Steve Granitz, whose company, Wire Image, was scheduled to supply red-carpet photos to thousands of publications, said: "I shoot every single event in the whole year. It's almost like building the car and not putting the engine in. That is the big moment of the year."

Yet Carol Brodie Gelles, global director of communications for jeweler Harry Winston, said the disappearance of the red carpet doesn't spell the end of the night's glitter.

"It's business as usual for us, even if celebrities aren't on the red carpet," she said. "There still will be gowns, and they'll need jewels for them."

But shoe designer Stuart Weitzman announced Tuesday night that he was pulling a $1.5-million pair of ruby-and-platinum shoes that had been on offer for an actress to wear. "Our nation is going through a serious situation, and there's always time to celebrate later," he said.

Without a red carpet, without fans, without the paparazzi, Gelles said, "I think the people who will benefit the most will be the Vanity Fair party-givers. If Vanity Fair has its party, that will be the red carpet."

But the academy's decision was having an effect there too.

"We are following the lead of the academy, which means we will have no camera crews and no paparazzi," said Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak. The decision will also affect the nationally broadcast half-hour pre-show, which is typically filled with celebrity arrivals. Cates said the producer of the pre-show has spent the last two days revising the program, which will now feature pre-packaged segments and footage of the nominated films.

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