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  After the Oscars, a Total Implosion of Stars

By William Booth and Sharon Waxman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 25, 1998

HOLLYWOOD—Sometime way after midnight, on the patio of Morton's, the host of the highest-wattage Oscar party in town was finally to be found. Graydon Carter, the editor of that fat, glossy and heavily perfumed old gal, Vanity Fair, stood, as pleased with himself as a pasha, positively beaming as a wall of paparazzi surged against the velvet ropes and loosed another barrage of flashes, while a very tense young assistant barked into his radio, "Robin Williams just arrived with 20 guests!"

"It is our biggest party yet," Carter affirmed. "Bigger and better every year. It's really almost too much." He chuckled.

Ah, because it is really never too much.

Not when inside the tony and rather smallish restaurant in the early hours of yesterday morning, celebrities are packed to the banquettes -- so many of them that it is possible with one slow pan around the room to see Cher and Madonna and Joni Mitchell in a single conversational cluster; to watch Kate Winslet locking lips with her boyfriend; to listen to Brad Pitt meet a pleasant woman said to be Minnie Driver's mother; and to see, that yes, Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche, who met at the Vanity Fair party here one year ago, are still an item, as DeGeneres made clear by smooching with Heche, the poor girl only allowed to come up for an occasional intake of air.

It was, for an ordinary-type person, a glimpse of what it might have felt like to be a small furry mammal in the Age of Dinosaurs.

The place was smoking. Literally. Forget California's new ban on tobacco use in nightclubs -- it seemed as if all of Hollywood was waving a Marlboro Red around. Want to know why there's so much gratuitous puffing in movies? Everyone smokes!

The Vanity Fair fete reeled in the big ones -- and the other ones, too. Steven Seagal trolled the room, his hands folded over his belly, a portrait of a karate master in deep meditation -- careful, perhaps, not to bump into the strangely diminutive "Muscles From Brussels" Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The place is jammed. It takes a moment to realize the person trying to squirm through a crowd of bodies packed as close as a group lambada is Faye Dunaway. Discretion demands that it is enough to say: A moment was shared.

The always Politically Incorrect Bill Maher was dragging his lovely date around as he worked the crowd. "Oh, you're with The Washington Post?" said the smallish funny man. "They hate me!" What does one say in response? It's nothing personal?

Away. Away. Fran Drescher acting just like Fran Drescher. Oliver Stone, the very bad party boy, said something amusing and better forgotten about Monica Lewinsky and President Bill. After a few moments, the eyes began to hunger for ever bigger names. James Woods and Michael Bolton and Tom Arnold and Roddy McDowall were . . . not enough. That's when one spied cyber-gossip Matt Drudge, faintly cartoonish in his Walter Winchell fedora.

The limo line for the VF VIPs was a mile long. Special passes needed to be offered even to drive down the street. There were, according to Vanity Fair publicist Beth Kseniak, at least 45 camera crews and 60 paparazzi. A few chosen scribes were allowed inside, but with a stern warning from Kseniak: Be out in 30 minutes. We promised. We lied. All we can say is we lost our heads.

At the door stood Simpson historian and Nancy Reagan lunch companion Dominick Dunne, with a little camera. "Loved your book, Dominick!" Snap. Snap. Snap. Inside, Kim Basinger, radiant, with a drawl as real as Georgia clay, was surround by the Baldwin boys: husband Alec and brothers Stephen and Billy.

More stars: Matt Dillon, Cameron Diaz, k.d. lang, Ben Affleck, Robert De Niro, Helena Bonham Carter, Warren Beatty, Fiona Apple, Neve Campbell. Drinking French champagne and nibbling oddly juicy little hamburgers and marble-size crab balls. Watching, seduced by a trio of big TV screens, the scene of more arrivals coming in from outside.

Asked if he laughed at the Billy Crystal crack at Republicans, the big fella with the bad ticker, Arnold Schwarzenegger, offered, "It was just a joke." Ouch.

A few miles away, at the party that tried to be as good as the Vanity Fair party, but alas, was a dimmer flame for the moths, the question of the hour was: Where was Leo? His conspicuous absence hung heavy, like the ecru draperies, over the "Titanic" party in the wake of the film's record-tying Oscar statues. We mean, of course, Leonardo DiCaprio, leading man-boy of "Titanic" and international teen heartthrob of the moment. Was he peeved? Was he sore? Was he just plain busy?

The fact was he wasn't there. And he wasn't at the Academy Awards either, which was more understandable since he was not, in fact, nominated. But the party? And a really good party, too, since both Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox -- which shared the $200 million cost of the film -- footed the bill. Designers took a Beverly Hills parking lot and turned it into a luxurious tented cave. There was white carpeting on the floor, and white oversize asymmetric couches and love seats grouped for intimate lounging. A full orchestra played swing music -- alternating with '70s boogie-oogie-oogie during the breaks -- in front of a crowded dance floor, with the whole place dimly lit by huge floor-to-ceiling trumpet-shaped lamps. Of course there was lots of food -- pizza, pasta, salad on one side, roast beef and fried vegetables on the other, with waiters walking around with sushi rolls, and skewers of baby lamb and shish kebab -- and even more booze.

The result, by 1 a.m., was 400 completely smashed members of the Hollywood demimonde. In the smoking area outside, a woozy young woman with a low neckline was chatting up one of the cast members of "The Full Monty," the British film about unemployed men who turn to stripping. "I mean it, I'm going to call you guys for my girlfriend's engagement party," she burbled. "Wouldn't that be the best? I mean it -- you don't know me, I'll do it!" The actor just smiled. Mammals and dinosaurs.

Near the back of the tent, director James Cameron was, literally, holding court. This was only appropriate, since he was, as he said in one of three acceptance speeches at the awards, King of the World. Did that make his wife, actress Linda Hamilton, Queen of the World? "I guess it does," she said, looking a bit puzzled, then adding, "My God, he's hard enough to live with as it is."

Kate Winslet was not there (she was at the Vanity Fair madhouse), but Frances Fisher, who plays Rose's mother in the film, and Billy Zane, who plays her callous jilted fiance, were. Zane had shaved his head, and his blue eyes glinted in the tent. By the way: Did he know where Leo was? "I don't know, man, I don't understand it," Zane said. Did he think Leo boycotted the whole shebang because he wasn't nominated? "I don't know, but it's a big night, man." He glanced over to Cameron's court, where would-be subjects fawned and waxed sycophantish. "Without Jim, he wouldn't have had that . . ." Success? "Yeah . . ." he said, wandering toward the ice cream table. A conversation, we note, about as lively and well-paced as the "Titanic" script.

For the record, DiCaprio's publicist stressed yesterday that the actor was not peeved or sore or in any way acting like a petulant brat. "It is completely wrong and ridiculous and I wish people wouldn't perpetuate that," said his exasperated mouthpiece, Cindy Guagenti. "He's in New York. He just stopped in New York on his way from Europe; he's been doing publicity for 'The Man in the Iron Mask.' " Apparently flying from Europe to Los Angeles would not have been possible.

Here were other celebrities at the "Titanic" party: Rupert Murdoch, the actual King of the World; Celine Dion, dominating her own little coterie; Larry King gabbing with Dominick Dunne. "Speed 2" director Jan De Bont wandered by, unrecognized. Swoosie Kurtz stood undisturbed in line for the portable toilets. Randy Quaid cooled his heels until the fire marshal let more people in. Babyface Edmonds didn't bother waiting -- he just had his own party on the red carpet with a group of friends.

Miramax had a far more subdued happening at the pink palace, the Beverly Hills Hotel. One might even call it dead. By midnight even Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein had not appeared (he was at the Vanity Fair fete). The duck canapes and trays of full champagne glasses seemed sad and lonely without people to sample them. Finally "Good Will Hunting" director Gus Van Sant arrived, though by 12:30 a.m. there was still no sign of stars and screenwriters Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (guess where they were). "I think we had a good solid win," said Cynthia Swartz, a Miramax executive in charge of the Oscar campaign. "Good Will Hunting" won for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor.

This is the difference between here and there on Oscar night: At the Miramax party, a publicist demands that you leave in 15 minutes. And you do.

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Academy Awards nomination list courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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