A lot of people are wondering what was going on at the Oscars when Michael Douglas and his father Kirk ripped the envelope with the name of the best picture winner in half.
The whole of the Kodak Theatre was on edge when the Douglases prepared to announce the winner of the final award.
It was a particularly tense nail-biter since The Pianist had just won three important awards in a row — best actor, adapted screenplay, and best director. It seemed possible that Chicago, long the front-runner, would not win the big award.
When the time came, the Douglases ripped the envelope in half. They even made a sound of disappointment, which added to the feeling that The Pianist had won.
After all, Michael Douglas’ wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, is one of the Chicago stars. And Douglas is related to Chicago producer Marty Richards by marriage; his aunt’s family shares cousins with Richards’ late wife, Mary Lea Johnson.
So what really happened?
It turns out that the Douglases told Richards that if they opened the envelope and Chicago had lost, they would rip it in half as a sign.
"But when the time came." says a friend of theirs, "Michael thought he’d try and give Marty a heart attack, so he did it anyway. For a second, Marty thought Chicago had lost."
It was a very impractical joke, but there you have it.
Chicago disproves every theory about Hollywood and the Academy that has ever come down the pike. The movie is a phenomenon, with audience members seeing it three and four times.
Of course, not everyone from the production was happy about Sunday night’s results. Renée Zellweger disappeared after the show, skipping all the parties including the Governor’s Ball.
She was obviously disappointed to lose the best actress award to Nicole Kidman. Ironically, the two actresses co-star in Miramax’s big Oscar movie for 2004, Cold Mountain, which opens around Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, here's proof that winning an Oscar does not immediately change one’s status. Chicago director Rob Marshall got separated from his group and wound up without a ticket to the Governor’s Ball following the awards ceremony.
When he tried to enter, he was barred by security and made to wait until it was ascertained that he was on someone’s list. Security did not care who he was or that he’d just won best picture.
Also made to cool her heels was legendary actress Jennifer Jones, who toddled up to the entrance looking elegant and using a beautiful walking stick.
Jones, who is the widow of one of Los Angeles’ most famous philanthropists, Norton Simon, could not convince the doorkeepers that she wasn’t a crasher.
I wonder about the people out here. Common sense doesn’t seem to be in great abundance at these public functions. In Yiddish the word I’m thinking of is sechle. If only you could bottle it, it would be more popular than Viagra.
So where did the stars go after such a surprising Oscar night? Many did stop by Vanity Fair’s tent at Mortons for the traditional photo-op.
But most of those, many of whom were not nominees, headed to the home of Hollywood doyenne Dani Janssen for her annual soirée. Goldie Hawn, Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Harrison Ford, Barbra Streisand — Dani Janssen only has household names, triple A-list-plus-plus types who come for the fried chicken and monkey bread. Almost every big-name star who hit Vanity Fair wound up balancing a plate on their laps at Janssen’s.
And that’s one party Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter can’t get into.
At the same time, Miramax’s lavish dessert spread at the St. Regis Hotel in Century City was jammed with Oscars. All of the technical winners from Chicago and Frida carted around their gold statues with strong grips, making the room glisten.
Catherine Zeta-Jones also had hers, and she and Michael Douglas held court for some time with the whole Chicago cast and crew. In fact, when Zeta-Jones first arrived in the main room, the whole place erupted in applause and cheers.
Even more exciting was the unexpected appearance of Sean Connery in full Scottish regalia. He came to honor his "neighbor," the Welsh-born Zeta-Jones.
Elsewhere at the Miramax party, Frida star Salma Hayek and boyfriend Edward Norton had their own court-ette, which they shared with Frida director Julie Taymor and her significant other Elliot Goldenthal, Oscar winner Sunday night for best score.
Stephen Daldry, director of The Hours, put in a late appearance as well, while Hours winner Nicole Kidman made a quick pass through all the parties before returning home.
Many viewers wondered where Kidman’s son, Conor, was, since daughter Isabella was by her side. It turns out Conor is in New Zealand with dad Tom Cruise, watching him shoot The Last Samurai.
Nicole’s mom told me: "The children are of the age now that they don’t have to do everything together all the time. So they each got school-holiday adventures."
And where was best director Roman Polanski? I am told Polanski, who lives in Paris in a gorgeous apartment on the Right Bank, took his family on a ski trip this week.
Polanski’s win for best director was a shock, especially considering his legal problems. But it’s sort of an open secret that pals Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty did a lot of quiet campaigning for him. They have also repeatedly tried to ease a way for Polanski back into this country.
Even Harrison Ford has tried. Ford, who starred in Polanski’s film Frantic many years ago, was thrilled to be the one to announce his name from the stage.
"Maybe this will make it possible for him to come back," Ford said to me. He talks to the fugitive director weekly, he said.
It must have been a relief for Ford to read the name this time. In 1999 he thought when he opened the envelope for best picture it would be Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Instead it was John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love. I have rarely seen someone look so surprised.
But in the end, even an Oscar won’t bring Polanski back to the United States.
The Los Angeles district attorney’s office would arrest him in a nanosecond if he set foot in this country. Polanski was accused of boozing, drugging and forcibly raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977 before fleeing the country while he was out on bail pending sentencing.
A quarter century later, he lives a luxurious life in Europe. He probably thinks there's no reason to put himself through the humiliation of returning to America.