Stars are quaking as well as glittering THE ACADEMY AWARDS

March 22, 1994|By Bernard Weinraub | Bernard Weinraub,New York Times News Service

The movie stars and the nominees and the studio executives who arrived in stretch limos at the 66th annual Academy Awards ceremonies in Los Angeles were jittery. It wasn't just the awards. It was the aftershock.

The big 5.3 magnitude aftershock Sunday afternoon, which sent people fleeing stores and movie theaters, rattled nerves as well. Even movie-star nerves.

Along the red-carpeted runway outside the jammed Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center -- as fans in the bleachers screamed "Clint!" and "Holly!" and "Emma!" -- the nominees in their Armanis and Versaces seemed a little more frantic than usual.

Mark Gill, a senior vice president at Columbia Pictures, wasn't worried. "The people who for years have schemed and viciously hTC clawed their way to get this recognition are by no means going to be deterred by a little earthquake," he said with a laugh. "This is their moment in the sun, and they will have it, regardless of whether the ground shakes or not."

"Welcome to L.A.," said Ismail Merchant, a producer of one of the Oscar-nominated films, "The Remains of the Day." He plainly wished he were back in his rock-steady home in New York.

James Carville, President Clinton's political guru, who attended the show, seemed to put it all in perspective. Mr. Carville was with his wife, the Republican strategist Mary Matalin, and a slew of other Washington buddies largely because "The War Room," a documentary about the Clinton campaign's election strategy, was among the Oscar nominees.

At a party in his honor at the restaurant Spago, Mr. Carville said happily: "I've had the ultimate L.A. experience. A party at Spago. An earthquake. And the Oscars."

The only other aftershock, albeit far more trivial, that seemed to rattle the Oscar producers was the last-minute exit of Macaulay Culkin, the multi-millionaire child star pushing into adolescence. "I think it was because of his father," said Gilbert Cates, the producer of the show.

Macaulay was to present the award for special effects, with the envelope delivered by a replica of one of the "Jurassic Park" dinosaurs.

Kit Culkin, Macaulay's father and manager, who has a reputation for being difficult, objected to some lines in the script in which Whoopi Goldberg, the show's host, was to look at the dinosaur and then at Macaulay and say, "Your dad is looking good these days."

The boy was quickly replaced by Elijah Wood ("Huck Finn"), who was on the podium rehearsing his presentation when the aftershock hit.

Despite these crises on a cool, somewhat hazy day, the movie community seemed to be in its customary state of frenzy on this day of days. "In a town of almost no traditions, this is the one that endures," Mr. Gill said.

"Am I having fun? It's hard to have fun when your spine feels fused," said Debra Winger, who was nominated for Best Actress for her role in "Shadowlands" and was planning to catch a late-night flight back to New York hours after the show.

She went through the day with one great dread. "An ancient one," she said. "Tripping. In front of everyone. That's not a '60s connotation. If I'm acting, it's hard to embarrass myself. But I'm not acting here. It's a great honor, it really is, but it's not comfortable."

Similar concerns were voiced by Gary Ross, who was nominated for writing the screenplay for "Dave."

"I do keep hearing the magic word billion; you're in front of a billion people," he said. "Would this be any easier in front of a million people? There's something about that 'B' word. I mean, you don't want to make a fool of yourself in a place like Burma."

Hollywood came to a virtual standstill in midafternoon because most nominees and stars and executives were picked up by limousines by 3 after a morning spent getting massaged, facialed, buffed, trimmed, manicured, made up and whatever else. The women were having these things done, too.

Fear coupled with genuine excitement was the dominant mood of the day.

"Hey, I got a nomination; man, it doesn't get any better than this," said Laurence Fishburne, nominated as Best Actor for "What's Love Got to Do With It." The actor said he arose early, recited some prayers, meditated, ate a modest breakfast and began pulling on his Calvin Klein outfit.

"The whole thing is not a race; it's a party," he said, but not too convincingly. "Hey, it's scary too."

Rosie Perez, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for "Fearless," arrived in black Armani, accompanied by her father, Ismael Serrano, a merchant marine veteran, now retired, who lives in Puerto Rico. Ms. Perez still lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

"Everybody's calling; everybody's driving me insane," she said. "My girlfriend Rhonda is having an Oscar party in her house in Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. My friend Tracy, she's having a party in Spanish Harlem. We got the earth shaking here. Give me Brooklyn! Give me New York!"

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