In L.A., an Oscar Party Is a Citizen's Duty

By , Arts and Culture Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Attenzione!"

Italian chef Luciano Pellegrini's command rings through the kitchens of the Governor's Ball (Oscar's official party) as his designer pizzas go in the ovens to get "creespy."

He's talking to an assistant, but he might as well be addressing the entire city of Los Angeles. On Oscar night, while the rest of the world merely tunes in, this is the night an industry town turns out in a yearly ritual.

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From the beach to the northernmost valleys of the city, a populace that has seen Monica and Bill, O.J. and Johnnie - everyone from the city's top politicos to school teachers to industry mavens sheds their cynicism for a night and goes about the serious business of Oscar-night celebrations.

Business trips are delayed, social trips are extended, church board meetings are rescheduled, and for what? A really swell Oscar party, of course. Truth be told, there is no other kind in this town. Whether alone in your jammies or jammed in a ballroom in authentic Titanic costume, it's the spirit that counts.

"It's all about our dreams," muses Tom Drucker, a business consultant and a beachfront Oscar-party host in Marina Del Rey. "Our culture is defined by what we see at the movies, these are the things we dream about."

Parties full of friends are the point. "What better way to celebrate who we are and what we would like to be?" he asks.

A further part of the fun in an industry town is getting the inside skinny from friends-in-the-biz as the Oscar telecast progresses.

Producer-director-choreographer Kevin Carlisle, watching Drucker's big-screen set, takes a careful look at the musicians playing the dramatic scores and explains they're receiving the rhythm track over headsets, so what we're hearing is actually a combination of their live playing and pre-taped tracks.

Carlisle adds sincerely, "the great thing about the Oscars is it's a way for people to honor the quality in their own hometown."

Far away from Drucker's rosy beach sunset, political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe and her husband, political consultant Doug Jeffe, have been holding chili-and-Oscar-night parties, complete with ballots and prizes, for 18 years. "It's our national holiday. This is one day we don't have to think about Washington or anything else outside of the movies."

National is a bit strong, laughs CNN political analyst and Washington resident William Schneider, as he watches the show in Jeffe's living room.

He opines that people on the East Coast might watch a few awards at home in their slippers, then read the rest in the next day's paper. "They don't dress up and go out to Oscar parties on a Monday night. Trust me."

Nonetheless, Schneider, in full black tie, stays overnight in L.A. for the Jeffe bash, thus joining in the L.A. spirit, if only as a carefully styled outsider.

All of which is to say, just as good Detroiters don't buy foreign cars, loyal Angelenos support the entertainment industry - because it supports them, according to Jack Kyser of the Economic Development Corporation. He points out that "the biz" is a cornerstone of southern California's economic revival.

"Oscar night is really just a huge convulsion of good citizenship," explains Mr. Kyser dryly. With the hotel rentals, limos, and florists, the evening pulls in about $70 million for the local economy. He adds, "every year the whole Oscar industry just seems to get bigger and it quickly spreads out to the whole economy."

And beyond. Restaurant Associates, which caters the Governor's Ball, is a national company so complex that it's been dubbed the CIA of the restaurant business. It caters events such as the PGA and the Kennedy Center. But says vice president Carl Schuster, with more than 500 employees and six months of planning, "the Governor's Ball is the biggest thing we do at this level of quality."

So, now that I've taken my spin on the gleaming black dance floor of the Governor's Ball, admired the beach sunset as the envelopes were opened, and eaten Oscar chili, there's only one way I should feel, right? Like the good, solid citizen that I am. After all, a company town does have its etiquette.

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