Oscars war plan

2003-03-16 20:12
Hollywood - Even Oscar night has a "Plan B," should the threat of a war with Iraq eclipse the presentation of Hollywood's top honours, only a week away.

In just the season when Tinseltown can usually muster but one thought - who will take home Hollywood's Holy Grail - event organisers and stars are haunted this year by the spectre of conflict.

As celebrities fret over the propriety of sashaying along the red carpet just as US troops invade Iraq, Oscar is making plans to reformat his 75th birthday celebration if the clouds of war erupt into a storm.

"I think the Oscars will absolutely go ahead on March 23 as scheduled," said veteran producer Gil Cates, warning of the "distinct possibility that we will be at war" when the usually sparkling show goes ahead in a week.

Stressing that Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, the venue of 75th annual Oscars, was a "safe environment" for the constellation of up to 3 500 stars due to attend, Cates said he was planning for the worst should it arise.

"I'm contingencied up the gazoo," the producer told reporters, as a conflict appeared imminent.

"If we are at war, the Oscar telecast will obviously reflect that reality," he said of the show that attracts record numbers of stars and tycoons and that has become as much a fashion feast as an awards show.

Oscars officials declined to discuss what emergency plans were being considered or if a scaled-down show was being mooted in case of war.

The Academy Awards have been postponed by as much as a week just three times in history: by floods in 1938, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and by the 1981 bid to kill then-president Ronald Reagan.

But even as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pledged the show would go on, concerns lingered over whether the live telecast, seen by up to a billion people across the globe, would survive any war.

Wreak commercial airtime

A postponement of the show or a decision to pre-record it to make way for live developments in Iraq would wreak financial chaos on the commercial airtime, sold by ABC television for up to $1.4 million for a 30-second spot.

But even if the show does go out live, Oscar chiefs are worried that stars may try to hijack the evening to condemn the expected war in a town where many celebrities have publicly opposed the US policy towards Iraq.

Cates said it would be unacceptable for Oscar presenters to deviate from agreed routines and use the stage as a political grandstand, but conceded he could not stop winners from expressing their views in their speeches.

"It's their 45 seconds," he said. "I would prefer it if they would spend their time talking about the award they won - but if they want to say anything else, it's their time and it's a free country."

Actor Richard Gere, who has been tapped as an Oscar presenter this year, had been banned from the show after he launched a scathing attack on then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and Beijing's human rights record when he went up to present a statuette in 1993.

But despite the drums of war, Hollywood marched to the beat of the industry's biggest prize as studios waged last-minute campaigns to win Oscar voters over to their nominees.

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