Weekend revelry

Invites in hand, Hollywood gets ready to party.

It just wouldn't be Oscar weekend without a glittering whirl of spectacular soirees. No matter the weather, one can stay warm by rubbing elbows with Hollywood's elite at any one of the many pre- and post-Oscar fetes that begin tonight and don't stop until the wee hours of the morning on Monday.

Oscar festivities kickoff Friday with the annual star-studded bash at the Hollywood Hills estate of superagent Ed Limato, vice chairman and co-president of ICM. Saturday, IAC/InterActiveCorp. chairman and CEO Barry Diller and his wife, designer Diane von Furstenberg, open up their home for the 14th year to host their annual luncheon. Saturday evening, Jeffrey Katzenberg will host his fifth annual Night Before Party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, with proceeds benefiting the Motion Picture & Television Fund. And for the late, late show, Harvey Weinstein plans a last-minute, late-night cocktail party for pals at an undisclosed location. "We'll just get the word out on Saturday," a Weinstein Co. spokesman says. "With so many big parties, Harvey thinks it's more special to do something smaller where guests are not bombarded by sponsors and press."

Then it's on to the main attraction, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Ball, following Sunday's 79th Annual Academy Awards ceremony. Literally every guest, presenter and nominee -- 1,560 people in all -- will pile into the Kodak Ballroom high atop the Hollywood & Highland complex to pay respects to the Academy, toss back the bubbly and enjoy chef Wolfgang Puck's fabulous fare.

For an impressive 18th consecutive year, event planner Cheryl Cecchetto and her Sequoia Prods. will produce the party. Her approach is an about-face from last year's cutting-edge design, which was dominated by 10,000 tubes hanging from the ceiling that created a changing lighting scheme. This year's feel is romantic and magical, with twinkling lights, chandeliers, ivy, twigs, dripping wisteria and bougainvillea-draped canopies setting the scene. There are six different food stations and a bar that stands like a monument in the center. The biggest change, Cecchetto says, is eliminating tables to accommodate seating for 1,500 in favor of a more versatile plan.

"In the past, it was all about squeezing in the tables, and people felt stuck in one spot all night," she says. "This year, we've got open seating on banquettes, bar tables and stools, plus dining tables for those who do want sit-down service."

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, in her fourth year as chair of the ball, says she and Cecchetto came to the same conclusion during their Monday-morning quarterbacking session a couple of months following last year's gathering. "When guests come in, they want to grab a drink and meet up with people. By not restricting them to assigned seating, it encourages guests to mingle and creates a more relaxed and eclectic dining experience."

Cecchetto's biggest challenge is always creating interest and dimension. She has divided the space into five pavilions, each with its own uniquely shaped pergola in color palates that distinguish themselves but complement one another. "It's a great way to break up the space, and the colors help people orient themselves."

Master chef Puck returns for the 13th year to ignite taste buds with innovative dishes as well as traditional favorites. Guests will be greeted with an array of hors d'oeuvres and tapas platters. Buffets and bars stationed throughout the room provide easy access. As the evening progresses, buffets will be transformed to decadent dessert extravaganzas. Sherry Yard's desserts also will be served tableside with the traditional chocolate Oscar. Eclectic jazz from Dave Koz will fill the air, and later, the Norm Roper band will rev up the crowd and inspire some to hit the dance floor.

Many folks will move on to other parties -- the most coveted being Vanity Fair's 14th annual soiree at Morton's in West Hollywood. The Los Angeles Times describes an invitation to the party as "the holy grail of Hollywood status validation." The guest list is always an interesting mix of novelists, columnists, politicians, rockers, billionaires and, of course, celebrities. The event begins at 5 p.m. with a sit-down dinner for 165 guests who will monitor the awards action on 13 flat-screen televisions. After the telecast, the glitterati from the awards ceremony saunter down the red carpet and into the 7,000-square-foot party space. There had been some grumbling about last year's decision to cut the guest list by 500, but the result was such a fabulous, intimate, Hilton-free evening that the plan is to continue in that direction, according to a Vanity Fair spokesman.

Oscar bashes might be de rigueur, but Elton John's 15th annual fete at the Pacific Design Center proves that such celebrations can still be exciting, unpredictable and for a good cause -- in this case, the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Last year, at a live auction immediately following the dinner, Sharon Stone upped the minimum bid on John's red Yamaha grand piano to $170,000, which helped the event raise close to $3 million for the foundation -- more than double the previous year's total. The night closed with a performance by John and John Legend. This year promises some changes designed to increase revenue: a pared-down guest list, a five-course Tuscan-style dinner by chef Wayne Elias of Mark's Restaurant and Crumble Catering, a live auction and no after party. "With tables starting at $30,000, we want the 600 guests to really enjoy the entire evening without being crowded by another thousand people rushing in," an EJAF spokesman says. James Blunt will raise the roof and, of course, be joined onstage by John. Over the past 14 years, the party has raised more than $125 million for the EJAF, and this year's event promises to be the most successful yet.

Retired agent Norby Walters' Night of 100 Stars viewing party has been described by the Los Angeles Daily News as Oscar's "biggest party in terms of sheer number of celebrities." Approximately 800 guests flood the Beverly Hills Hotel's Crystal Ballroom for a sit-down gourmet dinner and telecast viewing. Tickets are $1,000 per person, but in exchange, everyone walks away with a gift bag worth $500. The stars, meanwhile, have access to high-end items including jewelry, electronics, health spas and vacations totaling $15,000 in value. Now in its 17th year, the bash garnered a reputation early on for drawing out a seasoned crowd of legends, icons and past Oscar winners, including Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Shirley Jones, Diane Ladd and Martin Landau. Over the past few years, the old guard has shared the night with young Hollywood-types such as Thora Birch, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bai Ling, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Jason Ritter. "The younger stars are so of the moment that many of the older ones don't even know who they are," publicist Edward Lozzi says. After the show, guests take over the Polo Lounge, while others head to assorted after parties.

Young Hollywood also will drop by the bash hosted by manager Rick Yorn and Endeavor agent Patrick Whitesell, though the location of this year's bash had not yet been determined at press time. And a few diehard revelers (150 to be exact) will make a final stop at the third annual Oscars After Midnight party hosted by People magazine and the Maloof family at a private Beverly Hills residence. The revelry starts at 10:30 p.m. and goes until dawn. Guests are encouraged to relax by changing out of their red-carpet attire and donning jeans, sweats and slippers. Gaming tables -- where the guest with the highest number of chips can win diamonds, jewels or a trip to Las Vegas -- and masseuses will both be on hand. Celebrity chef Kerry Simon also will cook up some of his famous comfort food, and just before sunrise, chef Jamie Spears (yes, Britney's dad) will create a specialty Southern breakfast for those still standing.
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