Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist


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The Best Bash In Hollywood

Sunday Express 9th February 1992

Irving Lazar is on the telephone. Or, rather, three telephones. On the cellular phone he's arranging for flowers to be sent for Faye Dunaway's birthday, on the portable phone he's reminding a young actress to make sure she tells Michael Ovitz (Hollywood's hottest deal-maker) that she's a Lazar friend, and on the desk phone there's a call from Switzerland about a book deal.

On the line from Zurich is John Fairchild, fashion leader and publisher of Women's Wear Daily, and his friend in California is talking dollars and cents and profit margins. It's all high-level, round-the-clock, round-the-world wheeling and dealing.

Lazar is a lawyer, literary agent, Mr Fixit, friend of the stars and the man who closed five major deals for Humphrey Bogart in 24 hours. It was Bogart who nicknamed him Swifty.

Swifty Lazar is 84, and that's about the smallest number in his world. He makes a million dollars sound like small change. And there's more than that on the walls of his home. He moves — with a phone - around a study in his mansion, which sits atop the Hollywood Hills overlooking his territory, rolled out like red carpet before him. There's Picasso, Chagall, Degas and Utrillo on the walls. Oh, and there's a Dali over there.

On the bookshelves there are signed first editions from friends like Irwin Shaw, Truman Capote and Herman Wouk. There are framed photographs of him with his friends and clients, with Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Richard Nixon, Ira Gershwin, Henry Kissinger, Neil Simon, John Huston, Gary Grant, Jack Nicholson, Michael and Shakira Caine, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, David Niven, Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper. It gives you neck strain just trying to take it all in. Swifty Lazar has created his own "A" list and it is the party passport in Hollywood.

Lazar sold Paramount Studios Neil Simon's The Odd Couple before the writer had typed a single word, he sold the film rights to My Fair Lady for a then-unheard-of $5.5 million, he sold scores of chorus girls a good line before marrying at 55 (Mary Lazar has a film production company) and he has represented a string of legends including Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Richard Rodgers and John Huston.

He's a 5ft 3in dandy (monogrammed socks and braces), with an ego as polished as his bald dome. And he agrees that, despite his reputation and the legends he's dealt with,   the   world   will   always remember him for The Party.

The best place to be on Oscar night is at the Music Centre in Los Angeles, accepting an Academy Award. The next best place to be is Lazar's party at Spago, although some folks in town maintain that being seen at Swifty's is just as good as a gold statuette in terms of "in" credentials. Lazar's attitude is: it's-my-party-and-I’ll-invite-who-I-want-to. The combination of his "A" list and Spago - the most popular star restaurant - has made the party not just a tradition but a necessity. Paul    Newman calls it "a hoot", and enjoys it so much that in 1988, when he was presenting the Best Actress Oscar to Cher for Moonstruck, he whizzed downtown from Spago to do his chores and drove straight hack again. Angie Dickinson, a regular Lazar's neighbours, thinks that it's becoming "intimidating". She explains: "So many important people who don't usually come ant for social events just sort of sprout for this party. Years ago it was a free-for-all, but -:-he sits everyone down during the show so we can watch the damn thing."

For Lazar, the sitting down is clearly an important formality. He bristles at the thought of table-hoppers messing up "Mrs Lazar’s seating arrangements". His trademark owlish spectacles slip down his nose at the thought. There's nothing impromptu about the year's biggest bash for the celebrity A-team. Dinner is at 6pm. Sit-down. For the Oscar TV show.

"Many of the guests are stars who d want to go to the Academy Awards - they don't feel like sitting through what is really a TV show at the Academy, so they come to us When the Awards ceremony is over some of the nominees don't want to go to the Governors' Ball, which is a pretty dull affair, so they abandon that and come to us. The winners owe it to the Academy to go to the Governors' Ball with their prizes and be photographed. Then they come to us late - even at lam. We go on until 3am for people who go to their own private parties and then come to us. We've got a late show. The initial group are our personal friends and some   of  the   most important agents -we invite only three or four. Favourites? Some  have  gone now. In the old days it would be John Huston, Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire and  so  on. They've gone. There's now a new group of people we like to see every year  - James   Stewart, - Gregory Peck, Michael Caine and Roger Moore, and we always invite them. Certain people we invite every year - Bob Newhart, Shirley MacLaine, Elizabeth Taylor, Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn. We try to invite the nicest people in Hollywood."
After the three-hour Oscar presentations some early partygoers leave and others arrive. It's then more table-hopping or, as last year in Madonna's case, lap-hopping from Michael Jackson to Warren Beatty. "I expect Madonna again this year," says Lazar.

Is she really writing her biography? "She better be. She's been paid a lot for it. Warren's an old friend and Annette Bening is a lovely lady. Fm expecting them this year. And Jack [Nicholson]. I hope Warren wins for Bugsy and Annette, she is wonderful in it.

"Everybody comes to the party. We like a lot of the new people, like Tom Cruise and Ms wife Nicole Kidman. We always invite them and they always come."
He will not be drawn into Oscar predictions (the nom­inations will be announced on 19 February) and he |j abhors vulgarity: "people 8 who are not polite"; "people who regard a T-shirt some- thing to wear to an opening night". He fields half a dozen more calls and you realise this couple of hours of his time is probably, at his rates, worth thousands of dollars. "We've never had to throw out anyone for being drunk. We've had people wanting to be lovable, but not alcoholic."
The party, he admits, "costs a lot of   money".   How   much? "There's   always   lots    of champagne and caviar," he hedges. And it takes a great deal of planning.  Donald Trump couldn't get an invita­tion last year. "One producer wanted an invit­ation, but I didn't think he added anything to a party so I said no. An agent for him offered $50,000 for an invitation. I said no. Then they offered $100,000 and it was still no."
He acknowledges something of a double standard. "If a major-name star appeared at the door he or she would be admitted - to avoid fuss and bad headlines- — but if a seriously important behind-the-scenes person with an unknown face turned up, the door would remain closed..

"It's a formal dinner done to a very calculated plan. It's a well-planned party and people are not seated as the result of some accident. They are seated with their friends.
"Mary and I? We go to some big benefit parties, but very rarely. I like doing this show on Academy night because it's a glamorous night, whatever way you play it. Our party is a show unto itself."

"I'D LIKE TO THANK MY MOTHER, MY DOG, MY BUDGIE..."
"You like me, you really like me"
Sally Field, Best Actress, "Places ln The Heart", 1984

"Schucks"
Gary Cooper, Best Actor, "Sergeant York", 1941

"I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut. I think I'll do it again"
Jane Wyman, Best Actress for her portrayal of a deaf mute in "Johnny Belinda", 1948

"I'm going to take it home and design a dress for it"
Edith Head, Best Costume Design for "Roman Holiday", 1953

"I think half of this belongs to a horse somewhere out in the Valley"
Lee Marvin, Best Actor, "Cat Ballou", 1965

"I guess this proves there are as many nuts in the Academy as anywhere else"
Jack Nicholson, Best Actor, "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", 1975

"Holy mackerel!"
Meryl Streep, Best Supporting Actress, "Kramer Vs Kramer", 1979

"Attest!"
Loretta Young, Best Actress, "The Farmer's Daughter", 1947

"To all those who helped me get where I am: Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss...”
Dimitri Tiomkin, Best Scoring, "The High And The Mighty", 1954
"Hello, gorgeous"
Barbra Streisand, Best Actress, "Funny Girl", 1968

TEN LEGENDS WHO NEVER WON A COMPETITIVE OSCAR
Gary Grant, Peter Sellers, Greta Garbo, AlfredHitchcock, Orson Welles, Mariene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift, Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish, ET


MEMORABLE MOMENTS...

  • Vakessji Redgrave stopping the show in 1978 with a strong political speech) while accepting her Best Supporting Actress award for Julia
  • Charlie Chapun returning to Hollywood for a special Oscar in 1972; Jack Lemmon bad to support the ailing star
  • Dying john wayne making his last public appearance in 1979, when he received a standing ovation
  • Sacheen LITTLEFEATHER turning down Brando's 1973 Godfather Oscar
  • Robert Opal. stopping the snow in 1974 just as David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor. Niven offered with aplomb: "He's displaying his shortcomings"
  • Frank sinatra not wearing his glasses at the 1983 Awards while presenting a humanitarian Oscar to Mike Frankovich. Unable to read his cue cards, Sinatra called Frankovich the "Godfather of... goodness"
  • Jerry Lewis doing chorus after chorus of There's No Business Like Show Business To fill in time in 1959, the only occasion the Oscar television show has not run late
  • Bette Davis getting unwelcome help from director Robert Wise as she Wed to praise Paul Newman at length in 1987
  • Clint eastwood standing in for Chartton Heston in 1973."It totally freaked him out," says the then producer Marty Pasetta
  • Greer Garsons's thank-you speech of more than seven minutes in 1943

...AND FORGETTABLE OUTFITS

  • Barbara Streisand's sheer black slacks, which allowed the spotlights to bare her bottom at the 1968 Oscars when she shared the Best Actress award with Katharine Hepburn
  • Bo Derek's American Indian squaw outfit (made by her husband John Derek) when she, hot from 10, presented in 1980
  • Jane Fonda's spiky, feminist "new woman" haircut in 1986. Was it a hint of marriage problems? And an estranged jane fonda in 1990 with an uplifted appearance to her chest and husband-to-be Ted Turner on her arm
  • cher's black Bob Mackie outfit when she collected her Oscar for Moonstruck hi 1988
  • Bette Davis's beaded skull cap when she presented Marlon Brando with his Best Actor Oscar for On The Waterfront in 1955
  • Marioie Dietrich's gown which split in 1951 so that her legs got more headlines than the Oscar winners
  • Julia Roberts' brown Armani in 1990, when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Steel Magnolias, Sadly, what looked smashing in person was drab when seen on worldwide television
  • Liz Taylor's little something from Burton: she showed up for the 1970 Academy Awards ceremony wearing a headline-grabbing $2-millioo diamond

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