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So many Oscar parties, so little time

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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Thousands of imported roses, calla lilies and orchids? Check. Hot-pink Swarovski crystals glued on pink plastic balls? Check. Yards of crushed satin and organza to cover the walls and ceiling? Got that, too.

Just a few of the myriad details swirling through the minds of Cheryl Cecchetto and other Oscar party planners, with a little more than a week to go until Hollywood's night of nights on Feb. 27.

Cecchetto's in charge of the Governors Ball _ the first stop for Oscargoers on the night's high-voltage party circuit. The drinks are poured and hors d'oeuvres passed as soon as the show ends _ whenever that is.

Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the gala atop the Kodak Theatre, says: ``This is one party that everybody goes to.''

But not for long, for some people. After all, other bashes beckon _ many in a tony neighborhood of West Hollywood, which in recent years has been called ``Oscar Alley'' as the after-show party scene comes close to upstaging the show itself.

Bradley Harrison Picklesimer is overseeing one of those events _ Elton John's AIDS Foundation benefit, held in a circular tent on the plaza of the Pacific Design Center.

For those who'd rather not spend four hours in a Kodak Theatre seat _ or just can't get tickets _ $25,000 will buy a dinner for 10 featuring New Zealand sea bass or rack of lamb, with the Oscarcast projected on a swathe of white fabric suspended over the table.

After the show, celebrities clutching golden statuettes _ or other trophies of note _ will toss back drinks and watch performances by Sir John and the flamboyant pop band Scissor Sisters.

``I want people to walk into an exquisite environment that makes them forget the kids, the dog, the bills,'' Picklesimer said, watching two employees glue $50,000 worth of donated hot pink crystals on plastic balls that will be embedded in the floral centerpieces.

Each man can hand-glue crystals on 10 balls in four hours. Picklesimer personally glued five balls himself. ``I'm not a stand-and-point designer,'' he exclaimed proudly.

Cecchetto and Picklesimer have to work within budgets set by their clients.

``I would love to have giant floral balls the size of Volkswagens drop out of the ceiling,'' Picklesimer said. ``However, we're not spending massive amounts of money on decor, we're raising money for a fabulous charity.''

Over at Morton's restaurant, Vanity Fair will host its 11th annual Oscar party. Then there's the AIDS Project Los Angeles affair down the street at the Abbey club, the ``Night of 100 Stars'' party at the nearby Beverly Hills Hotel, and on and on until the stars start to dim.

``Some years are incredibly competitive because of the number of events being held,'' said John Scott, executive director of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Back at the Kodak, Cecchetto's job is to make sure 1,500 celebrities and movie bigwigs are sufficiently wowed by the atmosphere, the food and never-ending flow of booze so that maybe _ just maybe _ they'll stay awhile.

``I organize my stress early, so I don't stress out when the time comes,'' said Cecchetto, who will accessorize her gown with a headset to answer every crisis and question that arises in what she refers to as ``my room.''

Her vision for this year's Governors Ball is old Hollywood opulence combined with a modern-day supper club. Cecchetto chose a fiery palette of sienna, persimmon, copper and brick, with jade accents, to transform the cavernous ballroom into an intimate space.

Who gets invited to her party? Nominees, presenters, the academy's governors and sponsors, and some studio executives _ roughly half of those who attend the show.

``There's nobody in that room that doesn't think of themselves as an extreme VIP,'' Davis said, comparing seating arrangements to ``seating the College of Cardinals at the Vatican; it's that kind of diplomacy.''

But nobody stays in their chairs much anyway; tablehopping is the sport of choice. ``What's most important is the mingling,'' Cecchetto said.

Chef Wolfgang Puck will cook up his signature smoked salmon pizzas with caviar as finger food. Also on the menu: a double entree of braised Kobe beef short ribs and Maine lobster in pastry with black truffles. For dessert _ a toasted almond and espresso cream torte known as ``The Oscar I Love.''

``It's not a big eating day for the average woman,'' Cecchetto said, noting a lot of celebs prefer to nibble and sip drinks.

So what happens to all those untouched short ribs, lobsters, truffles and tortes?

Governors Ball leftovers are donated to homeless shelters and other charitable causes around town. But the lawyers got in the way of any such benevolence at the Elton John party, fearing the caterer would be liable for anyone who got sick on the scraps.

And we all know how litigious the homeless can be.
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