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Supporting cast keeps Hollywood magic alive

HOLLYWOOD — Millions watched chic celebrities arriving Sunday at the Academy Awards, strolling through a temporary jewelry box built in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard.

What happened outside that box wasn't glamorous, and didn't get any attention from the happy-talkers at E! and ABC. Maybe that's because unlike fashion, devotion to movies never goes out of style.

After the envelopes were opened and acceptance speeches cut short, the best performance by an ensemble cast enduring a winter chill and elbowed ribs goes to thousands of people way off the red carpet. As usual, they didn't get many cameras aimed their way.

But they're the reasons why movies still matter; because movies matter to them.

"Hollywood fascinates people," Manuel Sanchez, 18, of Santa Fe, N.M., said, standing on his heels on a narrow window sill for a better look at limousines dropping off celebrity payloads. "Hollywood is something that everybody across the world knows about. Everybody wants to come see it."

Some stargazers Sunday might think the whole world was there, cramped at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and N Highland Avenue, where movie stars entered the red carpet staging area. Body heat was a blessing on a chilly day. Hundreds gathered earlier than security checks began, forcing their evacuation and loss of prime gawking positions.

By the time Nancy Timm, 63, of Anchorage, Alaska, was patted down, scanned and allowed to return, she was stuck behind a crowd at least four people deep, along two blocks on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard.

"That's fine with me," Timm said. "My daughter and I just came for Oprah's Oscar show (today). She'll have all the big winners there."

Timm wasn't the only person looking forward to the day after Oscar. An entire block of Hollywood Boulevard was barricaded and closely guarded by uniformed and plainclothes police, private security agents, and overhead vigilance by helicopters and dark-suited men on rooftops. For one day, 18 businesses bordering the academy's party took an intermission, ordered by the city of Los Angeles. The El Capitan and Grauman's Chinese Theatre were possibly the only movie theaters in the world closed Sunday.

El Capitan manager James Wood opened his doors only for a select clientele: nearly 700 fans who filled bleachers along the red carpeted entranceway — the spoils of winning an online lottery and passing a Secret Service security check.

"We partner with (the academy), so as soon as the red carpet's over, all those fans are going to come here for a viewing party, watching the ceremonies on one of our screens," Wood said Saturday when business was usual.

A few doors away, Souvenirs of Hollywood store manager Eduardo Martinez welcomed the Academy Awards, as a movie buff and retailer of celebrity photos, key chains and gag statuettes resembling Oscars and presentable to "best" anything from dad to teacher. Whatever business he loses Sunday, Martinez said, is recouped the other 364 days of the year.

"Everyone in the neighborhood feels like a star when the Oscars come to town," he said.

Well, not everyone.

Next door at L.A. Tours, owner Monique Chu was less tolerant of Oscar's annual appearance at her doorstep. Chu didn't mince words about the effects of academy-related obstructions on her business, showing off celebrity landmarks by tour bus.

"We don't like it," Chu said. "We like Oscar but we don't think it's right. They inconvenience this office and don't (have a) conversation (with) us. That's disrespectful.

"We are a small business; (the academy is) big business. They take advantage of the situation, totally. They say Oscar is (a) big shot, going to bring business for the future. It doesn't matter. Currently (it) costs us big time; tens of thousands of dollars in seven days. Then they force us to close for one day, force us.

"Yes, the Oscars are very popular … but the bottom line is: They're hurting us. They don't even care anymore."

Two blocks away on Orange Drive, resident Shaun Reynolds, 33, was overheard complaining on his cell phone about security checks and temporary detours that made getting home a hassle.

"I've lived here two years and it has been a pain both years," Reynolds said after the call. "It's a waste of taxpayers' money."

Chu and Reynolds' moods aren't likely to improve, not with an estimated $130 million and 7,000 jobs generated this year for vendors of high-end party supplies, fashion, hospitality and transportation — what the Los Angeles Times on Sunday called the "Gross Oscar Product."

And certainly not with the academy's commitment to its Hollywood Boulevard legacy, a silent pledge built into the Kodak Theatre's art-deco architecture.

Guests stroll past tall columns adorned with titles of previous best picture winners, starting with 1927's Wings. Years and titles advance chronologically, with The King's Speech soon to be added.

Entering the Kodak Theatre celebrates Hollywood's past. Exiting offers a promise for fans crammed into this barricaded boulevard of Oscar dreams, and businesses and residents either welcoming or resenting the academy's intrusion.

Those columns can't display future best picture titles yet, but are already inscribed with the years when the Academy Awards plan to return — all the way to 2071.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365.

Supporting cast keeps Hollywood magic alive 02/27/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 28, 2011 7:26am]

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