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The strike's off - and the party is on

The Baltimore Sun

HOLLYWOOD - Sighs of relief have been almost audible this past week, as the movie capital of the world geared up for a bash that, just 10 days ago, promised to be more of a wake than a celebration.

"There's a huge sense of relief that the strike has been settled," says Leron Gubler, president of the 1,000-member Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "We have always gone under the assumption that they were going to put on something, but we're just glad the strike is over."

Or, as motion picture academy president Sid Ganis put it Wednesday, as workers rushed to get everything in place for today's ceremony, "We were a town that was down on its [backside], but we were able to salvage our preferred lives."

But until the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers settled their differences, it didn't matter how many times the Oscar folks assured everyone they had plans to meet any contingency. It didn't matter how many billboards went up along the freeways promoting Oscar as "The One. The Only." It didn't matter that streets around the Kodak Theatre were still scheduled to be closed the week leading up to today's ceremony.

What mattered was that the writers were on strike, which meant they wouldn't be around to craft all the show's witty banter. Actors were promising to stay away unless the strike was settled, thus depriving the world of all that high-powered glamour. A greatest-hits retrospective - essentially what the Oscar folks were holding in reserve - didn't seem to cut it.

This past week, all that seemed like something of a bad dream, a nightmare scenario no one wanted to see.

"I actually think now that it's over, the audience and Hollywood itself will notice no difference in the Oscars," said 20th Century Fox movie chief Tom Rothman. "A strike joke or two probably, but otherwise the usual ritual of self-congratulation will, I'm guessing, proceed without a hitch."

The fans are certainly relieved.

"There was always this feeling that, 'There's no way they're not going to have the Oscars,'" said Kelly Valentine, 28, a writer (though not a striking one) bringing her father to an exhibit of Oscar statues adjacent to the Kodak Theatre last week. "I think there's been a collective sigh of relief."

A few hundred feet away, in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, John Salwen and his family were busy comparing their shoe sizes to those of the movie stars who have been leaving their footprints in cement there since the 1920s.

Promising that he'd be in front of a TV set tonight, Salwen said he was glad the writers settled, and that he was looking forward to "all the one-liners" they would provide for the show.

"It probably would have been a boring evening otherwise, right?" he said, looking down at how closely his shoe size matched Frank Sinatra's.

Jessica Coates, an out-of-work actress dressed in a Supergirl outfit and offering to pose for pictures with tourists, had more practical reasons for being grateful that the strike was over.

"A lot of the people out here are actors," said Coates, standing alongside a gorilla, Catwoman and Sesame Street's Elmo. "The strike is why a lot of us have been here, working."

But even if Coates and her fellow actors find better work soon, some residual effects of the disruption won't be forgotten so quickly. The 100-day strike exacted an estimated $2.5-billion toll on the area economy, according to figures released last week by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

And then there's the poor Hollywood Foreign Press Association, whose Golden Globes ceremony was ignominiously torpedoed by the writers' strike. This year's ceremony was little more than a glorified press conference, presided over by a couple of entertainment-show hosts who barely seemed to care. Which was fitting, since hardly anyone watched it.

That could never happen to the Oscars, could it?

"It's one thing to ruin the Golden Globes, it's another thing to ruin the Oscars," said Mike Amor, a correspondent for 7 Network Australia who was filming a report from Hollywood Boulevard last week. "I'm not sure Hollywood would have forgiven the writers for that."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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