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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 February, 2004, 06:23 GMT
Hollywood gears up for Oscar party

By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online correspondent in Los Angeles

They say there's no business like show business and in Hollywood right now it is all about the showbusiness and nothing else as Los Angeles gears up for Sunday's Oscar ceremony.

All activity is centred on the arrival of the 76th Academy Awards as streets are closed down, pavements are scrubbed and the red carpet already placed in position.

Security guard watches red carpet area during rain
No amount of security can keep the rain out
Security, always an issue at such high-profile events in the US, is being stepped up hour by hour as the big day approaches.

But far from there being scores of surly, beefy security personnel the men and women guards have a smile for the fascinated tourists despite having to don yellow macs to keep off the intermittent rain.

Whether the stars will follow their fashion lead if the rains return on Sunday remains to be seen, but the umbrella carriers better get practicing their own walk down the red carpet, to ensure not a drop falls on designer dresses and perfectly coiffed hair.

Year-long wait

The final touches are being made to the surroundings of the home of the Oscars, the Kodak Theatre, transforming it from shopping mall to award ceremony splendour.

Bleacher places were assigned over a year ago
The bleachers have been erected, where 500 lucky fans will be seated to watch the arrivals from the best vantage point.

Those taking their seats will have had an extraordinarily long wait, having won their tickets for last year's ceremony in a lottery, only for the bleachers to be cancelled as the Academy scaled back the proceedings as a mark of respect for the war.

They will finally get their chance to take part in the Oscars but the anticipation will be even further heightened by the fact they will be shown to their seats at 0600 while the guests do not start arriving until 1500 at the earliest.

Five-second delay

The stars themselves do not set foot in Hollywood until the big day, but the area is already heaving with news crews from around the world, as they experiment with angles and shots trying to second guess what could happen and where on the night.

Burton Morris' Oscar poster
Morris has captured the mood for this year's Oscars
Nearly 1,600 journalists, presenters and technical staff cover the event, just under half the amount of guests the theatre can actually hold on the night.

On average 62m Americans watch the live telecast, which this year will have a five-second delay in case of any Janet Jackson Super Bowl-type mishaps occur.

As well as providing one of the world's biggest television events of the year, the Academy Awards also benefit the local economy.

Hollywood's honorary mayor and local celebrity, Johnny Grant, predicts the community as a whole profits to the tune of $61m when the Oscars roadshow is in town, from everybody from limousine drivers to the pizza delivery boys as every hotel in the area is packed out.

Grant has enjoyed a varied career in movies, from acting to producing, and at the age of 80 he has lost none of his zeal for Hollywood and he does all he can to promote it.

But despite a guaranteed invite he chooses not to attend the awards any more.

"If it was up to me I'd do away with the ceremony and just have a three-hour red carpet show," he joked to BBC News Online.

In his capacity as an ambassador for Hollywood, the larger-than-life Grant conducts all the Walk of Fame ceremonies meeting the stars up close and personal.

But he is not phased by their celebrity status, saying only in the days of Ann Sheridan and Marilyn Monroe did he get excited, "as every red-bloodied male would".

Celebratory mood

But while Grant is blase about the awards, for some it is still a thrilling event.

Pop artist Burton Morris will be attending for the first time, but it will be his work that will be taking centre stage.

The American was commissioned to design the official poster for the 76th Academy Awards, with his creation adorning every street corner in Hollywood. One covers entire side of a huge building.

The celebrated artist can count the cast of Friends among his admirers, as his work regularly features in the show's Central Perk cafe.

Morris' wife Julie is so proud of her husband that she will be wearing a specially designed dress which incorporates the Oscar poster's motif.

"The reaction to the poster has just been great and hopefully it will be one that people will remember for a long time to come."

The 2003 awards were dominated by the war in Iraq, while the previous year the attention focussed on the 11 September tragedies.

This year the movie industry can once again get back to putting on a full-blown celebration, with the movies and the actors once more at the top of the bill.

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