FILM / Party members

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THERE WILL be the usual giggling on the platform, the fluffs, the forgotten speeches, and the tears. But to witness real nerves you need to see them opening that other envelope. The one that arrives - they hope - in the weeks beforehand, inviting them to a post-Oscars do.

For many in Hollywood, what happens after the Academy Awards is almost as important as being seen at the ceremony itself. It determines whether they are perceived as an established figure or an also-ran, whether they are on the inside track or still struggling to make their name. To be left with nowhere to go but home is a total disaster.

For years, the main arbiter of social success has been the veteran agent and wheeler-dealer Irving Lazar, otherwise known as 'Swifty' - a nickname which Humphrey Bogart gave him after he made three deals for him in a day. His gathering, referred to by the cognoscenti merely as 'The Party', is undoubtably the premiere event on Oscar night.

For lesser mortals, getting into Swifty's event is not much easier than sharing a bedside cigarette with the Queen. Mr Lazar has built up a reputation both for ejecting gate-crashers with considerable relish, and for paying little heed to the begging, attempted bribery, and whinging of those who did not make it on to his invitation list.

Over the years, his party has generated its own mythology: James Goldsmith is said to have asked if he could bring along a European royal, only to be instantly denied. Dates accompanying invited guests have found their entrance barred, and have been forced to stalk back to their limousines. When Sylvester Stallone wanted his bodyguards to come inside with him, they were ordered to stay in the bar.

Last year the party, traditionally at Spago's restaurant in West Hollywood, attracted many of the usual suspects - Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone, Tom Cruise, and Nicole Kidman - and this year star-watchers predict sightings will include Elizabeth Taylor, Billy Crystal and Barbra Streisand. It may be an historic occasion. Mr Lazar, who will be 86 the day before the show, lost his wife in January, and there are suggestions that this may be the last Oscars party he will throw.

There are other options for at least some of the snubbed-By-Lazar brigade. Almost all the big players put in an appearance at the Governors Ball, the official Academy party which is held next door to the awards show, before 'limo-ing' off (one of the Hollywood media's more revolting words) to more trendy pastures. This year Elton John is organising a Beverly Hills party to raise funds for Aids research and has invited some of the more impressive Oscar contenders, including Neil Jordan, Stephen Rea and Denzel Washington. That other big candidate - Clint Eastwood - is planning an extremely private gathering of his own at an undisclosed location.

How entertaining the night will be remains to be seen. There is a slight feeling of coolness about this year's Oscars. So far, the only sign of life comes from the Women's Action Coalition which plans to plaster the town with posters of 'Oscarellas' - a female version of the eunuch trophy - to protest the lack of decent female roles. Somewhat unfortunately, the Academy has declared that the theme of this year's show is 'Oscar Celebrates Women and the Movies', only to discover that, in the event, it does nothing of the sort.