Titanic ruled the Oscars as fashion mixed the good, the bad—and Cher

By Michael A. Lipton Samantha Miller Susan Schindehette
April 06, 1998 12:00 PM

BACK IN ANCIENT TIMES, POET SEXTUS PROPERTIUS coined the phrase, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Little did he know how true that cliché would be thousands of years later at the 70th annual Academy Awards—at least when it came to everyone’s favorite pastime: judging the fashion show on the red-carpet runway. Sure, there was plenty to ooh and aah over, from Kim Basinger’s tasteful lime Escada to Helen Hunt’s subdued blue Gucci to Judi Dench’s classy Nicole Farhi. But what viewer, upon seeing Cher—something of a stranger at the awards since hanging up her much-maligned feathered headdress in ’86—wasn’t left feeling a tad wistful for more Reagan-era outrageousness, or at least some Titanic-size excess? After all, it was Cher’s latest cantilevered chapeau—seemingly inspired by a giant ice-cream waffle cone—that, more than any other accessory, got noticed. “It looks like she came down from the space shuttle—but in a good way,” says designer John Bartlett (clients include Janet Jackson and Cindy Crawford), who watched the show from his New York City apartment. “Good taste or bad taste, I loved that the hat was just out there.”

Sure, it’s easy to be so blasé when you’re not the one wearing your ego on your sleeve. And in the case of the Oscars, where tonight’s fashion misstep is tomorrow’s Jay Leno joke, it’s sometimes smarter to be safe—and spectacular—than sorry. To that end, Meg Ryan was chicly understated in navy Vera Wang; Sigourney Weaver looked iris-slim in deep-lavender Prada; and Good Will Hunting nominee Minnie Driver—having considered Prada, Versace and Gucci—opted for an unadorned ruby-red Halston with faux fur dyed to match. “I knew this was it,” she said. “You have to sparkle, not your dress.” The guys concurred: After years of seeing their counterparts go collarless, tieless and monochromatic, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Antonio Banderas weren’t about to let their tuxes do the talking. Almost unanimously, the males wore the traditional soup-and-fish. A couple of notable exceptions: Best Supporting Actor Robin Williams and Amistad’s Djimon Hounsou, who wore knee-length jackets (see page 76). Williams claimed his was from “Armani’s Hasidim collection.”

Not that Oscar’s guests didn’t take some chances here and there. Madonna, mixing a black vest from Belgian newcomer Olivier Theyskens with a pouffy skirt from Jean Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana shoes (“I’m an equal-opportunity employer,” she cracked), resembled a biker chick from the Black Forest. Best Actress nominee Helena Bonham Carter (The Wings of the Dove), ever the iconoclast, shunned free gowns and instead had a dressmaker replicate a Dior once worn by her mother. “I’ve never attached that much importance to what I wear,” she said. “Now it’s monumental.” Kate Winslet, mermaidlike in an emerald Alexander McQueen for Givenchy (and accompanied by her new boyfriend, assistant director Jim Threapleton), was proud to admit that she had rejected the pre-Oscar tradition of dieting the week before. “I wouldn’t starve myself,” she said. “I’m a girl. I need feeding. I had a scone this morning, some fruit and loads of coffee.”

And if some broke with tradition by bypassing the traditional trip to the jeweler for loaners, it was no wonder: There was no competing with the icebergs (see page 55) worn by Titanic‘s Gloria Stuart (from Harry Winston, her 15-carat diamond pendant was worth $20 million) and Celine Dion (she sported Asprey London’s 170-carat sapphire-and-diamond creation, Le Coeur de la Mer, inspired by Titanic and auctioned to an anonymous bidder for $2.2 million two nights before). Still, with almost none of the heaving cleavage or dowager-style necklaces of recent years on display (the only truly shocking bit of skin was seen on Ashley Judd in her slit-to-the-hilt Richard Tyler), the women got girlish—right down to their fresh-scrubbed faces, made up in pastels. Some wore bugs (Sharon Stone’s dragonfly pin on her Vera Wang skirt), some pinned on barrettes (Cameron Diaz and Linda Hamilton), and many opted for flowers atop their carefully crafted coifs (Tyra Banks and Drew Barrymore; see page 58). “I thought I was the only woman that was wearing a flower in her hair!” said Banks, in a beige Halston tube dress, as she mockingly pouted upon her arrival on the red carpet. “I’m gonna have to snatch out all the flowers that I see on women tonight.”

Once Banks and the thousands of other guests made it into the Shrine Auditorium, however, style became secondary (except for the Dolce & Gabbana-clad Susan Sarandon, who, upon being seated behind Cher and her hat, was warned by neighbor Geena Davis, “You aren’t going to be able to see the show!”). And even though the unnominated Leonardo DiCaprio was a noticeable no-show (female fans outside wore T-shirts proclaiming “Leo or Bust!” as the actor, though claiming not to be aggrieved, remained camped at a New York City hotel). But the broadcast was a commercial success, nonetheless. In fact, both the ratings (a record 87 million viewers around the world) and the length (another record—3 hours, 47 minutes) seemed appropriate on a night that saw the highest-grossing movie of all time, Titanic, tie Ben-Hur‘s record of 11 Oscars.

Luckily, wedged between the times Titanic director James Cameron and his crew took the podium came a mishmash of memorable moments: the Best Supporting Actress speech by Kim Basinger (“Did you see how moved [she] was?” said presenter Cuba Gooding Jr. “She was shaking. I thought, ‘Oh please, don’t fall on the steps.’ “); Bart the Bear’s rendezvous with Mike Myers; host Billy Crystal’s repartee (“Is it just me, or does Linda Tripp look like Michael Caine in Dressed to Kill?”); and the ebullient speeches by Good Will Hunting friends Matt Damon, 27, and Ben Affleck, 25—the night’s youngest major winners—after they landed the Best Original Screenplay award. Perhaps most moving, though, was the gathering of 70 past Oscar victors—from Rita Moreno to Walter Matthau to Gregory Peck—onstage. “I loved being with all the legendary winners,” said Geena Davis, who, as a Best Supporting Actress for 1988’s The Accidental Tourist, was invited to join them. “That was a great moment.”

Then, the night’s last statuette having gone to Titanic for Best Picture, the participants began loosening their ties and looking for their limos. A half-dozen postshow bashes (see page 78) drew celebs of every species: Jill, the Brussels Griffon who starred as Greg Kinnear’s pampered pet, Verdell, in As Good as It Gets, arrived at the Columbia TriStar party in a jeweled collar, chowed down on lamb chunks and crème brûlée, and dozed in a chair as her castmates, including Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, put on the dog.

“It’s overwhelming—it’s something so different from what I’m used to,” said Olympic gold-medal figure skater Tara Lipinski, who arrived at the Oscars in a sleeveless gray Donna Karan. By night’s end, as the crowds swelled and the hours of pre-Oscar primping began melting away, last year’s Best Actress, Frances McDormand (Fargo), crisp in a flowing garnet Vera Wang and gold-embroidered black tulle coat, still managed to appear cool. Her secret? “Huggies baby wipes,” she confessed. “They’re good for cleaning your armpits.”

Call It a Wrap

Shawls were center stage as stars dared to go bare

“It’s that ‘take-a-bite-please’ look,” said Bridget Fonda (in a design by friend Julie Weiss).

“I love this cashmere shawl,” said Tyra Banks (in Halston). “I just felt like it was screaming my name.”

“I chose this,” said Best Actress nominee Helena Bonham Carter of her Deborah Milner gown, “because it’s sort of lilac and gray at the same time.”

Behind the Seen

These women demonstrated that it isn’t always what’s up front that counts

Lori Petty’s toile with sheer panels by Galliano for Dior was a hit with Elton John.

Anna Paquin, 15, looked every inch the grown-up in Pamela Dennis, with jewelry by Martin Katz.

Access Hollywood‘s anchor Giselle Fernandez chose a gown by Dennis.

On the job for Access Hollywood, correspondent Nancy O’Dell wore Nolan Miller.

Sharon Stone clipped her Vera Wang skirt with a dragonfly; the shirt was her new hubby’s.

Sparkle Plenty

Satin had supporters, but for a guaranteed glow, nothing succeeded like sequins and beads

Marlee Matlin had a “gut instinct” about wearing this Escada.

“Getting ready was a bigger production than both my weddings,” said Linda Hamilton (in blue Pamela Dennis).

A black bladed shirt over satin trumpet skirt by Armani suited Kelly Lynch to a tee.

Now single, Geena Davis (in Halston) came with Susan Sarandon.

Anjelica Huston enhanced her beaded Armani with jewels from Martin Katz.

“She’s lovely,” said stylist Karin Labby of Frances McDormand (in Vera Wang coat and dress).

Ship of Jewels

Beautiful (but, alas, borrowed) baubles made memorable one-night stands

Designer Jane Booke termed Madonna‘s look (a Fred Leighton necklace and top by Olivier Theyskens) “Camelot meets Star Wars.”

Amy Irving wore a double strand of sparklers courtesy of Leighton.

Vera Wang-clad Holly Hunter flashed Leighton’s faceted diamond beads.

Size does matter! Celine Dion called Asprey’s truly Titanic 170-carat sapphire “a thrill to wear.”

Gloria Stuart’s Escada was dyed to match Harry Winston’s $20 million jewel.

Ellen Burstyn glowed in a 60-carat Harry Winston necklace, plus 20-carat earrings.

“This dress just said, ‘Aaliyah!’ ” said the singer (in an off-the-rack Bebe and graceful pendant).

“I wanted to be glamorous,” said Trisha Yearwood, who imported gems from a Nashville jeweler.

Mane Event

For some stars, tresses—not dresses-were the evening’s crowning achievement

Drew Barrymore‘s fresh-as-a-daisy do was “my idea,” she said.

Cameron Diaz‘s clip job won kudos.

Jennifer Lopez blossomed.

Things looked up for Joan Cusack.

Significant Mothers

No date? No problem! Some of Oscar night’s most eligible attendees made their big moment at the awards a family affair

“She told me to just try and enjoy the moment,” said Matt Damon of mom Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a childhood-education professor.

Chris Affleck kept a close eye on son Ben’s Oscar at the Vanity Fair party. “It’s not going any-where,” she said.

Vanessa Redgrave (in a Catherine Walker ensemble), with her mother, Rachel, flew in from San Francisco.

Titanic producer Jon Landau’s flick inspired wife Julie’s Kathrine Baumann purse and son Jamie’s unsinkable bow tie.

Jack Henry Robbins, 8 (wearing Ralph Lauren), arrived with Dolce & Gabbana-clad mom Susan Sarandon.

Faye Dunaway, with model son Liam O’Neill, 17, had an Oscars tip: “Start dressing at least 3 hours ahead.”

Dress Grays

At this year’s awards, some of the best-dressed stars were turned out as steel magnolias

Julie Christie wore both her glittery Badgley Mischka and her Harry Winston jewels flawlessly.

Designer John Bartlett calls Judi Dench “elegant—not dolled up.”

Olympic wunderkind Tara Lipinski added extra sparkle to her Donna Karan With diamonds.

“It spoke to me,” says Neve Campbell of her lacy Gianfranco Ferre gown.

Still Going Strong

As befitted Oscar’s 70th-birthday bash, silver heads cameoed among the gold

Sixty-five years ago, Fay Wray, now 90, was the beauty King Kong went ape over.

Shirley Jones, 64, flaunted a bunny purse and Baracci dress.

Shirley Temple Black, 69, (in Oleg Cassini) told Marlee Matlin. “I’m a huge fan.”

Celeste Holm, 78 (with voice coach), was radiantly red.

“I didn’t see Titanic” said Poseidon Adventure’s Shelley Winters, 75.

Hud‘s Patricia Neal 72, wasn’t the lone star in Richard Tyler.

Life’s still a Cabaret for Joel Grey, 65, in a Feraud tux.

An Armani-clad Sean Connery, 67, bonded with his wife, Micheline.

Eva Marie Saint, 73, no longer On the Waterfront, wore Sunny Choi.

“I’ve not been here for ages,” said Michael Caine, 65 (with wife Shakira).

Way Beyond Hip

Most men opted for the traditional tux, but a few adventurers went to extraordinary lengths in the name of fashion

Director Gus Van Sant (in Gaultier, with pal Paige Powell) “looks so intersting,” said designer Cynthia Rowley.

Amistad‘s Djimon Hounsou (with girlfriend Victoria Mahoney) chose Armani “just to feel good. That’s all.”

“Couldn’t find my tux,” said composer Hans Zimmer.

Robin Williams (with wife Marsha) opted for an Armani jacket.

Spike Lee escorted civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

“I don’t like to feel constricted when I sing,” said a tieless Michael Bolton.

Party On

After being Oscar-mired for nearly four hours, the stars were ready to get funky at bashes all over L.A.

BOLD “BEING THE ELDEST OF FOUR ACTING BROTHERS, ALEC BALDWIN IS USED TO DISPENSING”] showbiz wisdom. So who could blame him for feeling sagacious when he bumped into young bloods Matt Damon and Ben Affleck at the Governors Ball, one of the more high-toned post-Oscar blowouts? As the pair walked by, chatting ecstatically after winning golden statues for Best Original Screenplay, Baldwin, whose brother Daniel is recovering from a cocaine overdose he suffered in February, laid a hand on Damon’s shoulder and offered some sensible advice: “Stay off the booze, stay off the drugs, and we’re all pulling for you.” Damon looked momentarily shocked. “Tonight?” he protested. “The booze?”

So much for goodwill hinting. Along with the 1,650 revelers who packed the Governors Ball, the official Oscar party held next to the Shrine Auditorium, Damon and Affleck, minus their respective girlfriends Winona Ryder and Gwyneth Paltrow, at least drank in the evening’s heady atmosphere. Their costar, Best Supporting Actor winner Robin Williams, had a natural buzz. “I’m with my best friends,” said Williams, who hung with wife Marsha and Oscar host Billy Crystal. “I’m living off pure adrenaline now.”

After the nearly four-hour ceremony, most of the other guests needed food. Titanic director James Cameron worked up a hearty appetite making three trips to the winner’s podium. He and his wife, actress Linda Hamilton, noshed on chef Wolfgang Puck’s marinated lobster salad, avocado sushi, smoked salmon on Oscar-shaped matzos, and chicken breasts with wild mushroom risotto. Hamilton watched her husband slowly make his way through a gauntlet of well-wishers. “It’s going to be a long night,” she sighed.

Which was fine for 87-year-old actress Gloria Stuart. “Tonight I’m part of the action,” said Stuart, whose résumé has a gap of 15 years before her role in Titanic. “I’m basking in the evening.” Still, the night lost some luster when she found herself without the multimillion-dollar blue-diamond pendant jeweler Harry Winston had lent her for the occasion. “The bodyguard came and took it back,” said Stuart. “They said I could not wear it past the ceremony.”

Not that the folks at Winston were utterly lacking in generosity—or publicity instincts. At the IN STYLE-Elton John bash, held at Spago in Beverly Hills, the jeweler donated his-and-her 18-karat gold watches (valued at 2,500 each) as door prizes. They, along with the $l,000-a-plate dinner, helped raise $250,000 for AIDS research. John himself seemed to be doing schmoozing research with Michael Douglas, Faye Dunaway, Marlee Matlin, Joely Fisher and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Meanwhile, in a far corner, Sharon Stone girl-talked with K.D. Lang about Stone’s recent marriage to news-paper editor Phil Bronstein, who was Is with her at the party. “I was so ready for it to happen,” Stone said.

What Lang was soon ready for, it seemed, was the Vanity Fair party at Mortons. There the openly gay crooner and her female date ran into Ellen DeGeneres and her steady, Anne Heche, as well as rocker Melissa Etheridge and her girlfriend, Julie Cypher. “It’s Ellen and Anne’s one-year anniversary, and we’re here to celebrate with them!” Etheridge gushed. They were lucky to have arrived relatively early—before fire marshals decided the West Hollywood restaurant was overcrowded. Forced to wait outside for about 20 minutes were couples Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid and Harry Hamlin and his pregnant wife, Lisa Rinna, who groused, “I’m just so damn hungry, I’ve got to get in there.” Eventually, she did.

But Dennis’s brother Randy Quaid wasn’t so lucky when he tried to crash the night’s toughest ticket, the Paramount Pictures-20th Century Fox party for Titanic, held under a white tent in a Beverly Hills parking lot. No ticket, no entry, Quaid was told. “Oh, okay,” said the dour-faced actor, who nevertheless hung around the entrance for 20 minutes. Inside, the 800 guests swarmed around tables brimming with lamb chops, risotto and pastas, sushi and desserts. Others mobbed Cameron (who had just arrived with Hamilton from the Governors Ball), greeting him with high fives and “Good going, bro!”

It is good to be “the King of the World,” as Cameron described himself from the Oscar stage. It’s not bad to be a freshly minted prince either: Conspicuously mellow at the Polo Lounge bash thrown by Miramax, the studio behind Good Will Hunting, was Matt Damon, its coscreenwriter and star. He was joined by Affleck, who sat, Oscar in hand, at a table with his mother, Chris, as directors Joel Coen and Spike Lee paid homage (“I voted for you!” said Lee). Not far away, Demi Moore, who was there without husband Bruce Willis, attracted stares by dancing provocatively with an unidentified young male partygoer. The happily wed Demi seemed to be heralding a trend. “I’m going stag tonight,” said Geena Davis, who filed for divorce from director Renny Harlin last summer. “Just hanging at the bar having fun.”

Other guests may have had too much fun. At around 1 a.m., Neve Campbell spotted a young woman bent over in a chair, apparently too drunk to stand. After asking if she needed help, Campbell rejoined her beau and Scream cast-mate Matt Lillard. “I thought she passed out,” said Campbell. “But she’s OK.” At least the Party of Five star knew when to quit. “Last stop, Neve?” another guest asked. “Definitely,” she said, before heading for the exit with Lillard. “This is it for the night.”

Fran Drescher (with host Elton John) brought her parents. “They sat right down and started to eat,” she said.

Robin Williams’s win was a high point for Billy Crystal (with Williams at the Governors Ball).

Holly Hunter paused for quality time with husband Janusz Kaminski at Miramax’s bash.

Newlywed Sharon Stone buttonholed K.D. Lang at Elton John’s star-studded Spago party. Marveled John, who held court in a back room: “The whole evening has been a highlight.”

Stylish couple Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid (she in Vera Wang, he in Prada) were briefly shut out of Vanity Fair‘s crowded affair.

Pop titans Puff Daddy (left) and Kenneth “Baby-face” Edmonds hooked up at Mortons.

Billy Zane was the man in the middle—twixt costar Frances Fisher (right) and an unidentified reveler—at Titanic‘s bash. The cue-ball look? “I like it because it’s aqua-dynamic,” said the avid swimmer.

Kate Wins let (with James Cameron at the Governors Ball) said she elected to wear something “vibrant.”

Jerry Seinfeld caught the awards on the tube—at Vanity Fair‘s dinner for 140.

Model-actress Beverly Johnson showed off a daring sheath—inspired by some of Cher’s past outfits, perhaps?—at Mortons.

Actress Kelly Lynch, aglitter in Armani, flashed a gleeful grin as she turned the tables on shutterbugs at the Vanity Fair fete.

As Good as It Gets‘ Jesse James, 8, weighed in at Columbia TriStar’s shindig: “The tie itches my neck, but the food’s okay.”

Unsinkable divas Cher, K.D. Lang, Madonna and Joni Mitchell hit a high note at the Titanic party cosponsored by Paramount and 20th Century Fox studios.

Waiting to Exhale’s Lela Rochon, clad in a blue number, cozied up to a pal at Mortons.

A solo Brad Pitt (in Prada) hung with Robert De Niro and Anthony Edwards at Vanity Fair‘s event.

“I hope I didn’t cry too much,” said Hank Azaria (at Miramax do) of love Helen Hunt’s win.

“It’s been a wonderful ride,” Ulee‘s Gold nominee Peter Fonda (with wife Becky at the Polo Lounge) told VH1.

“I think Alec is speechless tonight,” said Kim Basinger of her affectionate hubby (at Mortons).

Ashley Judd greeted Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Mrs., Maria Shriver, at Vanity Fair‘s party. “We all get a vote in what she wears,” Schwarzenegger said of Shriver’s lavender Valentino. “That included me, our kids, their babysitters, our guards….”

Ceremony no-show Demi Moore (at Mortons) was Bruce-less at the post-parties.

Cuba Gooding Jr., a ’97 Oscar winner, got punchy outside the Vanity Fair soirée

Jill, As Good as It Gets‘ finicky pooch, dined on lamb at Chasen’s. Said director James L. Brooks: “I’m just flying.”