By Carol Wallace/Managing Editor
Updated April 06, 1998 12:00 PM

WHEN OSCAR TIME ROLLS AROUND EACH spring, electricity fills the air at PEOPLE’S Los Angeles bureau—and it’s sparked by more than curiosity over who’ll win the office pool. For film industry heavyweights and PEOPLE staffers alike, the glitz parade is the year’s main event. “It’s Hollywood’s version of prom night, only with beaucoup bucks,” says L.A. correspondent and resident party expert Steven Cojocaru, who—dressed to grill in a Richard Tyler tux-reported from the arrivals line at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium. “It’s not the night to wear sweatpants. Glamor rules.”

And this year our Oscar package—at 34 pages our biggest yet—is the next best thing to being there. Fourteen L.A. correspondents covered the ceremony from every conceivable angle before heading off to the major post-Oscar parties. Meanwhile, back at the bureau, associate picture editor Karin Grant and her deputy Michele Stueven, along with New York associate picture editor Mary Fanette, worked through the night to help edit close to 500 rolls of film. “PEOPLE sets the standard for Oscar-night reporting,” says Los Angeles bureau chief Jack Kelley, who graced this year’s festivities in a double-breasted Valentino tux. “From toenails to tiaras, no detail is overlooked. You have to be fast on your feet to charmingly elicit a funny quote while calculating how many BMWs the necklace is worth. PEOPLE correspondents do it better than anyone else.”

And sometimes suffer more for it. Last year, Elizabeth Leonard braved the cold for 6 hours covering arrivals to Sony’s Jerry Maguire bash at West Hollywood hot spot Eclipse. “I just remember Tom Cruise not showing up for his own party and Faye Dunaway carrying her shoes,” Leonard says. This year she (and her black Bebe dress) remained indoors at Vanity Fair‘s party at Morton’s. “It was so nice,” she says, “to have a roof over my head.”

But some things never change. “After sitting for 3 hours, the stars are very hungry and eager to eat,” says Anne-Marie Otey, who migrated to the Shrine’s Governors Ball, traditionally a first stop. “But by the time dessert comes, nobody’s there.” Ken Baker (in a classic tux) caught up with some of them at the Miramax soiree at the Polo Lounge, Julie Jordan (in Donna Karan) worked the room at Columbia-TriStar’s shindig at Chasen’s, while Paula Yoo (in a thrift-store special) schmoozed and cruised the Titanic bash, cohosted by Paramount and 20th Century Fox. The biggest challenge? “Besides getting fresh material from people who’ve been asked the same question all night,” says Monica Rizzo, who coordinated PEOPLE’S coverage, “it’s looking like you belong fashion-wise on a journalist’s budget.”

It’s a hurdle associate bureau chief Craig Tomashoff, who covered the IN STYLE-Elton John AIDS fund-raiser at Spago, knows all too well. “I think I was the only guy there in a rented tux, and that includes the bouncers,” he says. At least he came prepared. “I practiced saying, ‘Excuse me, Mr. John,’ 300 times in front of the mirror.” Goodbye, yellow brick road. Hello, red carpet.