March 26, 2001 12:00 PM

Bravo, Brevity

With Oscar viewers tuning out, the Academy wants winners to keep it short and sweet

FOCUS

Everyone gets 15 minutes—except if you’re a winner on Oscar night. Then, the rules say, you have just 45 seconds before the orchestra cuts off your acceptance speech. Tired of stars blabbing on, Academy Awards producer Gil Cates has decided to do something about it: He’s offering a high-definition flat-screen TV to this year’s Least Loquacious. To punctuate his point, Cates ran a clip montage at the Oscar nominees’ lunch March 12 of the shortest speeches—including William Holden’s two words—”Thank you”—for his Best Actor award for 1953’s Stalag 17, echoed by Alfred Hitchcock for the Irving G. Thalberg award he won in 1967. For those who feel they’ll need to express gratitude to their T-ball coach, Cates has offered to post their thank you list on the Oscar.com Web site.

Why mince words now? Oscar ratings have slipped lately due to interminable outings like last year’s eye-glazing 4-hour, 11-minute marathon. The stupefying speeches—a tradition that harks back to Greer Garson’s 5½-minute ramble (believed to be an Oscar record) when she won Best Actress for 1942’s Mrs. Miniver—are partly to blame. That’s not to say a Julia Roberts won’t be allowed to expound past her allotted time. “There are moments of pure emotional drama,” says Cates’s rep Mike Thomas. “If it’s interesting, they’ll go with it.”

Ruff Business

“Yes, he lifted his leg,” says Ruth Powell, the owner of Wesley—a 10-year-old Brussels griffon more widely known as Spin City’s melancholic canine Rags. “But there was no peeing.” Yet Powell, 64, a retired schoolteacher, has received an eviction notice from her Manhattan apartment building for allegedly allowing Wesley to relieve himself in the hallway. She will fight the eviction in court this month. Meanwhile Spin’s Michael Boatman defends his costar, saying Wesley “has an iron-tight bladder.”

Once Off-Road, Now Online

On eBay (through March 18): 1995 Jeep once owned by the late John F. Kennedy Jr. “He’d say, ‘Imagine what my Roller-blades would get!’ ” says a friend.

They Can Carry a Tune, but a Movie?

Now looking to make the hop from pop to the Hollywood top: Britney Spears, Ricky Martin and ‘N Syncer Lance Bass, all planning on film roles to help them expand beyond their red-hot music careers. Spears is working with Billy Madison director Tamra Davis on an as-yet-untitled comedy. Production began March 6 for On the Line, a romantic comedy about a shy ad-agency employee (Bass) who meets his dream girl. And although Martin denies that he was set to star in The Assassination, his rep says he “would love to find the right movie.”

Will they succeed? Cinema history is scattered with a few victors (Barbra Streisand, Cher) but thick with cringe-inducing defeats (the collected works of Elvis; nearly all of Madonna‘s movies). What makes a singer an actor? Certainly not shaking one’s bon-bon, says Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne. “Everyone thought Madonna was going to be Marilyn Monroe onscreen,” he notes, “but she has no star quality on film.” As for the new blood, “it’s a crapshoot,” says Osborne. “I have no idea who [Bass] is individually—will audiences?” Spears, he counsels, must broaden her appeal beyond teenyboppers.

The answer may lie in how much time they devote to the job. “It’s wonderful what happened to Mark Wahlberg,” says Osborne of the former rapper. “He immersed himself in acting. Now; people have virtually forgotten he was ever Marky Mark.”

Still Monkee-ing Around

Another year, another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (this one on March 19) and another snub for the Monkees, one of America’s original boy bands. But singer Davy Jones isn’t moping. “I don’t sit around pondering why,” says the British-born Jones, 55. Instead he’s working on plans to open a museum of rock memorabilia in a 200-year-old converted church near his home in Beavertown, Pa. “I’ve got so much stuff,” says Jones, including a signed Les Paul guitar and a collection of gold records. Meanwhile believers can catch Jones and bandmates Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork on a 20-city reunion tour beginning this month.

The W Stands for Wince

Plans for the latest TV assault of South Park masterminds Matt Stone and Trey Parker—That’s My Bush!, a taste-free sitcom with one episode in which the new President takes his old frat pals to an execution—were still in the works when the tuttutting began. “Nobody ever accused Hollywood of having good taste,” groused Republican pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick. Stone insists the show, which premieres April 4 on Comedy Central, isn’t “a bash session on George W. Bush,” but notes, “we’ll definitely get audited.”

POP QUIZ

with Gene Hackman

In a career including more than 75 films and two Academy Awards (Best Supporting Actor for 1992’s Unforgiven and Best Actor for 1971’s The French Connection,), Gene Hackman looks to the writing first when making a movie. “If the bones of it aren’t good, it just isn’t going to happen,” says Hackman, 71, enjoying a second act as a novelist. Scoop had words with him while he was promoting his film Heartbreakers.

You’ve written a historical adventure novel, The Wake of the Perdido Star. Any more in the works?

We [Hackman and writing partner Daniel Lenihan] are noodling around with some ideas for a sequel, or maybe something with the Cold War.

What did you learn from writing the novel?

That it’s pretty lonely being a writer. It’s nothing like working as an actor, where you have all these people depending on you. But I enjoyed it.

What does writing do for you that acting doesn’t?

I’m able to think about a different way of expressing myself, more than just verbally or physically. I can express myself intellectually. You can do that as an actor also, but to a lesser extent.

Favorite authors?

Hemingway is probably my favorite. Saroyan. Melville. The classics. And I read a lot of junk too.

How about screenplays?

Ordinary People was one of the best screenplays I ever read.

Anything more recent?

They start looking alike. There’s very little creativity out there in terms of scripts.

Your book has a Web site. Do you go online?

No. I can’t even turn [a computer] on.

You studied journalism but gave it up. Why?

My grandfather and my uncle worked on the local newspaper in Danville, Ill., but it just wasn’t for me.

So you became an actor?

That’s all I ever wanted to do. And I was so shy as a kid that in the early days of school plays and stuff, I couldn’t even audition. So I thought if I was here in [New York City], eventually I would get up the nerve, the courage, to go to an acting class. And I did.

ON THE BLOCK

TANYA’S TAJ MAHAL

Tanya Tucker was thinking big when she bought her Arrington, Tenn., estate for $2.5 million in 1993. The 27,000-sq.-ft. colonial features 14 rooms, 10 fireplaces, six full bathrooms and a four-car garage. The 500-acre spread 21 miles south of Nashville also includes a guest house and a six-stall barn. These days, Tanya, who lives with her three children and her fiancé, songwriter Jerry Laseter, “has decided that she would rather have something smaller,” says business manager Richard Curtis. She hopes to sell the old homestead for $10 million.

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