VIEWPOINT: AS BILLY CRYSTAL PARTIES GO, 'EW'S' WAS A CROWD PLEASER

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And the winner is . . . Billy Crystal.

A week from now few Americans will be able to tell you who won the Academy Awards last Monday night, but nobody will forget that opening montage of Billy, which was better than most of the movies released last year.

There are a zillion Oscar night parties (oddly, most Hollywood types shun the ceremonies themselves in favor of staying home with pals and watching just as we civilians do on the tube). The one I got to this time was hosted by Entertainment Weekly at Elaine's and it was a dandy.

I walked up Second Avenue for the 7 p.m. cocktail start to the evening and encountered in front of the joint not the usual panhandler (they are so sophisticated up there that the Elaine's panhandler, if you stiff him, shouts out he'll never read your stuff again!) but a red carpet on the sidewalk, a white marquee erected over the entrance and four searchlights shooting up into the clear, cold Manhattan sky, with a guy in his skivvies painted gold from head to toe and pretending to be a statuette.

Well, so what. But when inside you encounter within a 15-minute span, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Betsy and Walter Cronkite, Regis and Joy Philbin, Peter Jennings and Al Roker, you realize this isn't your average covered-dish supper at the M.E. Church.

In her excitement Elaine (who never gets excited) had actual floral arrangements on the tables and midnight blue tablecloths. Plus, natch, lots of TV sets all over the place. I got myself an Absolut just to be sociable and wandered about, checking to be sure copies of my various books were still up there on the walls (you never know when the Coen Brothers are going to drop by and look up and, "Hey, have we got an option deal for you!").

Mike Wallace came in and then Lauren Hutton, smashingly attired in a striped cricketing blazer and accompanied by a handsome young man with a European accent. I love Lauren Hutton and she should always be accompanied by handsome young men with European accents. Also there was Bob Tisch who owns half the New York Giants and newly blonde Betty Buckley and Ahmet and Mica Ertegun (he's the recording magnate) and Carol Channing and Fred Morton who writes great books and was telling how he learned to ski not in the Tyrol but in "the Vienna Woods." I love stories about learning to ski in "the Vienna Woods," don't you?

Dick Stolley (the genius of People magazine) was there with his beautiful new wife and Christie Brinkley and the Rank Araskogs (he heads ITT) and Hugh Downs and Matt Lauer of the "Today" show and Rona Jaffe who writes best sellers. At 8, they brought on lion tamers with whips and kitchen chairs held in front of them to herd us to our tables. The cocktail phase of the evening was over and the serious drinking and stuff was to begin. While on the tube Barbara Walters kept interviewing movie stars.

At our table there were beautiful women and Entertainment Weekly President Mike Klingensmith but Bebe Neuwirth of "Chicago" was missing and so were Charlie Rose and the delectable Amanda Burden. Bebe eventually turned up and so did Elaine Paige of "Sunset Boulevard" and Dee Hoty of too many Broadway musicals to mention. But perhaps the evening's top thrill was when "Marcia Brady" was ushered to our table, doing business as Maureen McCormick. To think, at my age, I finally meet one of "The Brady Bunch."

I had a drink on the strength of it.

Now they were serving dinner (the choice was salmon or filet mignon) and I got to see Peter Lund of CBS and his wife, Theresa, (who is one of my faves because she always prays for me, or so she says) and Norm Pearlstine of Time Warner and his wife, Nancy Friday, who writes books but doesn't pray for anyone that I am aware of except maybe for Norman. Phyllis George was there and songwriter Leslie Bricusse and movie producer (and Woody Allen pal) Jean Doumanian and photographer George Lang and Stu Elliott of The New York Times, who writes about advertising, and Gerry and Liz Byrne of Variety.

The white wine gave way to red, a nice merlot. I saluted Peter Bonventre of Entertainment Weekly on the magazine's good taste.

Michael Caine and wife, Shakira, had their usual table in back and up on the TV set a fellow wearing a shirt but no jacket was playing the piano and just barely making it without collapsing and in Hollywood everyone was giving standing ovations. Then Betty Bacall lost in her category and a lot of the fun went out of the evening. But that sweet French girl who won said nice things about Betty and we all cheered up. Marginally. And when it was over, host Jim Seymore, the managing editor who saved the magazine after its first 17 faltering issues, thanked us all for coming. It was pushing 1 a.m.

Outside the usual panhandler was waiting, with a new threat this time if

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