The celeb dos came through mostly unscathed. But the characteristically convivial affair, held at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills and watched by some 47 million viewers, still provided plenty of suspense—and not just about who would take home the gold. There was the urgent question, for instance, of whether The Practice's Camryn Manheim, looking like a Brünnhilde wannabe in a tight gold-leather corset, would be able to go on breathing. "I needed two ladies-in-waiting to hook me in," she confessed, "and I have a friend waiting at home to get me out."
Then there was the unsettling possibility that presenter Minnie Driver's gray-jersey Randolph Duke gown, which left little of her bosom concealed, might suddenly shift a smidge and reveal the rest. Peerless in fashion chutzpah, though, was Courtney Love, who went for—and achieved—all the vavoom of a vagrant in her slashed-silk-taffeta gown by John Galliano for Christian Dior couture. "I made it myself out of trash-can bags—that's what Joan Rivers said," an amused Love declared.
Still, for every taste terrorist in the room (what was Lara Flynn Boyle's rhinestone Bob Seger T-shirt all about?) there were numerous others whose ensembles bespoke quiet elegance and beguiling glamor. Jodie Foster (escorted by best-actor-in-a-film-drama nominee Russell Crowe) shone in a beaded tangerine top and coordinating gray-green skirt by Giorgio Armani; Halle Berry, named best actress for her starring role in HBO's Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, shimmered in a white Valentino with red-satin rosebuds; and Once and Again's Sela Ward, up for best actress in a TV drama (she lost to The Sopranos' Edie Falco), glowed in sequined separates by James Purcell. "After my Chanel disaster at the Emmys," confided Ward, recalling her much-panned aubergine getup, "I thought I'd wear something very safe and black."
In that, she had plenty of company—mostly male. Though Hugh Grant, sporting a tuxedo custom-made by "my guy in London," swore he had been "in torment about my cufflinks for hours," few of his colleagues sweated it sartorially. "I'm wearing the same Hugo Boss tux I've worn to the last five events," laughed Will & Grace star Eric McCormack. "I change the color of the tie, and everyone goes, 'I love the new look!' "
Not that fashion was all the stars had on their minds. There were prizes to be won and schmoozing to be done. "I went up and told Meryl Streep, 'I've always admired you,' " said Edie Falco, whose award kicked off The Sopranos' four-win streak, "and she said, 'In my house, you're bigger.' " Not everyone shared Falco's courage. "I admired her from afar," joked Escada-clad Vivica A. Fox (City of Angels) of Barbra Streisand. "You don't come up too close on Babs!"
The show's producers certainly didn't. They allowed presenter Shirley MacLaine and Streisand herself to ramble on interminably about the diva's lifetime-achievement award. Rapt attention, though, was paid to Michael J. Fox's best-actor win for Spin City, the hit sitcom he will leave next season to battle Parkinson's disease (see cover story, p. 98). "It was the most touching moment" of the night, said JAG star David James Elliott. "He has such dignity."
The warm feelings continued even after the three-hour broadcast, when everyone bolted to the parties. At the Paramount/Miramax soiree held in the Hilton's Stardust Suite, Gwyneth Paltrow and is-he-or-isn't-he beau Ben Affleck hung with Rob Lowe, while in a nearby room, Matt Damon and girlfriend Winona Ryder, who juggled a plate of pasta in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, gabbed with The Practice's Dylan McDermott. Over at the DreamWorks bash at Trader Vic's, Felicity's Keri Russell giddily kicked off her heels, ER's Julianna Margulies groaned about hers ("They're killing me!"), while Annette Bening, seven months pregnant with her fourth child, put her feet up. "I was dying to do that," sighed Bening, relaxing with husband Warren Beatty.
Another complainer: best-film-drama presenter Harrison Ford, who dropped into the Sony fete just long enough to pronounce awards shows "almost as much [fun] as dental work."
Don't tell that to the evening's happy honorees. "One thing about [winning] awards," mused 74-year-old Jack Lemmon, who won as best actor for his work in the TV movie Inherit the Wind, "is you never get tired of it."
Karen Brailsford, Kelly Carter, Steven Cojocaru, Tom Cunneff, Mark Dagostino, Alison Singh Gee, Pamela Warrick and Ulrica Wihlborg in Beverly Hills