'Chicago' Is Oscar's Kind of Town

03/23/2003 at 10:58 AM EST

9:30 p.m.: Chris Cooper Win Kicks Off Oscar's 75th

Chris Cooper became the first big winner of Sunday night's 75th annual Academy Awards, taking the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as an orchid thief in the black comedy-drama "Adaptation."

Gracefully walking to the stage of the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, the actor, a first-time nominee, said, "From the Academy to the womb that bore me, thank you." He also made special mention of his costar -- and fellow nominee -- Meryl Streep.

"Working with this woman was like making great jazz," said Cooper, who also choked back tears as he acknowledged his wife, Marianne. "You took on all the burden," he said. "Thank you."

Meanwhile, diamonds showered on Oscar for its 75th year -- its diamond jubilee -- as film clips shown inside a shower of sparkling jewels kicked off a ceremony that was mired in controversy ever since Wednesday's initiation of U.S. bombing in Iraq.

Host Steve Martin delivered a riotous opening monologue that sidestepped the political issues at hand, but did acknowledge that the night had been toned down given world events.

"Well, I'm glad they cut out all the glitz," Martin said sarcastically. "You probably noticed, there was no red carpet tonight. That will show them."

He also made reference to his "Bringing Down the House" costar Queen Latifah ("Or, as I like to call her, 'Sequel Money'), poked fun at nominee Kathy Bates and her hot tub scene in "About Schmidt", ("Jack Nicholson got into a tub with Kathy Bates. Well, who hasn't?"), and pointed out Nicole Kidman's fake nose in "The Hours," saying that she has actually worn a fake nose in all of her movies -- "except "The Hours."

The evening's first award was for the two-year-old category of Best Animated Feature Film, with Cameron Diaz presenting. And the Oscar went to Japan's "Spirited Away," which Disney half-heartedly released in America last summer.

"Matrix" star Keanu Reeves presented the Achievement in Visual Effects Oscar to the "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" effects team. (In all, "Rings" received six Oscar nominations this year.) Jennifer Lopez presented the Art Direction Oscar to "Chicago," winning its first trophy of the night.

Despite the Academy's decree that there would be no bleachers full of screaming fans and no red carpet, the stars still made star arrivals, and ABC, despite producers' promises to avoid making the event seem frivolous, stopped some of the nominees to get their reactions to being here on this big night.

Renee Zellweger, nominated as Best Actress for "Chicago," said her brother has been calling her all week "and screaming into the phone ... he's the greatest guy," she said.

"Unfaithful" Best Actress nominee Diane Lane, arriving with Josh Brolin, said that her late father "is here with me in spirit" and that her daughter, who was home, "wishes her well."

"Frida" Best Actress nominee Salma Hayek, arriving with Ed Norton, said being in the Oscar race means a lot to her. "For the first time," she said, "a person of my nationality is nominated in this category."

During the pre-show there was also a touching birthday salute to Bob Hope, Oscar's most frequent host (a record 18 times) who turns 100 this May 29. Arriving stars Hilary Swank, Kate Hudson, Mickey Rooney, Joel Grey and Marlee Matlin, among others, blew kisses into the TV camera and wished the veteran comedian -- resting at home tonight -- happy birthday.

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