OPENING NOTES

Leona Helmsley abdicates, filling vacant seats at the Oscars, and Josef Skvorecký would like to throw a big party

March 26 1990

OPENING NOTES

Leona Helmsley abdicates, filling vacant seats at the Oscars, and Josef Skvorecký would like to throw a big party

March 26 1990

STAR REPLACEMENTS

Organizers of the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles say that next week's show will be notable for glamor, excitement—and row upon row of filled seats. Indeed, about 120 unpaid volunteers ensure that TV cameras panning the audience on Oscar night never focus on a vacant seat. Dressed in their own evening clothes, official seat-fillers temporarily occupy places vacated by audience members for reasons that range from having to visit the washroom to appearing onstage. In return for a chance to rub shoulders with some of Hollywood's biggest stars, the seat-fillers must agree not to ask for autographs or talk to the media. According to Joseph DiSante, the ABC TV executive who strives to select "ordinary people who love the movies" for the job, the practice began 16 years ago when the Oscar ceremony director complained that empty seats "looked ugly." Added DiSante: "During commercial breaks, it is organized chaos. The seat-fillers get really adept at moving fast." Selling illusion is a Hollywood tradition.

Setback for a brother-and-sister act

Natalie Pollock and her brother, Ronald, attained minor-celebrity status in Winnipeg during the past four years as the unpaid hosts of a weekly interview program broadcast by a local cable TV company. There, Natalie, a woman in her 40s who describes herself as well-endowed, talked to guests ranging from Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon to Winnipeg Blue Bomber football players. She also liked to dance with her guests and question them about romance. But in December, cable-company executive Richard Edwards cancelled the show—supposedly, the Pollocks say, because many viewers complained to him that “Natalie’s breasts bounced.” Edwards has denied that Natalie’s appearance caused the cancellation, declining further comment because the station has retained lawyers and the issue is before the Canadian Human Rights Commission,

HIDDEN COSTS OF FREEDOM

Josef Skvoreckÿ is planning a three-or four-week trip that will mark his first visit to Czechoslovakia since he fled to Canada in 1969. But the writer, whose novel The Engineer of Human Souls won the Governor General’s Award in 1984, has mixed feelings about the lionization that awaits him next month. Said Skvoreckÿ, 65: “There are so many people who will want to see me, and my time is so limited. It would be nice if we could just throw one big party for everyone. ” Long-lost native sons rarely get much sleep on their first trip home.

That’s the way the ball bounces

Top-ranked U.S. and Canadian college basketball teams were in championship tournaments last week. In the United States, 64 teams vied to become the national champion after a turbulent season that saw a player die at midcourt. In Halifax, where eight finalists competed for the Canadian championship, the University of Western Ontario charged that its Mustangs had a better record than one of the entrants, Antigonish’s St. Francis Xavier University. Nova Scotia’s Acadia University was also entered, but officials declined to comment on the charge that they chose a second local team just to boost ticket sales.

SEE THE MOVIE, THEN JOIN UP

The U.S. navy’s submarine service has a big stake in the success of The Hunt for Red October, a recently released movie that stars Sean Connery as a Soviet submarine commander who defects—with his nuclear-armed warship—to the West. Navy officials say that they decided to co-operate fully with Paramount Pictures in making the picture because the submarine service has had difficulty attracting qualified recruits in recent years. Indeed, U.S. submariners candidly acknowledge their hope that Red October will have a similar impact to that of Top Gun. That 1986 movie, which featured Tom Cruise as a naval fighter pilot, led to a huge increase in the numbers of recruits seeking to fly U.S. navy jets. Still, a panel of naval officers that approved the script for Red October did not give it a rave review. Declared the panel: “The script is shallow and does not do justice to the detailed character and plot development of [Tom] Clancy’s novel. Paramount is obviously relying heavily on visuals to carry the picture.” That’s show business.

LESSONS IN HOLDING A NEWS CONFERENCE

Early next month, a church-appointed commission is scheduled to deliver a long-awaited report concerning allegations of sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests. And to help church spokesmen deal with media questions on that report, the Roman Catholic archdiocese in St. John's, Nfld., hired a public relations firm in January. Indeed, the firm, locally based Saga Communications, has already started producing teaching aids, including a videotape of a recent news conference held by Archbishop Alphonsus Penney. Said Saga executive vice-president Derrick Gill: "These people are largely unfamiliar with dealing with the media. We have been providing them with support in what could be an intensive media exercise. The videotaping is for their purposes, so they can look at how they did."

Juicing up the drink ads

Anti-drunk-driving organizations in Ontario are fighting a provincial government plan that could allow closer links between drinking and risky activities in beer and wine ads—associations that were simply prohibited in the past. But new regulations to take effect this spring will likely permit TV and print ads to show both alcoholic drinks and such dangerous activities as auto racing—provided that the ads “clearly establish that the individuals have completed that activity for the day.” As well, John Bates, the president of People to Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere, said that PRIDE had failed to persuade the government to ban brewery sponsorship of such auto races as Toronto’s annual Molson Indy. Still, PRIDE’S criticism has prompted Molson Breweries to review its slogan for its Export Ale brand. That slogan, “When it comes to racing, Ex says it all,” may soon be waved off the track.

A royal farewell

For 10 years, Leona Helmsley presented herself as the “Queen of the Palace” when she appeared in magazine ads for 26 Helmsley hotels. But the president of the New York City-based chain was convicted of tax evasion charges in December, and she is also abdicating her position in the hotel ads. A new promotional campaign that begins next month will still stress Helmsley hotels’ attention to detail—without the regal presence.