As the #OscarsSoWhite controversy hung heavily over the ceremony hosted by Chris Rock across town, Elton John had no problem melding glamour, philanthropy and diversity at his 24th annual Academy Awards viewing party in West Hollywood, Calif.
“It started off as 150 people at a little restaurant around the corner and now we have 950 people for dinner,” John said. “We used to go around to every table, but my legs ain’t what they used to be.”
Fortunately for the 68-year-old singer, his famous friends worked for free on Sunday night. Oscar winner Hilary Swank modeled a Bulgari diamond ring that sold for $40,000 in the live auction conducted by Paddle8. Meanwhile, Zooey Deschanel and Beck enjoyed a date night with their spouses. Sheryl Crow, Brandy, Lana Del Rey, Vince Vaughn, Ryan Kwanten, Bellamy Young, Sarah Hyland, Ashley Greene, Jeffrey Tambor, Nikki Reed, Ian Somerhalder, Kelly Osbourne and Martha Hunt donned their finest and gave money to raise $6.2 million for John’s AIDS Foundation, surpassing the $5.8 million collected last year.
“We love Elton. His commitment to charity is incredible,” said Mariah Carey, who was more willing to show off her 35-carat diamond ring from fiancé James Packer than to jump on stage with the man of the hour. “I have a cold,” she confessed.
Samuel L. Jackson made an appearance via video to urge guests to donate. However, “South Park” cocreator Trey Parker lost the bid to snare tickets to the Vanity Fair party later that night when he declined to shell out $100,000. The fashion industry — represented by designers Tommy Hilfiger, Jenna Lyons and Robert Rodriguez — heeded the call. In a text message displayed on giant screens mounted throughout the huge tented room, Hilfiger’s son, Richard, offered $50 with the message: “Stop da AIDS yo.”
“It’s the glamour of going to the Oscars but with the philanthropy,” said “American Horror Story” star Cheyenne Jackson, who logged his third turn supporting John’s charity.
The two people who scored the most newsworthy beauty deals in the past few weeks — Caitlyn Jenner with MAC Cosmetics and Lea Michele with Burt’s Bees — declined to talk to reporters at the party. Jenner made a statement with her fiery dress designed by Zac Posen. “Red is a color of passion,” said Posen, who himself recently unveiled a new collection with MAC.
Still, Jenner couldn’t hide her enthusiasm for being the first transgender person to sign a major cosmetics endorsement. After chatting with “Transparent” star Jeffrey Tambor, she graciously posed with fans in at least two dozen selfies, many of them taken next to her table hosted by MAC, which also invited Dita von Teese as a guest. “Finally,” Jenner told some admirers, “I get lipstick for free.”
The night wasn’t all business. Boy George took a much-needed break from filming “Celebrity Apprentice” with Arnold Schwarzenegger since “it’s high-octane craziness on a daily schedule,” he said. “Glee” alumni Andrew Rannells and Matthew Morrison caught up in the middle of the dinner concocted by Gordon Ramsay, who paired cured salmon with roasted golden beets, branzino with corn pudding and Boston Bibb lettuce with English Stilton, among the five courses. Swank rooted for best actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio because “Leo’s a childhood friend of mine,” she said.
Morrison fared well in his Oscar ballot by voting for Alicia Vikander, his costar in “Tulip Fever.” In that film, he plays, in his words, “a young struggling artist — I’m the best friend of the main character.” But he’s about to go against type as a district attorney who targets one of the bigwigs on “The Good Wife.” “I don’t play [a bad guy] very often,” he said.
Ashley Madekwe was happy to get out of character. Shooting the third season of the 17th-century witch drama “Salem” in Louisiana, the actress, who moonlights as a fashion blogger, relished a glamorous weekend. “Shreveport has a lot of things going for it but glamour is not one of them,” she said. Proving her fashion skills, she pinned her tablemate’s hair in a chignon while another dinner companion filmed it on a phone. “It’s like a national holiday in Hollywood,” she said of the Oscars. “It’s like our Christmas.”
It was a Christmas with unusual gifts, thanks to sponsors including Bulgari, MAC, Lalique, StyleHaul and Audi. With the help of Neuro, John gave away autographed CDs of his new album. “If you don’t want to play them, you can use them as Frisbees or coasters,” he said when he and his husband, David Furnish, greeted all the guests from the stage.
The live auction didn’t disappoint. For the past three years, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler has donated a five-day retreat in his two-bedroom home with a pool in Maui. “Anybody here know what a bonobo monkey is?” the rocker said in his pitch. “These are monkeys that know no hate. All they do is make love and f–k. I promise you, when you get to this house, that is all you will do.” Indeed, the winning bid went for $80,000.
Even after supporting John’s cause for 10 years, Heidi Klum wasn’t willing to step up as Tyler did. “I don’t think anyone wants to stay at my house with four kids and me,” she said.
Still, a lot of people liked coming to Elton’s makeshift mansion located next to a community pool and children’s park. Jack Quaid, the son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, who’s making a name for himself on Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s HBO series “Vinyl,” rolled in a few minutes before 11 p.m. The late hour didn’t prevent Tyler from hobnobbing with Mary J. Blige, who arrived midway through John’s post-dinner performance of “Benny and the Jets,” as they waited for their black SUVs in the valet line. John and Furnish later scooted off to the Vanity Fair party, where they confabbed with good friend, Oscar nominee Lady Gaga.
Despite feeling ill the entire day before rallying to slip on a revealing black gown for the party, Willa Holland from “The Arrow” was determined to end the night by honoring an Oscar tradition that involved big bites of a hamburger. “I’m going to get In-N-Out and go to bed,” she said.