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MAKE BILLY CRYSTAL THE OSCAR HOST FOR LIFE

Marty, the New York PR genius, privately e-mailed this on Tuesday to his old Yale roommate Sid, who's now a big shot on the Motion Picture Academy Board of Governors:

It's all Baba Wawa's fault, the way I see it. If ABC hadn't run her little turkey trot at 8 p.m. Eastern time, I could have gotten a fair night's sleep. I'm asking you, do we need Walters telling us how happy Will Smith and Jada Pinkett are and listening to Burt Reynolds slur his words while he tells us that he doesn't drink or do dope anymore?

Why can't you guys start an hour earlier, at 8 o'clock our time? That's only 5 o'clock your time. The Oscars could be a West Coast holiday: Everybody is allowed to go home a little early or to the Oscar party of their choice to scarf down the yam pancakes, salmon mousse and pumpernickel crackers. I'm telling you, Sid, it would be great PR for the Oscars, as if they needed any.

That way, you wouldn't have to tell winners to cut their speeches to 30 seconds, either. Cuba Gooding was right about that. If some tearful special-effects dweeb from Guadalajara who's never going to be seen on TV again wants to tell his grandmother back home how much he owes to her enchiladas, let him blubber away to his heart's content. We'll all still be in bed by midnight back here with an 8 o'clock start time.

You asked me mano a mano, tete a tete and a la carte what Margie and I thought, so here it is, Sid, my boy:

First off, make Billy Crystal your host for life. He's great. Tell him to stop listening to all the twinks who tell him he has to top himself every year. All he has to do is keep up his standard and he's so far ahead of the game that he'll bring everyone else along with him. We used to argue about this late at night, Sid. I'm still telling you -- it's a myth that ordinary people prefer mediocrity because it's comforting. We don't. I'm as ordinary as floor wax, old buddy, and nobody knows that better than you. And I want an Oscar host as funny as Crystal.

Crystal was loose as a goose and twice as slippery. The joke about how the White House used to complain that there was too much sex in Hollywood was for all time, man. And he's right. Linda Tripp does look like Michael Caine in "Dressed to Kill." I just hauled out my old press kit. And his wicked anti-Republican crack at the end evened the score.

I know you boardroom types worry a lot about the infiltration of smut -- a billion viewers, all that -- but let's get real here. I'm all for keeping untoward things out of the hungry eyes and ears of the little ones, but we've got to stop running the world for their benefit. The world is for us, the grown-ups, so that we can have the freedom to laugh and carry on as we choose, as long as we all consent.

If Dustin Hoffman wants to do a nice little dirty joke, let him. He has all kinds of kids, so he knows about parenting. (Man, whoever invented that word? It sounds like what walruses and caribou do, not humans.)

Margie and I can't tell you people to stop giving Jack Nicholson prizes. You're apparently too far gone in the sun for that. But trust me, your old PR buddy and college roommate. You have to get him out of the front row where every winner passes by his seat. He acts like the greeters in Vegas used to -- you know, all those punch-drunk old championship fighters with huevos rancheros for brains who would pump the hands of everyone in the place and then go on breaks and look at their old scrapbooks.

Wait. I have a better analogy. Nicholson was like the CEO at the head table that every vice president from traffic has to bow obeisance to before quoting what Beaumarchais said about the proper way to sell itch cream. Put him in the second row from now on and tell him to just watch the show rather than act like the chairman of the Miss America Pageant.

When it was his time to get his Oscar, he forgot to kiss his co-star, Helen Hunt, who was sitting next to him. Very uncool for the arbiter of Hollywood cool. For all that, you've got to love a guy whose acceptance speech thanked the ghosts of Miles Davis, Robert Mitchum and, bless him, Luana Anders. (Hey, I never said he wasn't cool. He didn't invent it, though. Miles did.)

Margie and I argued a lot about the dresses. I personally appreciated the serious thigh in Ashley Judd's number and the camera shot of Jennifer Lopez (while Margie bounced canapes off my forehead). She fell off her chair when Geena Davis came out ("who dresses that woman?" was her hoot) and said that Madonna's number made her look like Rapunzel the Dominatrix. Which your friends might want to seriously consider for her next film.

Helen Hunt's acceptance speech was gracious to the max -- a classy dame in the grand old style, that one. She ought to give lessons to the lesser hominids out there.

Don't tell me how much you missed the dancing. No one else did. We liked Billy's nasty "Lord of the Dance" crack and found what little dance there was excessive. The only dancing I liked was Stanley Donen's hoofing when he got his lifetime Oscar. (Was he the evening's charmer or what? Yeah, I know he's 74, but he's a good old boy. Get him in front of a camera to twinkle more often. It's good for your image.)

I agree with you that the crowd is getting hipper. When they applaud memorial images of Toshiro Mifune and Sam Fuller almost as loudly as they do Mitchum and Jimmy Stewart, things have sure changed.

The family portrait of Oscar winners was neat, too, Margie and I both thought. Who'd have imagined that Luise Rainer was still alive? I loved the strange bedfellows created by the alphabet -- the look of withering horror on Chuck Heston's face to be caught in between Joel Grey and Dustin Hoffman. And didn't Shirley Temple and Marisa Tomei seem to get on well? There's a late-afternoon tea I'd like to overhear.

The last thing I want to say is: No more awards for James Cameron. A great filmmaker, but come on. When that megalomaniac, at the 3 1/2 -hour mark, wanted us all to pause for a moment of silence for the Titanic victims, Margie and I both pitched toothpicks at the screen. Tell him to listen to his own heartbeat next time.

One final thing. You know that surly twit in Buffalo who's been predicting the awards for the past 25 years? He batted .833 this year. Not bad -- not quite as good as Crystal's wisecracks, but not bad.

Boola boola.