The Sunday-night party on the fifth floor of the downtown Grand Bohemian was one of those stylish affairs more associated with Tinseltown than O-Town. Elegantly attired men and women roamed through equally elegant rooms, eating beef tenderloin, sushi, fruit, cheese, and chocolate pastries. Joan Rivers and Marilyn Monroe impersonators interviewed guests on a red carpet. Camera crews worked the crowd. Among the items up for bid at the silent auction: a Picasso scarf, a Klimt tie, 16 tickets to the mayor's Magic skybox, a two-night vacation to the Grand Bohemian, and an opportunity to attend the cast party of the Broadway musical "42nd Street." At 8:30 p.m., the guests -- some of whom paid $150 to sit at the VIP table -- retired to the ballroom to watch the Academy Awards on a giant screen. Party organizers were hoping to at least net $10,000 for the Downtown Arts District, the group that hosted the event.
Fifteen minutes down I-4, another Oscar-night party was under way, this one hosted by the Variety Club at the Loews Cineplex near the entrance of the Universal Studios theme park. The same sort of upscale guests attended, though some were confined to wheelchairs. For $130 they were treated to an open bar, catered food and a chance to watch the awards show on an extra-large theater screen. Among the items up for bid at the silent auction: a consultation with a chiropractor, a facial at Studio V salon, a large candy basket, a signed Orlando Magic basketball and a bunch of movie memorabilia, including a Daredevil poster signed by actor Ben Affleck.
The two parties were dissimilar, but some people still had them confused because of the March 7 press conference announcing the first-ever Grand Bohemian Oscar-night party. Publicity for the event came in the form of a tuxedo-clad James Bond impersonator (actor David Lyons) who repelled down the north side of Orlando City Hall to personally invite new Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, standing with a pair of "Bond" girls, to "Bohemian Night at the Oscars."
If that stunt sounds familiar, that's because Lyons -- appearing as the Pierce Bronson-era 007 -- repelled from a helicopter to invite former Mayor Glenda Hood to an Oscar-night party last year. Hood's invitation was to the Variety Club's second-annual awards party, however, not the Arts District party. The distinction between the two groups is important. The Variety Club is a charity group that helps children. The Downtown Arts District is a city-spawned, non-profit dedicated to helping artists thrive in the city.
Guests at the Bohemian party -- among them city commissioner Ernest Page, county commissioner Linda Stewart and artist Terry Hummel -- seemed unaware of controversy. They bought tickets, they said, to support the arts.
But it wasn't difficult to find an outraged guest at the Variety Club party. City commissioner Patty Sheehan said she boycotted the downtown event because she disapproved of the Arts District stealing the Variety Club's idea -- and in theory its ability to raise money -- for a city-sponsored event. "I think it's disgusting," Sheehan said. "This is a charity. What they did was way wrong."
Variety Club president Debra Hartman agreed, saying, "I thought it was a little tacky on the city's part. This is a charitable organization. We're not doing it for profit."
There's a rumor around town that the borrowed Bond stunt was the reason Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer fired the city's art czarina, Brenda Robinson, last week. Robinson, who attended the Oscar party, is president of the Downtown Arts District board of directors. The scuttlebutt is that Dyer forced her March 20 resignation because he didn't like Robinson's $150,000 salary, especially in light of the city's recent budget deficit.
Robinson says her quitting had nothing to do with the stunts. "That's really a stretch," she says. She said Mary Kenny, the Grand Bohemian's spokeswoman and an Arts District board member, contracted Lyons for the Arts District party. "The party was my idea but I did not know about the `Variety Club` party," Robinson says. "I thought it would be a good fund-raiser so I proposed it to the board. We have 1.5 million people in this area. Can't we support two Oscar parties?"
Dyer denies that Robinson's tenure with the city was ended by the Bond imbroglio. He attended both parties, traveling first to the Variety Club, then watching the awards with the Bohemian crowd. "There's room for both," he says.
Hartman, the Variety Club president, agrees that she has no monopoly on Oscar parties. But she suggests the Arts District adopt different tactics to market their events so guests don't confuse the two groups. She has already made the first move by uninviting Lyons, the actor, to her party, saying his freelance gig for the Arts District was "a despicable thing."