TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Russell may have to eat crow if he wants towin another Oscar

It's crunch time for publicists working on Oscar campaigns, trying to win the hearts and minds of Academy voters. Like political handlers, they're sending their Oscar nominees out to hit the stump, make speeches, kiss babies, and try to finagle their way into a coveted Friends guest spot.

It's crunch time for publicists working on Oscar campaigns, trying to win the hearts and minds of Academy voters. Like political handlers, they're sending their Oscar nominees out to hit the stump, make speeches, kiss babies, and try to finagle their way into a coveted Friends guest spot.

Print and TV ads, personal appearances, talk shows, articles ... it takes a village to win an Academy Award. And a true survivor to endure the campaign.

But one favored nominee might have banished himself from Oscar island.

Failing to be beautifully mindful of the importance of home-stretch PR, Russell Crowe instigated an ugly backstage incident at last month's British Academy film awards. You probably heard about it. With his bodyguards standing by, the Australian gladiator cornered and verbally assaulted a poor producer who, in the interests of time, had cut short Crowe's poem recitation during his acceptance speech. Other winners' acceptance remarks were also abbreviated for broadcast. But squelching this particular orator sparked an erupting volcano of vituperation. Something a sailor would be proud of. Affronts were thrown, but no punches.

Even Frank Sinatra wasn't this obstreperous when his rambling speech was cut short at a Grammy awards show. It would appear that actor/singer Crowe, more than any other current Hollywood star, is attempting to assume the controversial mantle of the Chairman himself. The difference being, of course, Sinatra was the looming cultural figure of the 20th century.

Crowe has an Oscar, sure, but can he can get presidents elected and sing Luck Be A Lady?

With Crowe locked in a tight Best Actor contest with Denzel Washington, I asked an Oscar publicist insider if the negative publicity from the outburst might diminish his chances. A verbal lashing ensued, similar to what Crowe administered, minus the word "mate.

Some of the expletives I had to look up. They were good. Quite pointed.

Though decency obliges the omission of this brilliantly-constructed, profanity-laced tirade, the substance of the printable response was something akin to this: "That's absurd. Voting has everything to do with the performance, and nothing to do with an actor's personal life. Nothing! It's just ridiculous. How stupid. Really, I can't believe it."

Yeah, well, I haven't seen Michael Jackson or Gary Condit winning any awards lately. And if you're torn between a pugnacious Crowe or someone as affable as, say, Will Smith, wouldn't you go with the guy less likely to punch you in the face?

Anyway, I was so stymied by the publicist's rapid-fire eloquence, I didn't even ask my planned follow-up question: "Do you think Russell could beat up three journalists at once? Entertainment journalists, not, like, battle-hardened war correspondents."

I know this: he'd have no chance against the likes of that publicist.

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