Ken Tucker
April 07, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

What’s the scoop on the no-show from Whitney Houston?
Event organizers deny rumors that bandleader Burt Bacharach booted the singer after she flubbed cues and songs, but they do describe her departure from the event as a ”mutual” decision. ”She was hoarse, and it’s not like you want to fall on your face at the Oscars,” says show coproducer Lili Fini Zanuck, who called Faith Hill’s manager and arranged for the country singer to fly into town for rehearsals at 3:30 p.m. the day before the big night.

What was with that whole Peter Coyote setup?
”Madison Ave. uses all these great voices to sell products,” says Zanuck. ”Our feeling was why not just do what they do? Why aren’t we accessing this talent?” Says Coyote: ”I was signed on even before Billy Crystal. I said ‘I would love to do this but I’ve got to get my face on there.’ But to actually weave me integrally into the production? I was flabbergasted.”

What was the plan if Annette Bening went into labor?
Uh, amazingly enough, there wasn’t one. Says her publicist: ”There were no special arrangements; she just would have gone to the hospital.”

Why wasn’t Matt Damon on the arm of his girlfriend, Oscar presenter Winona Ryder?
”He’s been there the past three years,” says his publicist. ”So this year he decided to watch it with friends.” (Read: Ben Affleck.) Well, at least he hooked Winona up with a good awards-show playmate. Ryder and Damon’s All the Pretty Horses costar Penelope Cruz spent the evening chatting in the lobby during commercial breaks.

Who was behind the goofy factoids that ran at the bottom of the screen during the preshow?
They were the brainchild of producer Joel Gallen, the man behind the 1999 MTV Movie Awards (which might explain how VJ Chris Connelly nabbed that red carpet gig).

Who was the mysterious ”Dianne” with Kevin Spacey?
The brunet is Dianne Dreyer, described by Spacey and his publicist as a ”longtime girlfriend,” who has attended numerous awards shows with the two-time Oscar winner.

During his acceptance speech for the Thalberg Award, Warren Beatty said: ”The poet wrote: ‘Only solitary men know the true joy of friendship. Others have their family, but to a solitary man, his friends are everything.”’ Hey Warren, which poet?
According to his publicist, the poet in question is Pulitzer Prize winner Willa Cather — and the quote is from her 1931 book Shadows on the Rock.

How did the Academy get Jane Fonda — who hasn’t made a movie in almost a decade — to present an Oscar?
With a little help from her friends. Says Zanuck: ”I called her best friend [and] I said: ‘Do you think there’s any chance you can get Jane?’ And she said, ‘I’ll try.’ And then Jane came on.”

Who was responsible for misspelling Sixth Sense director/ screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan’s name on the big screen during the Best Original Screenplay presentation?
The producers claim there was no such glitch. Says Zanuck: ”No, his name was spelled right. He’s getting pretty famous, so I think people know his name.” Let’s go to the videotape and…BZZZT! There’s no doubt that his name was incorrectly shown as ”M. Knight Shyamalan.”

What the hell was Gary Coleman doing at the Oscars?
Reportedly working for entertainment website, though when EW caught up with him, he seemed more interested in the buffet. When an usher informed the pint-size star — who was sporting a six-foot blond on his arm — that they were seated in the orchestra, Coleman (above, right) replied ”I don’t care about the seats. Just point me to the closest food.”

If this was the new ”streamlined” Oscar telecast, how come it clocked in at a bloated four hours and eight minutes?
The same old reasons: tributes, song-and-dance numbers, and commercial breaks. ”We honestly did everything we could, but there was no way to make it shorter,” says Zanuck. ”We might as well admit it’s a four-hour show.”

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