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Oscar winners may keep their speeches short

Oscar winners may keep their speeches short. If one Hollywood publicist has his way, that is

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Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts: Nelson Machin/ABC

At this year’s Oscars, will anyone emulate Julia Roberts, who waved aside the ”stick man” (orchestra conductor Bill Conti) during her ”Erin Brockovich” thank-yous last year and went on for nearly four minutes thanking everyone she’d ever met (except, embarrassingly, Brockovich herself)? Not if Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman has his way. Bragman, whose firm represents Oscar host Whoopi Goldberg, penned an essay in the Los Angeles Times Monday, pleading with winners to keep their speeches brief. He wrote that it’s fine to ”thank the one or two people who really made a difference in your life and this project,” but urged winners to show their gratitude to managers and agents off-camera, maybe with a bottle of Dom Perignon.

”I’m trying to be helpful and make the show more entertaining,” Bragman tells EW.com. The aptly named Bragman says he’s written hundreds of awards speeches for clients, notably ”Forrest Gump” producer Steve Tisch’s best-picture speech, where Tisch pithily thanked his ”four best friends,” letting all his acquaintances believe they were among those being thanked. ”People tend to forget when they go on stage that there’s a billion people watching, that not everybody knows who ICM is.” says Bragman, ”Your publicist isn’t going to tell you because Pat Kingsley wants to hear her name.”

While no one has approached Greer Garson’s record-setting five-and-a-half-minute speech from 1943 (she won best actress for ”Mrs. Miniver”), the Academy has tried in vain to stem speech creep. Last year, despite the incentive of a free high-definition TV for the orator of the shortest acceptance speech, 17 of the 23 thank-yous went beyond the 45-second limit, helping drag the show out 25 minutes beyond its allotted three hours.

”No one wants to know about your makeup man and your hairdresser and that stuff,” Oscar show producer Gil Cates said at the time. ”You make three people happy and you send a half-million [viewers] to the refrigerator.” The Academy has no short-speech premiums planned this year.

Those nominees who do want to spiff up their speeches can call Bragman, who’s offering free tips. Still, if someone as notable as Julia Roberts wants to stretch out the moment for which she’s been waiting her whole life, not even the stick man is going to stop her. As she said to Conti last year, ”Sir, you’re doing a great job, but you’re so quick with that stick. So why don’t you sit, because I may never be here again.”

Get more: EW.com’s latest Oscar coverage

RELATED SITES: Vote in Moviefone’s American Moviegoer Awards or get additional coverage on Netscape’s Oscar page