In 1998, I went to the Academy Awards. It was amazing!
I still smile every time I think about what was probably a once-in-a-lifetime event for me.
The Academy Awards may be the most prestigious happening on the planet. It’s a very difficult ticket to come by. Championship hockey fans will tell you that getting a date with Stanley is much easier than getting one with Oscar.
The Academy Awards are so exclusive, that you must be invited.
How did I get invited? Well, as they say in Hollywood, “it’s who you know.”
It’s who you know
Joe and me in 1998
My younger brother Joe, who knows a lot, is a business consultant with some interesting West Coast clients.
In a nutshell, Joe impressed who he knew with what he knows and the Academy offered him four tickets to the Oscars, just like that.
Joe and I have done some interesting things together. We’ve climbed cliffs in Hawaii and toured the country in a rock band.
We’ve even taken baths together, although not recently. When Joe called me with an invitation to the Academy Awards, I knew that we were in for another adventure.
The phrase, “I’m going to the Academy Awards,” is a great conversation starter. Americans are fascinated with Hollywood and the film industry’s biggest night.
Before leaving for LA, I telephoned a female friend who lives there. I was in the habit of calling Robin before visiting southern California. She wasn’t good about returning my calls. This time, I left a voice mail saying, “Robin, I’m coming to LA to attend the Oscars. Let’s try to get together.”
This time, she called back within five minutes.
Joe invited two of his friends to round out our foursome and we all met up in Los Angeles and convened at an exclusive hotel in Santa Monica called Shutters on the Beach. If we were going to do the Hollywood scene, we would go top drawer.
Shutters’ expensive room rates certainly play a role in keeping the common folk from getting too close to the celebrities. The hotel had booked extra security to keep the lobby free from autograph hounds and paparazzi.
Shutters on the Beach doesn’t look ostentatious. The entrance has a circular drive that is too small for limousines to negotiate without making a couple of passes.
The hotel’s marketing department definitely wants you to appreciate the building’s proximity to the ocean. They didn’t, for example, simply name the hotel “Shutters.” There are two types of rooms at the hotel: “ocean-view” and “non-ocean view.,”
The hotel was packed with Hollywood types
We saw actors Peter Fonda, Robert Duvall, and John Turturro, who had his family in tow.
Joe met director Spike Lee, who gave my brother a valuable tip on where to get the best cell phone signal.
There were probably dozens of directors and producers milling about, but we did not recognize everyone. It was a heady scene and we quickly got used to saying “hi” to everyone—just in case the person was “somebody.”
The night before the Oscars, we went to dinner at an exclusive restaurant called Ivy at the Shore, which had apparently hired the same marketing firm as Shutters on the Beach.
Seated at our corner table, we had a good view of the room and immediately spied Joan Rivers having dinner with a gentleman friend and another couple, which turned out to be former Miss America, Mary Anne Mobley and her husband Gary Collins.
Joe went over to pay his respects. Later, we saw Gregory Hines do the same.
Hollywood is a full-service community
Indeed, Hollywood people are “beautiful” people and they have the means to enjoy themselves.
All weekend, we saw slovenly men being escorted by stunningly pretty women. How does this happen? Just kidding; I know how this happens
We’ll never know for sure, but while I was having breakfast at Shutters one morning, an attractive young woman entered the hotel restaurant and the maitre d’ went about trying to seat her.
Periodically glancing over the top of my outstretched newspaper, I noticed that the pretty woman declined three tables before she eventually accepted a table adjacent to mine. When the maitre d’ offered her the chair behind me, she again demurred and chose a chair directly beside me.
In the land of “who you know,” strangers are in the habit of talking to each other. Restaurant tables in SoCal are situated close together and it’s not unusual to meet seven or eight people during dinner.
By contrast, people in New Jersey are only likely to speak to you if you crash into their car or bowl a 300 game.
Anyway, within five minutes, the pretty woman at the table next to me offered me a massage, which may go a long way toward explaining how beautiful women are seen with unseemly men during Oscar week.
In an ironic instance of life imitating art, the “pretty woman” next to me was a prostitute.
Two degrees of separation
Shutters on the Beach
I passed on the um, massage, but since I was spending some time with the beautiful people, I decided to treat myself to a manicure.
Women have known for a while that having someone hold your hand for half-an-hour is a good thing. I agree and visited the Manicurist on the Beach at Shutters the morning of the Academy Awards ceremony.
“I don’t want to put pressure on you,” I said, in a kidding way. “But I need an excellent manicure because I’m going to the Academy Awards tonight. You will do good job, won’t you?”
“Why don’t you ask Bruce Willis?” she smiled sweetly. I made a mental note to do just that.
As she worked, the manicurist casually mentioned that she was doing Joan Rivers’ nails at Joan’s daughter Melissa’s house the next day. “Really?” I said. “I had dinner with Joan at Ivy’s last night.” Well, I ate dinner at the same restaurant as Joan River the night before. but I was already starting to talk like Hollywood people.
At three o’clock in the afternoon, Joe, his other two friends, and I assembled in the hotel lobby for a toast and a photo opportunity.
Men and babies should be photographed right after they are dressed
Donning a tuxedo is a major production.
The problem lies in the sheer number of accessories. Women have the Accessory Thing down pat. Men have trouble remembering to wear a belt.
Tuxedos come with a twelve-point check list that includes suspenders, a cummerbund (let’s see, do the pleats face up or down?), studs, cufflinks, a bow tie, and special shiny shoes that have to be black and have to match. To make matters worse, all the accessories for this West Coast event had to be packed in advance.
I can’t tell you how challenging those button studs can be after a few vodka martinis. The boys and I toasted our good fortune and sauntered out to the waiting Limousine on the Beach. The sun was still shining brightly and it seemed strange to be wearing evening clothes so early in the day.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had invited us to a reception at a suite in Century City and we would head to the award ceremony from there.
At the pre-party, we had cocktails with various industry types, but alas, no celebrities. We met a gentleman who did voice-overs for the television show NYPD Blue and had our pictures taken next to a six-foot version of the Oscar statuette.
We also met a couple of “fillers.” Fillers have the interesting task of rushing into the auditorium to sit in celebrity seats when the stars go to the rest room.
We headed back to the limo for the ride to the awards presentation, which was scheduled to start at six o’clock in the evening at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Sometimes the customer is responsible for his own “WOW” experience
My brother Joe and me in limo on way to Oscars
Rounding the corner at Figueroa and West Jefferson Boulevard, I saw the most amazing sight.
We were in a parade of dozens and dozens of limousines. It turns out that one doesn’t drive to the Oscars in one’s Volvo.
Hundreds of long black cars slowly rolled down the avenue. Thousands of people stood at the curb on both sides of the street, many holding cameras and video recorders. Everyone was hoping to catch a glimpse of Jack Nicholson or Cameron Diaz.
Have you ever tried to look inside a limousine with tinted windows?
It’s impossible to see anything. Suddenly, I realized that I was attending a once-in-a lifetime event and no one could see me. I quickly lowered my window and said, “I want to be with my people!” as I reached out to wave.
Crowds on both sides of the street waved back!
This was too much fun. I stuck my head out to get a better view. Dozens of disposable cameras flashed. The throng screamed!
At our best guess, about 75 people looked at my photograph the next day when they returned from Photo Hut. Squinting at my unfamiliar mug, they no doubt asked, “Who’s that guy?” and “Why did I take his picture?”
The excitement was mounting to fever pitch. We exited the vehicle and stepped onto a luminous red carpet that seemed to be three inches thick. Television crews had flooded the area with artificial light, which gave the bustling scene a surreal atmosphere.
A public address system announced celebrity arrivals and we tried to take everything in, but there was just too much activity. Everyone was wearing black. It seemed as if every other person was working security. We were continually herded toward the entrance to the auditorium.
It was our first time attending the Academy Awards but everyone knew what to do. Mortals were to stay to the left of a velvet rope. Celebrities were escorted to the right side of the rope where television reporters interviewed them.
Paparazzi and media representatives leered from a grandstand on our left. I never knew cameras could be so loud. We learned that there is a pecking order for entering the auditorium and that the bigger stars enter last. We heard that Madonna was scheduled to enter after everyone else arrived.
For every Tom Cruise, there are 1,000 Ernest Borgnines
On the way into the auditorium, we met actor Jeremy Irons, a fairly big star by most standards. The fact is that for every “hot” celebrity in Hollywood, there are 1,000 “has-beens.” In other words, for every Tom Cruise, there are 100 Ernest Borgnines. So we met Ernest Borgnine. And his lovely wife, Tova.
The Academy Awards show is broadcast live, so the audience was frequently prompted to applaud host Billy Crystal and the other presenters. It didn’t take us long to catch on to the rhythm of the commercials and such. Wide-screen images helped people in the balcony see the action up close.
The best place to people watch was in the large room adjacent to the auditorium where beautiful people gathered to have a cocktail and catch the action on a pair of large screen televisions. It was the ultimate fashion show. Cleavage was everywhere.
The Titanic movie was nominated for 14 awards that night and it won 11 of them. Home viewers had the distinct advantage of being able to channel surf or make a trip to the fridge whenever the pit orchestra played the Titanic theme song, My Heart Will Go On. We had to listen to it every time. If I never hear that song again, it will be too soon.
When the four-hour event was over, we slowly walked out of the auditorium and found our limousine with the help of a walkie-talkie the driver had given us. Starving, we found dinner around 11 p.m. and relived the magic of the day.
Ever since attending the Oscars, I’ve been especially nice to my brother Joe. For this, I should be nominated for an Academy Award.
I guess that in the back of my mind, I’m still hoping that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will happen again.
About the author
Michael Caruso is the author or the 5 Cool Ideas book series and the Present Like a Pro DVD. He is also author of Dear Michael Angelo—A Father’s Life Lessons to His Son, an audio book on the value of legacy.
Contact Mr. Caruso at www.MichaelAngeloCaruso.com or 248-224-9667.