On Sunday, I went to the Oscars. To be honest, I never got anywhere near the interior of the Dolby Theatre. But, thanks to my connections with the new museum being planned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I was invited to share in the excitement of what’s called “the Oscars fan experience.” A thousand people come from as far away as Canada and even Australia to sit in bleacher seats on Hollywood Blvd. and cheer for their favorite celebrities.
There are, I learned, many ways to be included in this exclusive group. Some of my fellow bench-warmers were chosen because they subscribe to People magazine. Some got the nod through the Kelly and Michael program. Others won a lottery on the Academy’s website, www.oscars.org.. If you’re among the chosen few, you submit to an online security check, and promise to follow some simple rules. It’s all remarkably well organized. When you arrive at your designated time, your I.D. is checked and you’re politely escorted through metal detectors. (Long gone are the days when you could just show up and mill around Hollywood’s sidewalks, waiting for the Beautiful People to arrive.)
Some entry appointments were for as early as 8 a.m. Luckily I got to sleep in, because I only had to show up at 10. I received my essential photo ID badge, and was handed a huge goodie-bag full of semi-useful stuff. Oscar nominees notoriously receive thousands of dollars worth of coupons for such things as plastic surgery, a so-called vampire facelift, and (ahem) adult toys. My bag was a bit tamer: it contained a seat cushion, a copy of People, some Dove soap, an official T-shirt, and assorted granola bars. Since it would be hours before anyone trod the red carpet, our hosts had provided us with food and entertainment. For breakfast: Coffee Bean beverages and our choice of breakfast rolls. Later there’d be a box lunch and as much Coca-Cola as we could guzzle. There were also several activities to choose from, including a wacky photo booth (complete with props), and a popular hair-styling station, where professionals were on hand to help us look beautiful. We could also wait in line to have our auras read, whatever that means.
By noon we were all squeezed into our assigned seats, waiting impatiently for the real excitement to begin. A roving MC tried hard to jolly us along, eliciting information about who’d sat in the bleachers before (one woman in chartreuse was in her 21st year) and drumming up reasons for us to cheer: “Look—there’s Al Roker!” He also tried hard to build our enthusiasm for the corps of journalists who’d come from all over the world to cover this event. Oscar chef Wolfgang Puck strolled by, surrounded by his white-coated kitchen minions. They tossed Oscar-shaped cookies to the crowd, which certainly fueled our enthusiasm. Quipped a tart-tongued woman in the row ahead of me, “There’s nothing more exciting than planned spontaneity.”
Finally, around 4 p.m., we started to see major stars, most of them wonderfully dressed. Some were persuaded to stop and chat with our MC host, but most of the big nominees rushed quickly past, with a smile and a wave to us in the cheap seats. I saw a lot of famous faces: Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Steven Spielberg, Charlize Theron, Lady Gaga. But for my fellow fans, nothing matched the excitement of the arrival of Leonardo DiCaprio. And then, with the show about to start, Jennifer Lawrence made a last-minute scurry up the carpet.