…They arrived at the Beverly Hilton Hotel at around eleven. The lobby was straight out of the fifties, walls and floor of stone, star burst chandeliers, and the ballroom, while it still maintained a sinuous two-tiered design like that of a cruise ship, was carpeted with some dreadful dark jewel toned carpet that looked like it had been installed in 1970. At the apex of the room there stood a speaker’s dais, a drape, and a projection screen. Tables were set for ten as far as the eye could see and the old guard of Hollywood was beginning to trickle in – a lot of white haired men of amazingly small stature, and a few, a very, very few, older women in bugle-beaded suits who still believed in the power of Aqua-Net. A noxious hint of perfume came her way, orange blossoms and jasmine, and an underlying stench – it couldn’t be, but she remembered distinctly a cat backing up against the garage at her father’s on Crescent Drive and something spraying out of its behind.
Anne made a beeline for the ladies lounge, which was vast and covered in pink marble. Staring at the gold plated fixtures on the sink she felt on the verge of hyperventilating. How had she gotten here? It wasn’t exactly an existential question, but where was she? The floor seemed to be melting beneath her feet and her stomach was plummeting as if gravity had given way…
Back in the ballroom Anne was placed at a table between her father and an old PR man who told her about rousting Marilyn Monroe from bed so she could appear at Grauman’s and have her extremities impressed in concrete, about James Mason’s un-spayed, extremely reproductive cats, and about the fact that he was running in the L.A. marathon at the age of eighty-three. Under normal circumstances Anne would have been rapt but she found her attention wandering.
Shamari Johnson, seated at another table, was in an animated conversation with an actress who had been in a few movies and then married a producer, adopted six children, and retired from the screen. She had taken her chair and literally turned it around so her back was to her husband. From time to time Shamari caught Anne’s eye and together they would glance in another direction. Once to see Tessa Aagard sitting, elbows on another table, chin resting on her cupped hands, listening eagerly as George Clooney cracked up his tablemates and then tossed his head back with a big, toothy, guffaw.
Another glance and Sid Ganis stepped up to the dais to deliver a few helpful hints on acceptance speeches and then he corralled the nominees into five rows to have their picture snapped for the Academy’s class picture. A talkative actress sitting center front of the portrait had to be shushed twice, “Sonia! Sonia! Are you with us, dear?! Are you with us?! Eyes front!”
Finally Shamari turned in her seat and nodded to Anne as Bill Aagard and James Johnson stood tall in the back row and beamed for the camera. If Anne had attended the Nominees Luncheon in anticipation of some helpful, singular, revelation she was coming up snow-blind in a blizzard of information.
That, poppets, is an excerpt from my book – very loosely based on reality – this year’s luncheon was February 4th. It’s kind of like a prep session for the nominees. The Academy President, Hawk Koch (his pop was a producer, “The Manchurian Candidate”, “The Odd Couple”… not the famous screenwriter of “Casablanca”)… anyhow, Mr. Koch would have given a little talk about how the telecast is run, he would have stressed again and again the time limit on acceptance speeches. He might have shown some examples of great speeches, and rotten ones – he would have said something along the lines of “speak from the heart” and “don’t read a laundry list of names to thank or we’ll play you off” and he might have emphasized the need to be engaging and tell a story while a… very… big… red… clock ticks away the seconds just above your eye line…
More on the Academy Awards as the week progresses.