Thursday, March 29, 2001

Under Cover of Night: Crashing Oscar's Party


Thursday March 29, 2001

First Person
Under Cover of Night: Crashing Oscar's Party

By Steven Barrie-Anthony and Katie Flynn

Neither I nor my girlfriend, Katie Flynn, is very interested in movies or the people who make them. We'd probably have a hard time naming a dozen movie stars between us. We didn't even plan on watching the Academy Awards on TV. But the Oscars were being held across the street from USC, where Katie goes to school, and as recent transplants from the Bay Area, we were intrigued by the hype surrounding Hollywood. And so I got a phone call at 7 p.m.

"Wanna see if we can get into the Academy Awards?" Katie asked.

"Well, sure," I said.

Only problem was that I didn't have a suit, much less a tux. A borrowing spree in the Occidental College dorm I call home turned up some black slacks (too long), dress shoes (too tight) and a black jacket (too small). The only thing that actually fit me was a borrowed blue shirt, but the outfit had to do.

In the meantime, Katie had donned her baby-blue prom dress from high school and some strappy high-heeled sandals. She was just pinning up her hair when I walked in at almost 8. I was underdressed even for a high school dance, and her outfit would never pass for Versace, but we were in the mood for adventure.

We circled the Shrine in Katie's Ford Bronco, looking for the best point of entry. They say that security at the awards is about as tight as security at the White House--and they seemed to be right. Hundreds of tense-looking cops patrolled the perimeter, and private security guards flanked the entrances and exits.

We parked the car a few blocks away and stood just outside of the barrier, feeling hopeless and a bit ridiculous. But all that disappeared when a man in a gray hooded sweatshirt approached us and asked what we were doing.

"We were trying to get in there," I said, motioning toward the VIP sanctum. "Oh, that's no problem," he said. "You guys look great! Just walk right by, they won't even question you. Feel like you belong, and you will."

That's what we did. Katie looped her arm around mine, threw back her head, and we waltzed right by the cops and the security guards, laughing and talking boisterously as if the place belonged to us.

By this time, the awards were mostly over, so we opted to stand our ground on the famous red carpet outside the auditorium.

Feel like you belong, and you will!

"Can you believe he did that?" Katie asked, apropos of nothing, at one point. I smiled, played along. "What nerve!" I said in mock horror. Talking about nothing at all had never been more entertaining. We even pulled out Katie's camera and summoned an academy employee to take our picture in front of the two huge Oscar statues.

"What after-party are you going to?" I casually asked a couple standing nearby.

"I think the Beverly Hills Hotel party's dead," the bearded man informed us, "but I hear the Vanity Fair thing at Morton's is kicking."

Morton's it was. We parked the Bronco a few blocks away and walked toward the restaurant, past cordoned-off lines of gawkers who were trying to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars. Chalk it up to our inexperience, but we hadn't counted on such extensive security. Cops were all over the place along with chiseled bouncers in tuxedos who had little earpiece walkie-talkies like Secret Service agents. Even the stars had to show ID.

Once again we circled, this time on foot. Once again, getting in seemed impossible. "Maybe if we get a limo driver to drive us right up to the front, they'll let us in," Katie said.

The driver we asked smiled and declined. But just as we were ready to walk away, he offered some advice: "Try the kitchen," he said conspiratorially. "You can usually get in through the kitchen."

That turned out to be a joke. At least five security guards and cops blocked the back entrance, where maybe 20 or 30 people--all better-dressed than Katie and I--were vying to get in. We made eye contact with security, and a middle-aged cop approached us and whispered that the bouncers only make 20 bucks an hour, and it costs, like, a grand to get in here normally, "if you know what I mean."

But the truth is, we didn't have any money on us--not even a buck--and we weren't really interested in bribery.

As time ticked by, the people waiting with us seemed to become more and more desperate. A few people even made rushed attempts at the door, only to be led back outside. Finally, a guard with a crew cut, apparently the head honcho, sidled up beside us.

"Why are you guys here?" he asked.

"Actually, we don't really know why we're here, we don't have any connections, and we don't have any money, to be honest," Katie said. Surprisingly, he smiled.

"Well, thank you for that honesty," he said. "That means a lot."

Fifteen minutes passed. We stood there laughing out loud and flashing curious smiles to the (possible) stars who strolled by. We couldn't bluff or name-drop, and there was no way to hide our complete naivete.

At one point Katie, kidding around, asked the friendly guard if there was a secret password.

"Pick a number between one and 1,000," he said, hinting that he wanted us to name a price.

"784," Katie answered promptly.

The guard stifled a laugh. He must have seen that our born-yesterday appearance wasn't a charade. Soon, he pulled us aside and said in a hushed voice, "You really want in, don't you? Well, you seem like good kids. Here you go."

He handed us a blue glow stick, the key to inside. "But I didn't let you in!" he reminded us.

We scrambled past the rest of security and landed, breathless, in a beautiful room with dozens of people wearing the kinds of gowns and jewels you only see on television.

"Who's that man to my left? I swear I've seen him before!" Katie whispered into my ear. "Isn't that the Lovitz guy? Lyle Lovitz? Or is it Jon?"

Is it too unfashionable for everyone to wear a name tag nowadays?

We headed across the crowded room. At least 10 people proudly clasped statuettes close to their hearts. I lunged forward, trying to get a good look at something and bumped shoulders with somebody familiar. It was Ben Affleck, the guy from "Good Will Hunting."

Finally someone I recognized! I smiled like he was an old friend and patted him on the back. Katie chatted with Bjork, a favorite singer of hers, and then we were whisked away by the ever-moving crowd.

Benicio Del Toro, the guy from "Traffic," stood near the bar. We said hello and congrats. Around the room we were greeted by nothing but smiles.

Eventually we grew bold and asked a winner if we could borrow his statuette for a sec. He obliged and even snapped a picture of us with the golden man. With that, our film was gone. So were most of the stars. It was time for the limo to turn back into a Bronco, my suit to return to its rightful owners, and Katie's Versace gown to once again become her prom dress.

We learned a lot about L.A. in those few hours. We had always thought, in our distinctly Northern Californian way, that Los Angeles is only for the phonies, that telling the truth here isn't half as respectable to the locals as a good lie or a string of connections. We had criticized this city for being mean and cold and full of ego.

I can't say that this night changed our attitude entirely, but it certainly took us in that direction. We got into the same places as all those schmoozers and stars just by being ourselves, proving that there is still some room in this town for a little honesty, compassion and serendipity.

We followed the stars, still mostly nameless to us, out the front door of Morton's to the place where everyone was waiting for their limos. But instead of getting into one of those long black chariots, we looked at each other, grasped hands, and crossed the line, leaving Hollywood behind.

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