Living in Hollywood certainly has its benefits. On my birthday in 1997, March 23, I was lucky enough to attend the 70th Annual Academy Awards ceremony with a friend and sit in the 11th row. Not only did I get to attend the Oscars ceremony and meet celebrity after celebrity, I was also able to sneak into the Governor’s Ball and even hold a few Oscar statues along the way.
How I got in
My friend’s parent is an award-winning technical professional who works behind-the-scenes on feature films in a category for which Oscars are awarded. They are a member of the official guild for their specialty profession and at that time, the guild was issued a certain number of Oscar ceremony tickets each year and those were made available to some guild members via a lottery system. Shortly before the ceremony, the parent was unable to attend and offered us the tickets.
The ceremony was held at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. We experienced some early disappointment, when we arrived and expected to be able to walk the red carpet, as we’ve all seen on TV. For regular (non-celebrity) attendees like us, the red carpet was not an option and we were directed by security to a different entrance.
Things started to look up when we were escorted to our seats, 11th row in the orchestra. My seat was directly behind Steve Guttenberg and a few seats down from Anthony Hopkins. The show started and stopped for commercial breaks and we were able to walk around the orchestra seating area. I was able to meet Sly Stallone, Jim Carrey, Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Kim Basinger. And by meet, I mean I would say I was a fan and shake their hand, that’s all. Again, this was before everyone carried cameras around and I wasn’t into autographs. It was exciting to watch the ceremony in person and to see all the big stars getting truly excited about winning. After the ceremony, it was cool to see the stars who won walking around with their statues.
Sneaking into the Governor’s Ball
After the awards ceremony, the true VIPs are invited to the official after-party, known as the Governor’s Ball, for the Board of Governors who run the Motion Picture Academy. This party, traditionally catered by uber-chef Wolfgang Puck, is the pinnacle of events for Hollywood’s A-listers. Not everyone who has a ticket to the Oscars ceremony is invited to the Governor’s Ball, it’s a separate invitation, which we did not possess. We decided to try our luck and the stars aligned for us as we suddenly found ourselves walking behind Hollywood heavyweight and then-Paramount chairman, Sumner Redstone and his entourage. We joined them, walked closely behind them as if we were with them, and walked into the party, which was held in a large tented area, behind the auditorium.
Not getting thrown out of the Governor’s Ball
Once inside, we were able to mingle freely, but realized we would have a problem as it was also a formal, sit-down dinner, with assigned seats. Waiters were checking the tickets of guests as they sat down, to ensure they were in the correct seats, at the correct tables. We wandered into the center of the table area and found some open seats. Even though we found seats, we had no invitation to present to the waiter and began to worry. We were distracted when the other table guests began to arrive, the first of which was Roddy McDowell. Once the shock of meeting him began to fade, our next guest arrived, Fay Wray. Fay Wray, who played the original heroine in King Kong. The original King Kong from 1933. We managed to convince the waiters we belonged, telling each one we had given the ticket to another one. Fortunately, no one else showed up to claim the seats and we were able to enjoy dinner with Roddy and Fay.
Holding Two Oscars!
One of the the highlights of the Governor’s Ball was a truly memorable moment, getting to hold an Oscar. Well, actually two Oscars. At the party, I was standing near composer James Horner, who won two Oscars, one for Best Original Dramatic Score and for Best Original Song, both for Titanic. He was waiting in line at the bar, holding both statues. I said “I have to ask, could I hold them for a minute?” He smiled and passed them to me as he ordered his drink. They were big and heavy and I could not believe I was holding them, it was like a dream. Too bad I didn’t have a camera, but the mental picture will be with me always.
Another highlight at the party was spending some time with Celine Dion, funny enough in the dessert buffet line. She had performed “My Heart Will Go On” and the song had won an Oscar that night. I told her about holding James Horner’s awards for the song and she laughed. I also remember we both tried to figure out what some of the beautiful dessert items were.
That night at the Academy Awards was truly a highlight of all my show business experiences. Although I have no photos, I saved the program and my ticket from the ceremony, and did get Fay Wray to sign the program.