Friday, January 30, 2009

The Oscars Part I

I became a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1987, and have enjoyed every minute of it. It’s a lifetime long as I keep paying my yearly dues.

As a member of the Public Relation’s branch, I was nominated for membership by two existing members and then voted by the entire branch. My boss was one of the people who nominated me, and it didn’t hurt that he was also the President of the Academy at the time.

There are lots of benefits to being a member, but the three best are; getting nomination screeners at home, attending screenings and going to the Oscars.

I had been member about 7 years when we moved to Seattle. I was able to keep busy and remained involved, but I wasn’t in LA very much. A friend of mine was a member of the PR Branch membership committee and told me a funny story.

During their annual membership meeting, they review all current members. When they came to my name, one of the group chimed in, “I heard he was dead”. My friend started to chuckle and assured the group that I was very much alive and working. The next year when I went to the Oscars, I made sure I said hello to that fellow member to let him know that the reports of my death were premature.

We almost never paid for movies when we lived in LA. There were Academy screenings every week, or studio screenings all the time. During the ‘award season, my Academy card would get us into any theatre in town. It was a far different story when we moved to Seattle. The first few years, I couldn’t even use my card in theatres up here. And I become a ‘regular movie customer’. It is an experience I strongly recommend to my friends who are still in the studio system. I am not complaining it just took some time to ‘adjust’.

There are only about 8 members who live in the Seattle area. So when I first went to use my membership card to get in it was always an interesting process. The kids at the box office would swipe it on the credit card machine. That usually led to a long stare at the card and then a call to the theatre manager, who repeated the same process. Eventually I would get inside.

Every fall, the ‘screeners’ start arriving at our doorstep for consideration. We get all of the major films, most of which are still in theatres. After 20 years, we have quite the movie collection. When the practice first started, we used to get lots of swag and very elaborate packages for the films. One year, Paramount sent their entire collection in a box set that my name engraved on a silver plate on the box. It was really getting out of hand.

The Academy tried for years to stop it, but no amount of pleading or threats worked. Then they hit on the solution; any studio that continued to excessively promote their films with elaborate packaging or gifts of any kind would be denied their allocation of tickets for the Oscars.

Now we get the movies in recycled sleeves. The scripts come as paperback booklets and the tradition continues. I 've cast my vote, and now I am getting ready for this year’s Oscar Awards.

The Oscars Part II

Going to the Oscars is fun. Seats are awarded by lottery system, and we’ve gone to the awards ceremony every year since 1987.

Since we only get two seats, it’s a family ‘contest’ about who comes with Dad. I always get the cheapest seats…$50 each. The orchestra is reserved for the nominees and the studios. For me, the show is on the red carpet and in the lobby. I spend very little time in the ‘nosebleed’ section.

Where else can you go to the men’s room and stand next to Steve Carrell. Or say hello to Jennifer Aniston getting away from the photographers on the third floor lobby.

I have a specific red carpet strategy. Security guards are constantly asking people to move inside and keep walking. The later it gets the more ‘insistent’ they get. We just like to zig zag to make sure that we see everyone. What should be a 7 minute stroll usually takes about 30 minutes. Then we plant ourselves on the side of the stairway leading up to the Theatre. It’s great fun to see old friends and famous people walking up the promenade to the theatre entrance.

We take our seats about 10 minutes before the show starts. After the first break, it’s down to the first floor lobby. There are bars all around and people are all over. The Oscars are the olympics of ‘people watching’ and oh the people you see. I go back to my seat from time to time, mostly to catch the performance numbers. Once in a great while there are interesting acceptance speeches. But I enjoy watching the winners come back to the lobby from the press room Oscars in hand, and start calling on their cell phones and celebrating with friends and colleagues.

By the end of the night, everyone is hungry. Those who have won go to parties. The rest wait to get their cars from the valet. Then it’s the annual question. Where to eat at 11pm wearing an evening gown and tuxedo?

We usually wind up at Jerry’s Deli on Ventura Boulevard…

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Movie Toothfairy

Larry Gelbart is one of the finest writers in the world; from Your Show of Shows, to MASH, Sly Fox, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Tootsie and so many more. For for a brief period of time in the late 70's, I had the privilege of working for him.

It's also hard to write about a writer of Larry's stature without feeling absolutely unworthy. So, let me just tell you one of favorite stories about Larry.

I was working for his personal manager, Howard Rothberg. Howard worked out of his house high in the Hollywood Hills above Sunset, with a view of LA from downtown to the ocean. I was in the big time, and learned more about the industry my first day in that office than I learned the entire previous year.

The client list was a who's who of Hollywood; Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft, Larry Gelbart, and Dom DeLuise. It was funny and fun...but also very intense.

I was sitting in the office, and a messenger came by from Warner Brothers. It was his participation (profit) check from 'Oh God'. Although I had seen big checks before, I had never seen that much money on one check . I called Larry and his wife Pat answered and wanted me to run the check over to his house ASAP. Ten minutes later I was knocking at the door and gave Pat the check.

The next day Larry called and (like an idiot) I asked him "So, what did you do with the check?" He paused a minute, and I could see him through the phone as a little smile came over his face and he said...

" I put it under my pillow," he said, "to see if the Movie Tooth Fairy would bring me another one!"

Pure Gelbart.

Enjoy this interview from 1998.