And the winner is …

The year I didn’t go to the Academy Awards

4 minute read
Red carpet rolls1

On March 2, I will stock up on fattening food, turn on E! for the pre-show designer parade, and rag about the dresses on the phone with my friend in Los Angeles, but I will not deeply care who wins.

It would have been nice to be a star either in front of or behind the camera. You get to live a life of so many people’s dreams. You get luxurious rewards for something that you probably would have done for free, and, for some silly reason, get a louder voice in the world. And the greatest display of the haves is that one night when you thank your high school drama teacher, your parents, and Harvey Weinstein: the Academy Awards. Many of us have been extremely lucky to be making a living working in one part of the entertainment industry or another, but like Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham, most of us have only had five minutes in the big show and a lifetime in the minor leagues.

Maybe I wasn’t a contender, but I could have gone to the Academy Awards. LA is a company town. Everybody went to school with a kid of somebody and knew somebody who became somebody. One of my college friends was the son of a member of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. Even though he grew up in Beverly Hills, dining with his family at the Hillcrest Country Club, J was a celebrity-worshiping, star-struck uber-fan, and he began using his parents’ tickets to the awards when he was 16. Every year he would anoint a special friend and invite him or her to pay for one of the tickets, dress up fancy, and accompany him to the biggest show on Earth.

For a dozen years I heard which particular friend had been chosen and why. He had a large social sphere, especially during the buildup to the awards. Old friends, depressed friends, beautiful friends, new friends. A good 12 pals down, it was my turn. But I was also 12 years past being a 22-year-old hopeful. To have the life experience (or notch on my belt) would have been swell. But it also was a reminder of a club I wasn’t a member of. And though I often agree with the Groucho Marx line, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” the only way to go to the awards is as someone who belongs.

I truly care that quality films are made. And if awards promote and encourage the productions of literate, visually exciting films, I think that’s great. The awards often set a bar for an excellence in all branches of the great art of filmmaking, not just acting, directing, and writing, but every area of technical distinction. Bravo to those artists and craftspeople who hone their skills to the utmost level. When good films are encouraged, we all are winners.

It just doesn't matter

But who actually does win makes absolutely no difference to my life. Very occasionally someone like F. Murray Abraham receives the nod — an actor who seems to represent the rest of us, the blue-collar artists who strive everyday, overeducated and underpaid, bringing grace, curiosity, or a chuckle to the world. But the vast majority of the winners, nominees, and even presenters live in a gilded world where everything is an extra helping.

The bleachers full of screaming fans lining the red carpet remind me of my rescue pup, waiting by our side at dinner for a fallen morsel tumbling from the higher species that gets a seat at the table. My walking the red carpet in my non-designer gown wouldn’t make me one of the chosen, just a one-night-stand wannabe. If I had gone, I could only imagine the crowd thinking I was someone I’m not, or worse, not caring who I really am. It wasn’t my party, and like sex, if you’re going to be up that close, you should be a participant.

J was more than a little offended that I didn’t jump at my turn; in fact it put a fracture in our friendship. He has had a partner for a very long time, so the friend turnstile is now closed. Lives end, and when his 90-year-old father’s time comes, the precious center seats will pass to another family — maybe to another starry-eyed hopeful, maybe to a middle-aged couple getting the thrill of a lifetime. The likelihood of me ever getting another invitation to this Cinderella Ball equates with Powerball odds. But I’m okay with that, because I decided if I ever did go, it would be because I had earned my own tickets.

Yet I will still find scrap paper to design my dream gown and will ogle the art called fashion — just not at the edge of the table. I also take a little too much pride in the knowledge that Dudley Nichols, Marlon Brando, George C. Scott, and I all turned down the Academy Awards.

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