A journalist's tales from backstage at the Oscars

In my years covering the Oscars, I've seen the fun and the fright that happen backstage. Once, when Charlton Heston was stuck in traffic, Clint Eastwood was pushed on stage to read Heston's technical script, littered with foreign names. Eastwood still admits, "It was the longest minute in my life."

At my first Academy Awards, Grace Kelly received Best Actress honors for "The Country Girl" with Bing Crosby. As a teenage journalist, I was waiting in the pressroom for the winners to come backstage. I stepped into the hallway as Kelly was exiting the stage, the golden statuette clutched in both hands. Heading right for me she said, "Where is the ladies' room? Quick!" I pointed down the corridor. She said, "Hold this," and handed me her Oscar. I stood there wide-eyed and open-mouthed. I was surprised how heavy the statuette was. Halfway down the hall, Kelly spun around on her heel, came back, grabbed the Oscar, and said, "I can take him with me."

Although many in the press believe Tom Cruise will win Best Supporting Actor this year for "Magnolia," I must admit I've a soft spot in my heart for Michael Caine ("Cider House Rules"), who once gave me an interview when I was but 14.

Later, in 1987, Caine won Best Supporting Actor for the Woody Allen film "Hannah and Her Sisters." Naturally, he was invited to famed literary agent "Swifty" Lazar's Oscar party at Spago's, the hottest ticket in town. I was standing in a mob of weary losers, breathless agents, and pushing starlets waiting to have our names checked as guests. Being 5 ft., 2 in., I felt like a tuna salad pressed between two huge slices of bread. Just then, Caine arrived. He gave me a cheery hello, took my elbow in one hand, his Oscar in the other, and waltzed me through security and paparazzi into the heart of the party. The moral? Always go with the winner.

The last time Marilyn Monroe was a presenter, she stayed away from the buffet table in the green room (the waiting area). She was sewed into her dress. I was sampling finger food when the assistant came to escort her to the stage. Suddenly she started to hiccup. Frantically, she stopped at the catering table, grabbed a glass of liquid, swallowed it, and went on stage.

I watched the monitor. Monroe, looking radiant, performed perfectly. When she came back, she hurried over to the table, and asked, "What was that I drank?" The answer - half a glass of pure vinegar!

Elizabeth Taylor, who wears her own jewelry at the awards (most actresses borrow theirs for the Oscar event from international jeweler Harry Winston), once was frantic when a diamond earring slipped off. I joined her on hands and knees and found it knocked across the floor into a corner.

Come Sunday night, I'm sure there will be more unusual happenings to record on the way to and from the Oscars.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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