Oscar and Me

As long as my memory serves, every year around this time I have been planted in front of a TV to watch the Oscars.

As a little girl, I watched them religiously with my mother and my sisters on our tiny black and white TV set in our little apartment. It was a delicious treat that she let us stay up so late on a school night; she was very cool that way, my mom. A huge Hollywood buff and Photoplay magazine devotee, she knew all the stars of the day and provided back stories for the presenters and winners as they took the stage.

"Now, that is Cary Grant. He's from Surrey in England."

"Oh, here's Joan Crawford, girls. She happens to be a very successful businesswoman as well."

While living single in large cities, my fellow movie aficionados and I would gather for the telecast without fail. One year, it was a formal dress-up. I borrowed a gorgeous black taffeta evening gown from my friend in the apartment next door. As luck would have it, she was a vintage clothing collector. I cut out a picture of a gold Oscar statue from a magazine, glued a backer to it and positioned it on my head alongside my chignon as a fascinator. Add elbow length lace gloves, bejeweled cigarette holder, sky high pumps, a fur stole and let the relentless critiquing begin.

Some years were quieter celebrations, but just as ceremonial. Even watching them on my own, I bowed to the sense of occasion. I lined up my time-honored snacks, burrowed under my favorite quilt and glued myself to the proceedings, shouting at the screen the entire time.

You was robbed, Fargo. You was robbed.

Ordinary People over Raging Bull... WTF?

What the hell has Cher got on? Is it an actual wet suit?

They did not just give it to Sally Field! Did they even see Silkwood?

Shakespeare In Love takes it? What the what?

Winona Ryder. Hon. Did you comb your hair with a towel?

One year a co-worker asked if I'd join her to watch the program. Against my better judgment, as I didn't know the girl well, I agreed. When I arrived that evening, a half hour early, I found her and her boyfriend snuggled on the couch watching hockey.

Stifling a yawn, she looked up at me and asked: "Do you know what time it starts?"

The numbing realization settled in that I was in very deep trouble.

"Eight p.m. As ever," I said crisply.

She turned to her boyfriend. "Boo, the first period should be finished by then, shouldn't it?"

Staring at the screen, he mumbled: "How should I know?"

I immediately called a cab. Luckily, my taxi driver ran two yellows and I only missed the first five minutes.

I still shudder at the memory of one particular year that found me on a Caribbean island at Oscar time. I had rented a cottage on the sea and made sure it included cable. I was all set. Or so I thought. A few days before the telecast, I was idly flipping through the channels and discovered the TV feed didn't include the networks. I remember well the realization dawning -- as unto an apocalypse -- that I actually might miss the show for the first time. In desperation, I set out on a personal mission to track down a network feed somewhere, anywhere, on the island.

I resorted to stopping people randomly at the little town in the harbor.

"Your hair looks great," I told a woman behind me in line at the food store. "Do you get the networks?"

"What do you mean, networks?" she queried, innocently.

I am doomed, I thought, abandoning my groceries and heading for the door.

Verging on hysterics, I considered any and all options. Bribes. Unveiled threats. Making promises no self-respecting woman would ever make.

Come the day of the awards I was strolling the beach, resigned, disconsolate, when I spotted a couple walking toward me. They looked urbane, media-savvy. Hope bubbled within me.

I approached them. I had entirely abandoned the social niceties by this time.

"I make a chocolate cheesecake that will make you weep. If I bring one with me can I come to your house tonight and watch the Oscar telecast?"

"Oh, and if you promise not to talk during them, I'll throw in a plate of my almond toffee bars."

Astoundingly, they agreed to both propositions. I showed up at their door that night with promised treats in tow. Exulting, I decided to ease up on my hosts, announcing that I would allow them two questions and/or comments during the show. But only two. I advised that they make them count.

My hostess asked a question the moment the first presenter took the stage.

"Did you know the first film to be made entirely in Hollywood was a 17-minute short in 1910 by D.W. Griffith?" Her delivery was crisp, authoritative.

There was a God. No longer was I a stranger in a strange land. The gentleman announced, casually, he had dabbled in writing screenplays and that a book adaptation of his had once been green lit by Paramount.

They kept me on my toes the entire night. I had scored, and I had scored big.

Marlon Brando and Albert Finney both turned down the lead in Lawrence of Arabia before it was offered to O'Toole? Really?

I knew Hitchcock never won an Oscar, but had forgotten he was given the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968. He spoke only five words in his acceptance speech, my hostess noted.

"All he said was: 'Thank you. Very much, indeed.'"

Did I know the iconic ice cream scene in Kramer vs. Kramer with the irate father (Dustin Hoffman) and his stubborn son was entirely improvised? I was feign to admit I did not. Where had I been?

I'd never enjoyed the Oscars more.

We reminisced about when George C. Scott became the first actor to reject an Oscar in 1971 (for Patton).

I redeemed myself, I hoped, by quoting him before taking my leave.

"The Oscars are a two-hour meat parade with contrived suspense for economic reasons."

He added that the entire undertaking was "offensive, barbarous and innately corrupt."

There, there, George. Of course it is.

And your point?