We were watching the Academy Awards on television the other night when a man who lives down the street from us telephoned and said: "Hey, Jack, I just saw you on television. You see it?"
I told him no, I hadn't seen it. I was right here at home, watching the show on television. I wasn't at the Music Center, and if I wasn't at the Music Center how could I be on the show?
"No, " he said, "it was '2 on the Town,' on Channel 2. You were great."
"I was watching the Academy Awards," I told him. "So were 4 billion other people. You're probably the only person in town that saw it."
I looked it up in the Monday Calendar, under the prime time log. All it said was "2 on the Town." No details.
I found the Sunday TV Times and looked up Monday. There it was at 7:30, Channel 2. "2 on the Town. Featured: Simon MacCorkindale co-hosts. Profile of Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Smith. . . ."
They had made the tape several months ago. They'd made a date for Melody Rogers, the hostess, to come up to our house and talk to me about Los Angeles. I didn't mind. She was a pretty young woman, and bright. She had used me on one of her first shows, before it was a big success and she started globe-trotting for personalities and backgrounds. I was pleased to be back on the show. But it probably hadn't turned out so good. First, Melody couldn't come. She had sent a crew, who asked me some questions and filmed my answers. Melody would do a voice-over, I was told. Besides, I hadn't been long out of the hospital, and probably looked on TV, without makeup, like a mummy. And maybe I'd lost a step or two between first and second, as they say in baseball. I doubt that it was a very scintillating segment.
So what they had done, evidently, was save it until Academy Awards night, when they knew they wouldn't have any audience, and had run it through, so as not to waste it, and not to do much damage with it either.
I had had some experience with that sort of thing.
A few years ago, when Charles Champlin was doing his entertaining "One at One" series of interviews, he asked me to be one of his subjects, and I was only too glad to accommodate him. I believe the show was called "One at One" because it was a one-on-one interview and was taped for showing at 1 o'clock on Sunday afternoons.
I heard no more about it and had almost forgotten it when one Sunday in October I remembered that the World Series was in progress and I rushed to tune the game in, flipping the on-switch and then spinning the dial through the channels until I came to the game. As I passed one channel I saw a very familiar face but had already spun past it when it occurred to me, "Hey! I know that guy!"
I turned back and found it and, sure enough, it was me and Champlin, in that long lost interview.
Obviously, it was not exactly a winner, and they had saved it to run opposite the World Series, when it wouldn't have had much of an audience anyway. I turned on to the game.
Whatever else it is, Oscar night is a cultural event that few Americans seem able to ignore. Over the years it has shown us Hollywood at its most inept, self-conscious, sentimental, and self-congratulatory, and yet we love it. We are all star-struck.
My wife would watch it for the women's dresses alone. I think she is often gratified by the ludicrous bad taste some of the stars display, their hideous concoctions hand-created by the most celebrated designers, and never, of course, to be worn again, except by their maids' mothers.
And then someone turns up like Kathleen Turner in a two-piece iridescent red metallic outfit with a long jacket and a short skirt three inches above the knee, and wow! Where did she come from?
As a great believer in brevity I appreciated the efforts of Gregory Peck and Jack Lemmon, among others, to speed it up this year; the relatively brief acceptance speeches were a blessing. But sometimes the casualness of the old ceremonies was fun.
The highlight of Monday night's show to me was the film clip of Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster doing a buck and wing to lament not even being nominated at a show some years ago. It bubbled with good will, talent, friendship and showmanship.
I am told that Peck wanted to eliminate the nostalgia; I don't know why--perhaps feeling it was too indulgent of his own generation. Did anyone mind departing a few minutes from the glitz and glamour of the moment to see and hear those durable old gentlemen--Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart--exchanging a few husky sentiments?
Did anyone think it was inappropriate for that old lion--Laurence Olivier--to name the best picture?
I could stand even a little more nostalgia.
I wouldn't mind seeing another streaker cross the stage, in memory of that indelible moment when it happened to an astonished David Niven.
With a little more nostalgia, and a little more of the unexpected, maybe the awards will play to 4 billion people someday.
But if they get too big, too glossy and too swift, people are going to start turning to "2 on the Town" and watching me.