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Calendar Goes to the OSCARS : Now, the List Is Complete : Brett Butler (Our Player) : A Television Star and Her Cellular Experience

March 22, 1994|BRETT BUTLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Like many people, Brett Butler remembers watching the Academy Awards on TV when she was growing up in Marietta, Ga., and dishing the stars, the dresses, the escorts and, most of all, the attitude required to make an entrance at the Oscars. But the comedian and star of ABC's hit series "Grace Under Fire" had never attended the ceremonies--until this year. Calendar invited Butler to check out the stars' arrivals from ringside at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and tell us what it's really like.

When I was asked to cover the Oscars for the L.A. Times, I thought I could. But then I wondered, would I be too worshipful? After all, haven't I watched nearly every telecast in the 36 years I've been alive?

Even as a child, I was a captive listener to the teariest acceptance speeches of the dullest technical awards, realizing that a lifetime of work had culminated in that moment.

In the space of a year I've gone from being an unknown comedian to a television-generated star, the poor cousin of movie stars. That's what TV stars are, compared to the visiting royalty of film stars. And in the eight months I've been in L.A., I've waded far into the sea of celebrity. I'm proud to say I have a passable backstroke.

Monday night was the night everyone who likes swimming comes out to see how it's done. We watch bits and pieces of what stars do on the screen and how they "really" are and realize that Esther Williams and Edy Williams are not related at all and that, if they are, it is only at the show-biz family picnic that is the Oscars.

To stand outside the Pavilion with a notebook and a cellular phone with the other members of the press, I had to go through ego detox. And I will never cross two streets in an evening gown again. I discovered something else: Cops allow sequins where no jeans will tread.

I will say this, it was much nicer outside than I thought it would be. It was sunny and breezy and crisp and everyone smelled good. I think of myself as someone who is not star-struck, per se-- then I saw Jeremy Irons and I almost fainted.

After living for nine years in New York City, I couldn't help but wonder if the things yelled to celebrities would not be vastly different in that arena. Since this is a family newspaper, I will not say the ways in which the statements would be different. The most ridiculous, defining and beautiful moment of the evening: hearing the press yell out to the people passing by-- "Who are you?"

I did not know that fundamentalist Christians picketed the Oscars, and I was amused by this. There were huge signs urging the industry to repent, calling anyone associated with any of the films "scum"--but someone had tacked on a little sign that said "except for 'Schindler's List.' " One might assume that these are Christians who loved "E.T." One of my favorite sights of the evening was watching these statuesque, gorgeous, perfectly coiffed women staring up at the people holding the signs that said "Repent." Talk about not a chance in hell.

My fashion scoop for this year's Academy Awards, the items that were big and timeless: There was a lot of big hard hair and breasts to match. And I can go the rest of my life without seeing a perm, a tan and a face-lift on the same man. The woman with Christian Slater had a tattoo on her arm, but it was under chiffon--I can't think of another event that would combine those two looks. (But she's skinny enough to get away with it.) And another thing: The class lines are broken in show business. I found myself looking at the female stars and wondering how many of them, like me, used to count pennies to buy eye shadow--the cheap kind. And look at us now, I thought wryly.

This is what I did to annoy some of the overly visible female stars: When I came up to them in the press line, I moved my finger over my teeth, as if to indicate a massive display of lipstick on an incisor.

I couldn't help but notice the less-famous spouses of some celebrities looking really uncomfortable. The press would scream at the stars, "Who is that with you?," as though the people they were with were something on a leash. I'd already felt weird standing next to the tabloid writers; when I had that thought, I realized I'd been standing too close to the tabloid writers.

Being outside the Pavilion amid the din of multiple helicopters felt like some sort of Neiman-Marcus version of the evacuation of Saigon. If you'd been a pregnant woman with a small child, that crowd would have saved Versace over you. French manicured nails would have pushed him up on the helicopter. And yet, I found myself waving to them, as if I thought my mom would see me at home. I saw some people who looked wicked and jaded--people who looked as if they'd been to 20 or 30 of these things--and I just loved them. They actually bulge well in sequins.

At the end, as I was leaving, I couldn't resist going back before the cameras to hear the crowd yell a little. This evening is evil and wonderful and titillating--and I am inextricably in it.

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