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Oscar Night: Full Hearts and Empty Dresses

March 29, 2000|CHRIS ERSKINE

As always, my date for the Oscars is a big-eyed blond sitting naked in my lap. On my right is an ingenue. On my left, an ingenue's mother. It's a good way to watch the Academy Awards--on the couch, surrounded by youth and beauty.

"You look lovely tonight," I tell my date.

"Dad, you're talking to a dog," says the ingenue next to me.

"I am?" I say.

"Yeah, you're talking to a dog."

"Careful," I say. "He might hear you."

The dog, as usual, is a perfect companion for watching the Oscars. Blond. Well-scrubbed. Naked. The sparkle of this special night reflects in his brown eyes. Every minute or two, he snorts a little and sniffs the day-old sunscreen on my neck.

"You smell nice," is what he's trying to tell me.

"Stop snorting," I tell him. And, like a good date, he does.

It's a big night for the little dog. As the movie stars parade into the auditorium, the cocker spaniel remains on my lap with his tail going a million times a minute, like one of those high-speed weed whackers they sell at the hardware store.

At first it's thrilling, having an electric garden tool in my lap. But no one really needs this kind of stimulation. Not even me.

"OK, settle down," I tell the dog. "Settle down or our date is over."

"You're so mean, Dad," one of the ingenues says.

"Yeah, Dad, you're mean," another ingenue says.

"Look, a real star," I say, pointing to the TV.


"James Coburn," I say.

"Who?" they ask.


We do this every year, sit on the couch and watch the Oscars, this four-hour fairy tale, this self-inflicted pleasure.

Like any good fairy tale, there are princesses and aging queens. Well-toned leading men and fat guys in tuxes. Bad hair. Good hair. Diamonds. Fake teeth. Taffeta. A few trolls. Here and there, a tattoo.

"I'm pretty sure William Shatner is wearing a girdle," I say as the stars parade along the red carpet.

"That's not William Shatner," someone says.

"Whoever it was, he was wearing a girdle," I say.

By the time it is over, we will vow never to do it again. But by the next year, we've forgotten the previous pain. Like childbirth, we do it all again.

So we watch and watch, through the long pregame show, the stars climbing out of their limos, then looking stunned that there are so many people waiting there for them, like it's some sort of ambush.

"Oh, my gosh," they seem to say as they climb out of the car. "I wasn't expecting this."

Some of the stars are bigger than life. Others, littler than life.

Indeed, the women entering the Oscar ceremonies seem to get skinnier each year, their skin stretched tight as snare drums across their faces. Each year, they arrive a few pounds lighter.

"Eat something!" I say to Hilary Swank.

"Eat something!" I say to Gwyneth Paltrow.

"What, Dad?" my older daughter asks.

"Quick, hand them a sandwich," I say.

"Mom, who's he talking to?"

"Your dad thinks they're too thin," my wife explains.

"Oh," she says.

If this trend keeps up, eventually there will be no actresses. Only empty dresses, carried by some assistant, looking sheepish and a little apologetic, holding up what Gwyneth would've worn. Unless we do something soon, the actresses will all waste away.

"Quick, hand me a sandwich," the boy says, trying to do his part.

"Here," I say, handing him some roast beef.

And the show finally starts, with Billy Crystal taking the opening quip and running 50 yards.

It's amazing that with all the actors and comedians, there is only one person who can really carry the Oscars, who can keep this monster moving for four long hours.

Thank goodness for Billy Crystal, the only star not overwhelmed by it all. Better than Bob Hope. Better, even, than Johnny.

He doesn't get much help. One by one, the famous faces stroll to the microphone, squint through their contact lenses and say serious things about serious films.

Used to be, they'd make small talk or silly jokes, then pretend to be embarrassed by the silly jokes. There was this pattern to it. Silly joke. Awkward pause. Nervous ad-lib. After 30 years, we were pretty used to it.

Now they skip the silly jokes and get right to work.

"The nominees for sound effects editing are . . . ," a presenter says, and 3,000 viewers in Minnesota fall asleep.

The show moves into its second hour. Jack Nicholson is great, the only person besides Crystal and Coburn who seems to be having any fun.

"We're almost halfway through," Crystal says, and no one's sure whether he's kidding.

On my lap, the dog begins to softly snore, dreaming no doubt of starlets and limos and fairy princesses.

I can tell he's sleeping because his tail is only wagging at half speed now, brushing my leg as he snoozes. After four hours, his tail is running out of steam, just like this show.

One by one, the ingenues on the couch fall asleep too. One by one, I carry them off to bed. In my experience, ingenues like to be carried. Aside from limos, it's their favorite way to travel.

"Watch their heads," their mother says as I sweep them off to their rooms.

On TV, the music plays and the credits finally roll. Sweaty guys in tuxes appear to tell us what it all meant.

"Who won?" the little girl asks as I carry her off to bed.

" 'Roman Holiday,' " I say.

"Finally," she mumbles as I set her softly on her pillow.

"Yeah, finally," I say.


Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

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