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THE OSCARS | INSIDE THE HALL

The Drama Is Behind the Scenes

Movie stars need smoke breaks and to stretch their legs like everybody else. Yes, it's an honor to be nominated, but where's the ladies' restroom?

March 26, 2001|HILARY MacGREGOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Get this straight: It may be long, it may be boring, but the Oscars is one fabulous gig.

From blocks away there is buzz. Limos pulling out. Freshly washed cars with parking passes filing in. Attendants guide you with special signs that are already marked "void" so no one can rip them off and scalp them.

The carpet is redder than it looks on television. Stands of screaming fans with snapping cameras yell down, screaming "Joaquin! Joaquin! Joaquin!" Phoenix jumps and does a full high-five with his fans.

Stars go down one chute into the auditorium; normal people go down the other. Inside, waiters rush up with champagne and pizza. The beautiful women eat with their teeth bared, lips pulled back so they won't smear their perfectly applied lipstick.

The rich and famous flow to their seats at the front of the Shrine Auditorium. The hoi polloi sit in back. But the bathroom is the great equalizer.

Techies, costume designers and plebs wander into stalls alongside movie stars and Oscar nominees. Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein runs into Benicio Del Toro on his way out of the men's room. He grabs the actor, spiffs him up, dusts him off, straightens his tie and gets him ready in case he wins an award. But men are pretty much in and out.

It's the women's room where the five-act dramas are played out.

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When a commercial break comes, there's a sprint for the lavatories. The restroom is down a steep flight of stairs--a precarious descent in spiky Oscar shoes. It's stocked with everything a glamour queen could need: toothpicks, deodorant, an array of perfumes, mouthwash, swish-and-rinse cups, toothpaste, dental floss, Vaseline so your lips don't get stuck to your teeth when you smile, cigarettes for when you get stressed out and a basket of cheap lipstick you can use as your own. Women in priceless gowns stand in rows before the mirrors, primping, preening, getting even more perfect.

It's where Laura Linney, a best actress nominee for "You Can Count on Me," freshened up in her stunning orange gown, and Zhang Ziyi from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" checked out her fitted, beaded, high-collared dress.

Bathrooms were also places to rest, to kick back, to sip wine and to chow down. One woman with an orchid behind her ear pulled a Luna bar out of her evening bag and began chomping on it while others looked on enviously. "Last year all I had were Tic Tacs," she said. "This year I'm prepared."

There is almost no way to get back to your seat during one commercial break and some are resentful about this. "You should have a porta potty right here," said a woman in a sequined, leopard-print suit pointing to a spot outside the velvet curtain separating the auditorium from the lobby.

After bathroom breaks, the lavatory-goers rush back upstairs. The announcers yell out "Ten, nine, eight, seven . . . " and the guests scramble for their seats like it's a crazy grown-up game of musical chairs.

This is the party where the whole world wants to be. Nevertheless, people drift outside to chat, drink wine, talk on cell phones and talk about basketball. A small balding man corners Faye Dunaway as she waits to go back into the auditorium, and asks to take her picture. How did he get that camera in?

*

The Oscars, Part 2

* In Tuesday's Calendar, Patrick Goldstein will follow up awards night in his Big Picture column.

The Oscars, Part 2

* In Tuesday's Southern California Living, Ann O'Neill will cover the parties in her City of Angles column.

Times staff writers Lisa Richardson and Fred Muir contributed to this story.

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