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Move it, move it, move it

After a year's absence due to the nation's war footing, the red carpet is again rolled out at the Kodak Theatre for the stars to meet the press -- but please! No loitering.

March 01, 2004|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

In 50 minutes Sunday afternoon I'm told to move along 27 times. Just because I am trying to savor the real fabric of Hollywood: the Oscar red carpet.

All it takes is an admission ticket to walk the red carpet. But you're not supposed to stop, unless you're a celebrity pausing to answer questions from the assembled press. Fifty wandering security personnel -- tuxedoed and unarmed but noticeable by their stern expressions -- swarm through the football-field-sized carpet, herding the 3,000 ordinary audience members with the persistence of sheepdogs. (If that isn't enough, they have to cope with 21 trespassers, some dressed in eveningwear, who are arrested for attempting to crash the carpet.)

My ticket scanned and my ID checked, I step from asphalt onto the carpet at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland at 3:30, two hours before the show begins. This is a thrill, in part, because last year the carpet was truncated and the press interrogation area was eliminated because it seemed too gaudy for a time of war.

The first thing early arrivals -- me, Ben Kingsley, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson -- see is a horde of press agents waiting for their clients. They will cut a swath and make sure the reporter from Peru or Pittsburgh knows who she is talking to. "It's like real life," says a press agent named Nina Baron, waiting on the makers of "American Splendor," "but different."

I have spent exactly four minutes on the wide carpet, festooned with bouquets of flowers and NBA-sized gold Oscar statues, when I get my first move-on warning. I walk 20 yards to the velvety-red security tent where the metal detectors are kept out of sight. (Oscar doesn't want you to see Tom Hanks being subjected to the magic wand.)

Where does the notion of a red carpet come from? Take your pick: It may have been created to celebrate the battlefield triumphs of Ottoman generals, or arisen as part of a Catholic Church tradition, or simply be pure 20th century ritz. The official academy historian, Patrick E. Stockstill, doesn't know. "I do know this," he says. "Last year I got to go to the show and I did exactly what they tell you not to do. I stayed on that carpet as long as I could."

I see Ted Turner talking to reporters. "Mr. Turner, the carpet isn't really red," I note. "No, it's not," he says thoughtfully. "But it is reddish."

Exiting security, I encounter the chaotic interview area, the shouted questions. ("Who are you wearing?" is the first thing you hear. "Can you please move along?" is the second.) Sometimes the vibe has the glamour of Audrey Hepburn bathed by studio lights; other times, it's the pandering shrillness of Joan Rivers.

In the center of the red carpet is Daily Variety icon Army Archerd. He conducts his interviews over a public address system. Every once in a while, he talks to the crowd in the bleachers at the edge of the carpet.

These people have literally won a lottery to sit here. "How many of you love 'Seabiscuit'?" he yells as the producers approach his raised platform. The crowd explodes.

I park myself next to a shrub and manage to sit tight for 10 minutes, watching the scene. After I'm booted, I encounter Susan Sarandon. By now the air is getting chill. "At this point in your life, are you amused or bored by the red carpet?" I ask. "I have to say, it's [the sky] far too bright and far too cold to be walking around half naked and wearing jewels," she says.

Some of the stars look like they're barely tolerating the process. Stiller hustles through; Elvis Costello seems amused. Sir Ben Kingsley, by contrast, meanders in with me and spends more than an hour making his way down the carpet, taking every press query. I catch him at end of the carpet, where the still photographers wait.

"The red carpet is all about enthusiasm. Look at these people," he says, pointing to the bleachers. "Enthusiasm is great. It makes life worth living."

Sir Ben starts to go on, but a security guard stops him -- he'll have to move along.


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