Liz and Richard and that diamond thing
While I still have parts of my mind still functioning after many many chemically induced trips to the far reaches of the galaxy during the ’60’s and ’70’s (Pluto, by the way is really a planet, I’ve been there, I know), I wanted to put down digitally what I still remember of the 42nd Academy Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on April 7th 1970…that’s like 40 years ago. I think I can recall most of that evening, although some of the story may be apocryphal and embellished (like Karl Rove’s new book or anything on Fox News). This was the award ceremony to “honor” the best of 1969 and I was invited.

A little context is needed I suppose. At the time I was a Jesuit living in Los Angeles and in the middle of my first year as a high school English and History teacher. One of my Jesuit brothers was the son of a chef who I think used to cook at a studio. He still had connections and was, after retirement, invited to this annual soirée of the film industry. He never attended, so this year he gave his tickets to his son who then invited me along as his companion. I weighed my options: correct a stack of sophomore English essays or spend the evening on the town with all the beautiful people. I chose the latter, after all I was young, had all my hair and teeth and was ever so cool in 1970.

Though it was the early ’70’s and the clergy at universities around the country started to wear suits when they went out, my friend insisted that we wear our clericals, black suits with Roman collars, not exactly chick magnets or so I thought. Later I would come to realize that the collar definitely was a chick magnet, but that’s a whole other story. Again, I digress.

The Program from the evening

So we signed out a car from our religious community, a vow of poverty did not allow us to own our own cars. Unfortunately the only car available was a blue dented Dodge Dart. OK, no problem. It was transpiration. I was dressed in my finest bell-bottom (remember I was incredibly cool and hip) black trousers with a black shirt and Roman Collar and equally black suit jacket. I was ready for a great evening. My friend was also well-dressed. He drove toward the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center smack dab in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. (The awards would later be moved to the Shrine Auditorium and eventually to their present home, the Kodak Theatre.) It was exciting.

In those days there was only one door for all the guests of the Oscars to enter. (Now the stars enter one door and the groupies enter another, away from the red carpet and the TV lights.) So we pull up to the theatre doors, the lights, the cameras the red carpet the whole thing. A valet comes over to our car and I’m sure he sneered when he looked at it. In front of us was a mile-long limo and behind us was a silver Rolls-Royce and in the middle was our dented blue Dodge Dart. Getting out of the car was a little difficult because I promptly ripped my zipper. (I guess my hip-hugging cool black bell-bottoms were a little too hip-hugging) Faced with the possibility of show-and-tell on the red carpet in front of the stands of screaming fans and the cameras sending out the events in living color all over the freaking’ world, I carefully placed both hands casually in of my pants and walked gingerly down the red carpet trying my best not to draw attention to my “situation.”

In front and in back of the giltterati we walked the red carpet to the front door of the building. Applause for stars and gawks at us. I’m sure I could hear, “Who are those guys” as we passed the unwashed masses holed up in their grandstand seats since early morning just to catch a glimpse of their stars. I didn’t mind at all, I liked the attention in spite of the slight breeze blowing through my damaged zipper.

The John Wayne Toupee

I didn’t have any money so I asked my companion for a few bucks so I could get a glass of champaign to mingle without drawing too much attention to myself (like wearing a black suit with a Roman collar wasn’t attention enough). He refused, so I settled for a glass of water with a cherry in it. I did manage to chat with John Wayne who was surrounded by a bunch of people. I don’t remember what the gist of the conversation was, though. I do remember looking at the top of his head. He was wearing a wig and the glue was beginning to come loose on the left side of his head. The toupee was beginning to curl up. All I could think of was to wet my fingers and smooth it down like mom used to do with my cowlick. It was very distracting but I controlled myself and resisted the urge.

Before the show started, I descended to the rest rooms to relieve myself after drinking a ton of waters with little cherries in them. As I was going down the stairs a woman in a long light green chiffon dress was ahead of me. She stopped to chat with some one and I continued to walk down the stairs. She started to walk again and was jerked backwards. I was stepping on her train. Realizing it at the same time she did, I removed my shoe leaving a slight footprint then immediately turned around trying to blame it on the person behind me. It worked.

The show itself was long and during the commercial breaks, the house lights would come up and people headed for the rest rooms. I had managed to snag some opera glasses so I had a great view from the first balcony. This was the year that the first and only “X-rated” movie won best picture, “Midnight Cowboy” and Mr. Toupee won for “True Grit.” Luckily I had seen both so I wasn’t totally in the dark. A delight was when Goldie Hawn accepted for best supporting actress in “Cactus Flower.” If I remember correctly, Liz Taylor gave out the best actor Oscar to Wayne and what struck me the most about the presentation was the huge diamond necklace (a gift from Richard Burton) hanging down between the valley of the dolls. It sparkled throughout the entire theatre. Amazin’ I felt as if I was watching history tale place on the stage that evening. I think, down deep, I wanted to win one of those things too. Well 40 years later, I haven’t won an Oscar but I do have videos on YouTube. Does that count for anything?

So there we are. Aren’t you impressed you know a person who knows people?
Yeah, me too.