In its rare, long and illuminating interview with Barbra Streisand, Variety ties its scoop to the lone Oscar she won in 1969 for the previous year’s “Funny Girl.” I remember well the night she won because I was in the press room of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when she made her appearance there in a see-through pantsuit over black lingerie.
I was wearing an off-the-rack dirt-brown tweed suit.
If the TV viewing audience was scandalized by Streisand’s apparel, so too, I assumed, were those tux and gown-wearing journalists in the press room when I made my appearance. The shame.
Who knew the media dressed as if they were attending the show instead of covering it? All we saw on TV were nominees and presenters being interviewed on the red carpet and the parade of tux and gown-bedecked guests making their way into the Pavilion. We never saw the working stiffs in the trenches backstage.
I wouldn’t have belonged there even if I had known to wear a tux. I was then a cub sportswriter for the outlying Riverside Press-Enterprise and, along with another reporter with whom I usually spent Oscar night arguing in front of a TV, had applied for credentials with little hope of actually getting them.
But things were looser in those days and we were both credentialed. That colleague, Tom Green, who would go on to a fine career covering Hollywood for USA Today, wore a blue blazer and grey slacks to the event and once there, we would have donned invisibility cloaks if we’d had them.
In looking back, I’m surprised they let us in at all, and would have wished they hadn’t if the thrill of being there hadn’t overwhelmed our embarrassment. Many stars came through the press room that night, and observing our colleagues interviewing them was a show in itself.
Streisand, of course, was the star of that show, not just because she was nearly naked, but also because of the historical significance of her win. She was named 1968’s Best Actress for “Funny Girl,” but so was Katharine Hepburn for “The Lion in Winter.”
Imagine presenter Ingrid Bergman’s surprise when she opened that envelope. (Watch that historica moment in the video above)
The Streisand/Hepburn deadlock remains one of only two actor ties, and technically, the only one. Back in 1932, Fredric March (“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) and Wallace Beery (“The Champ”) tied for best actor, but the rules in those clubby early days of the Oscars rounded up so anyone within three votes of the winner was also to be awarded. March had actually beaten Beery by a single vote.
I didn’t apply for credentials to another Academy Awards show for more than a decade, when I was an actual movie journalist covering Hollywood for the Detroit Free Press. I have great memories of that period, including Dustin Hoffman plopping on the lap of gossip columnist Rona Barrett after dressing her down for dissing “Kramer vs. Kramer” as a soap opera, and Robert De Niro literally dropping the mic when he was asked about would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley, Jr.’s obsession with his “Taxi Driver” co-star Jodie Foster.
But my favorite press room memory is of a story told to me by Free Press gossip columnist Shirley Eder, a personal friend of Barbara Stanwyck, who was to receive an honorary Oscar that night. Eder had ridden to the show in Stanwyck’s limousine and relayed the story Stanwyck told her on the way about her being approached by the academy for the award.
According to Eder, Stanwyck said “They told me they were going to build a white staircase that went all the way above the ceiling so that the audience would my legs first and I’d get a standing ovation all the way down. I said ‘Fuck that, if you want that kind if entrance, give the award to Bette Davis.”
I thought that was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard and told Shirley she had to clean it up and use it in her column. She said “Dear boy, if I use that kind of story, I won’t hear any more.”
I went to many more Oscar shows over the ensuing decades, usually as a writer in the press room but occasionally as a member of the audience. But every time I went, I wore a tux.
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