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What Is Happening to The Once Simple Ritual of Oscar Night? I Miss The Santa Monica Civic Center ,The Ride Down Wilshire...and The Way We Were.

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It was so simple. Organic almost. Like the blossoms on a cherry tree. The Oscar ‘s came, like spring, every April and with them came a yearly ritual for many who lived in Santa Monica.

Billy Wilder wins Best Director, Picture and Writer for “The Apartment”
@ The 33rd Awards Monday, April 17, 1961, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium Host: Bob Hope


For almost a decade The Academy Awards took place at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. My own family’s ritual was created because Oscar night fell on or around my sister Alison’s Birthday. She chose the meal and the meal was always and ceremoniously Chinese from Madame Wu’s. We would walk the ½ a block to Wilshire Blvd from our house and watch as sleek, shiny, splendiferous-glamorous convertibles adorned with the Celestial’s du jour’ cascaded down Wilshire Blvd.

The Chinese never tasted better than on Oscar night and I remember eating out of boxes with spoons and chopsticks as we all piled on the bed is “the girls room”. Hovering close to our 19” black and white Motorola Television. It was the height of our obsession with Hollywood. Back then there was no TMZ or Entertainment Tonight. No “E…The True Hollywood Story: Oscar.” Nope none of that rubbish. There was however my mother. My mother, who knew more about Hollywood and it’s movie stars than anyone I had ever or would ever meet. There are things I know only because of my Mother.

The other source of Hollywood and Holly-weird info was the infamous “church ladies”. We belonged to two parishes in Santa Monica, St. Monica’s and St. Ann’s. St. Monica’s; because that was where we went to school and where the rich and famous pious took there Sunday Holy Wafer. St. Ann’s for it’s organic and wholly devoted congregation. The shrine at St. Ann’s was the most amazing place of worship I had or will ever see during Novena.

And with these two parishes, came a slew of the old Hollywood corps. Retired actors and actresses from every nook and cranny of the film business. If they hadn’t worked with greats they knew those who had and every now and again as we volunteered at this church bizarre or that church social we stood arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder with some amazing celestial from the “good old days.” I loved it! They called me “toots” and “stinker”, “lovey” and “cupcake” and my favorite nick name of all “Teddy”. I have no idea why and never cared, I just loved being called “Teddy.”

These days of Chinese and Tab, of watching the Oscars on a Black and White TV, of simple priceless pleasures…these days were heaven to me.

We never thought of being more indulgent or more glamorous. Bob Hope was the host and made an art form of the “roast.” Looking back it all seemed so simple. It was about film and the folks that made them and the folks that enjoyed them.

And no one lived for film the way my Mother lived for film. Film was my Mother’s refuge, her balm, and her church. For my entire life my mother told me about being dropped off at the “movie house” in Altoona Pa. every Saturday with 25 cents and a bag of sandwiches from the time she was a small girl.

She would watch the double feature with the newsreel, a cartoon, a sing-a-long (on Saturdays) and featurette, as many times as she could. My Mom would rather be in a dark movie house than anywhere in the world. That has never changed…never. My Mom was the best audience any filmmaker could ever want or dream of. And Oscar night was her night. It was the one night that celebrated not only my Mother’s favorite art form, but the one night she felt celebrated “her people”, the audience.

Was it elegant? Yes! Was it glamorous? Absolutely. Ostentatious? Without a doubt. From 1961 until 1968 The Santa Monica Civic Center was Oscar’s home. And no one loved the experience of being on Wilshire Blvd as the cars road passed with their precious cargo as much as we did.

There was this one crazy gal who used to get all decked out in her gold pedal-pushers, feathered pink mules, black lame’ bustier and about a half a pound of mascara and bright aqua blue eye shadow. With her died black hair, piled high on her head; she stood on the blvd as perhaps the most evident bi-product of being raised near “tinsel-town”. A wanabee-star who never had her day because of timing or talent. The streets of LA are lined with these fallen angels. The hopeless-hopefuls to an industry that never takes prisoners…just hostages. To her and countless others, this was the one night that represented all the hope that Hollywood promised.

Wilshire blvd was one huge red carpet and we were all on “Press Pass.” We were “a part”, included and celebrated for being what Hollywood will always need …fans. Red carpets are as much for the fans as they are for the stars.

The actual red carpet at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was only about 100 feet long. No blocked and barricaded streets. In those days they liked fans to come out in droves. The press of human flesh. The press corps shoulder to shoulder with all the rest of us.

34th Awards Monday, April 9, 1962, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium Host: Bob Hope Best Picture of 1961: “West Side Story”

And here we are at Oscar-83. Go to: http://www.oscars.org/ It is insane! I got a record breaking 200 Press related emails prior to the broadcast and another 30, post. The money spent on the Oscar’s would get a medium-sized country out of debt. It would probably get California out of debt if the Oscar’s ran as a fundraiser for the state! The prep alone would finance the renovation and rehabilitation of Rome and Budapest. It is numbing how much money the Academy spends on their big night and then factor in what strolls down the red carpet and into the Governors Ball! Gazillions of dollars worth of cotoure’ and jewels. I think the astronomical cost of things has made it a spiritually anesthetizing event. I mean I still get excited but what it takes to get me really excited …doesn’t exist anymore. There is nothing real or organic about the Oscar’s. The best I can say is that there seems to be camaraderie among nominees in their category. They are all so pleased and honored to be nominated that winning only comes in a distant second. By the time they hand out the Golden Statuettes, the bubble is off the wine. I am done. This year was so bloody predictable and the skits around the awards were soooo “un-funny”, that I longed for the days when it was just a big dinner party with a podium and some prizes. Sometimes more is just that…more. Not better or great…just more.

Remember a few years back when the Emmy’s were postponed and then dressed down? Well I for one liked the simplicity of a kinder gentler awards ceremony. In fact my new favorite awards show is The American Spirit Awards. It is very real and very funny. At every table people had a huge magnum of Jamison paired with a mirror-magnum of champagne. Lisa Cholodenko brought hers onstage when she and Stuart Blumberg won. And when they won, this self-proclaimed lesbian got it, right in the kisser! When Stuart gave her a big fat wet kiss! Oh these are the days! It was undeniable splendid and something Oscar would never think of. Sad to say. The Oscars this year put the “B” in boring and the “P” in fantastically predictable.

Ok…okay…every one dressed really well and spoke really well. But Tim Robbins and Susan where sorely missed. I almost wished they had done a “Relationship In-Memoriam” this year. We lost too many great couples this year. Call me a fool, but Oscar ain’t Oscar without a little romance.

40th Awards Wednesday, April 10, 1968 (postponed from April 8 Due to the assassination of Martin Luther King), at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium Host: Bob Hope Best Picture of 1967: “In the Heat of the Night.”

The Oscars have lived through wars and rumors of wars. Through assassination and the draft. That little golden statuette has been a touchstone for Americans. Like the “Buddha of Hollywood”. We all long to rub his belly. I used to have teeny-tiny 2-inch version I wore around my neck. When I lost it somewhere high above Atlanta at the blue domed revolving Polaris bar, a friend said; ”well…now you have to earn it!” And it is so true. I have had an Oscar speech in my back pocket for 40 years. I haven’t given up hope and I doubt if I ever will. It is strange the things we put our hopes and dreams into. Maybe the best thing is to still be able to dream and have hope and wonder. To believe that within the mystery of life there is a prize. Just like in a box of Cracker Jack. There is something just out of reach waiting for us all. Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.

38th Awards Monday, April 18, 1966, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (first telecast in color) Host: Bob Hope Best Picture of 1965: “The Sound of Music”

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