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Friday, April 23, 2010

Deeper into LA-LA Land (second in a series)

They had Grauman’s Chinese Theatre looking like hell Thursday, and the several times I went by it here on Hollywood Boulevard, I grumbled. Grauman’s, along with the Egyptian and Mann’s Chinese theaters, are primary venues for the TCM Classic Movie Festival.

Grauman’s is a gorgeous landmark—the place for premieres since 1927—which is why seeing what looked like a large cellophane worm in front of it was upsetting, despite my brief acquaintance with the theater.

It was all for crowd control, you see, as I discovered when I arrived at 5:30 p.m. for the screening of the re-restored (yes, I have my prefixes right) A Star Is Born (1954). Here is the genius of what Genevieve McGillicuddy 96G and her TCM compatriots have done. They have made ordinary people into celebrities. I know. I became one.

Last night an unexpected knock on my hotel door brought me a pass to use a free town car service during the festival. I thought little of it and figured I probably would walk anyway. What was I thinking? I am in the city where a proper entrance to an event is everything.

Luckily, a potent combination of laziness and faint stirrings from my own Film Studies days at Emory (I am an 04 alumna) compelled me to take the car, to do the arrival something like right. Even so, I wouldn’t have been shocked had the driver dropped me off a block from the mobbed theater with a gruff “you better walk from here.”

Instead, “Danny” hugged the curb protectively as we approached Grauman’s, telling an endless succession of serious-looking men dressed in black and mumbling into walkie-talkies that he was dropping off “Mrs. Carini” (somewhere between my hotel and Grauman’s, I mysteriously acquired a husband). They bought it. Not one of the men in black said, “Turn this car around.” At dead center of the cellophane worm, the car stopped, my door was opened, and the well-manicured hand of a tall man reached out for mine.

No sooner had I stepped from the car than a TCM employee was assigned to me. Her job was to get me from point A (the red-carpeted curb) to point B (my seat). First, though, we had to swim a sea of leggy starlets posing for paparazzi. Tucking my arm chummily in hers, my sherpa to the stars paused momentarily, then ran me across the sight lines of dozens of whirring cameras.

I expected the clicks to halt immediately. Frankly, I expected crickets. But behold, they continued. Somebody—I’m betting Genevieve—told them that, on this night, everyone is a celebrity. And I sort of started to believe it.

The B-list, then, consisted of me, the sweet, movie-obsessed mother-and-daughter team from New Orleans who sat next to me (bragging about how well they do on the People magazine crossword), and everyone else who felt secretly surprised and delighted by their newfound celebrity. The A-list consisted of Robert Osborne, Leonard Maltin, Eli Wallach, Tony Curtis (in a wheelchair), Alec Baldwin, Cher, and Judy Garland’s son and daughter, Joey and Lorna Luft. There undoubtedly were others. As far as I could tell, they had no special seating. After all, it’s a thin line between A and B.

Before the film, we saw a charming kinescope of all the celebrities turning out for the opening of A Star Is Born at the Pantages Theatre. These were real celebs—Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball, Clark Gable, Tony Curtis.

Garland’s performance is luminous. No stranger to adversity in her own career, she used this film to battle back to a top spot after MGM dropped her. She was heavily favored to win an Oscar that year. But she lost to Georgie Elgin. You heard me. Of course, no less than Grace Kelly played Elgin in The Country Girl (1954). Still, according to AMC Filmsite, Kelly was “frumpy, slatternly, dowdy, embittered” and—as if all that weren’t lacking in the usual grace—additionally burdened with “horn-rimmed spectacles and a shapeless cardigan sweater.”

Garland took the loss like the champ she was, informing her fans that her real present that year was her son Joey, who had just been born. Well, guess what? Joey was my present tonight too, along with free popcorn and Coke.

I can’t wait for tomorrow’s lineup. Well done, Genevieve. I expect the flash blindness to wear off by then. It does, right?

Read part 6; Read part 5; Read part 4; Read part 3; Read part 1

-- Susan Carini 04G, executive director, Emory Creative Group

Photo by Jon Rou

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