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For Oscar fans, long, chilly wait is worth it

Jennifer Hudson passed and smiled warmly at the fans calling her name from the bleachers. Gwyneth Paltrow tilted her head and offered a regal wave. Will Smith dashed over the velvet rope to sign autographs for his admirers.
/ Source: The Associated Press

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reporter Jacob Adelman spent 11 hours in the bleachers with Oscars fans watching the red carpet.

The trickle of celebrities on the red carpet had suddenly become a flood.

Jennifer Hudson passed and smiled warmly at the fans calling her name from the bleachers. Gwyneth Paltrow tilted her head and offered a regal wave. Will Smith dashed over the velvet rope to sign autographs for his admirers.

“This is why the wait is all worth while,” said Kyle Wilson, the 45-year-old woman from San Diego whom I’d spent the previous eight hours with on a hard wooden bench, waiting for the stars to arrive at the Kodak Theatre for this year’s Academy Awards.

For most people — the celebrities entering the theater, the reporters and photographers who would stalk them through the night and the viewers at home — the evening was just beginning.

But for Wilson, myself and the others packed onto the bleachers overlooking the red carpet, this was the climax that we had shivered in the cold (okay, Southern California cold), chafed in the wind, and squinted in the sun to reach.

This was our brush with fame.

For most of the 300 or so fans filling out the bleachers, this was the end of a journey that began in September, when they were among the tens of thousands who entered a lottery to win a coveted seat.

That wasn’t the case for Wilson and the dozens of other hard-core celebrity buffs I was surrounded by in the front rows of the bleachers.

Fans come from as far away as GermanyShe was a member of “Oscar Chatter,” a group of fans who have earned guaranteed tickets by making it to Hollywood’s biggest night every year since the awards were held at their downtown venues. Back then, they had to camp out for as long as a week ahead of time to get a seat.

Members of the group fly in from Chicago, St. Louis — some even came from Germany — to claim their spots.

I first noticed “Oscar Chatter” — and members of their rival group of repeat bench-warmers, the “Bleacher Creatures” — when I arrived at the bleachers at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, the time appointed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which puts on the Oscars.

I asked “Oscar Chatter” members why they keep coming back.

Behind me was Louie Newman, a 77-year-old retired Catholic priest who was watching his 15th red-carpet entrance. His white collar poked out from under a black sweat shirt commemorating a previous Academy Award ceremony. He said he was there to counter the impression that the church’s only interest in film is to censor it.

“We support the film industry and I want to show that,” he said.

Susie McGuire, a 61-year-old cooking teacher from Sacramento, was the most enthusiastic of the bunch. She said she feels like she’s come to know many stars personally by watching them on the carpet.

She’s seen Sharon Stone and Phil Bronstein treat each other with progressively less warmth on the carpet in the years leading up to their divorce. She also said she knew Donald and Ivana Trump would split up when he arrived on the carpet without her one year.

She knew Will Smith was a good man because he always greets his fans and Russell Crowe was thoughtless by the way he ignored them.

“It’s the things you see that they don’t think you see,” she said. “This is live — it’s not a movie where they can do a retake.”

Camera crews lead cheersThere was an excitement in the stands during the first hours after our arrival as we became the main subjects of many pre-arrivals reports. One after another, a camera crew would ask us to let out a cheer, and we would. An Italian crew instructed us how to pronounce “Morricone” — as in the composer Ennio Morricone — who was to win a lifetime achievement award, and had us shout it out in unison for his camera.

But around 11 a.m., those crews were expelled and the afternoon sagged. Academy staff brought us sandwiches.

The afternoon had seemed ready to sink into an irretrievable lull when the first of the celebrities finally arrived: James McEvoy, Louis Gossett Jr., Michael Sheen.

But when Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony arrived, I knew the day was revving up.

Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Leo DiCaprio soon followed and the bleachers shook with excitement. The names of these celebrities rung out loud from the seats.



Even: “Al Gore!”

Some of the stars turned. Some waved. Some smiled. A few even came over to chat.

And it was clear from the response in the bleachers that many of these fans would be back.

“It’s that sparkle,” McGuire said. “It’s some sparkle in our life.”