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Oscar rolls out its red carpet

Workmen prepare the carpet for the high heels to come on Sunday
/ Source: The Associated Press

Oscar’s red carpet — Hollywood’s celebrated route of royalty and runway for the world’s most-watched fashion show — arrives very humbly: split into dozens of rolls, wrapped in plastic and freighted on two flatbed trucks.

And for the record, this most famous of showbiz red carpets is actually a secret shade of cayenne specially formulated to academy specifications. It’s more burgundy than red, but plays red on TV.

The carpet arrived at the Kodak Theatre before dawn on Wednesday, all five nylon tons of it, direct from American Turf & Carpet in suburban Cerritos, Calif. Company owner Walter Clyne was on hand to ensure a smooth rollout.

“No high-profile person is tripping on my watch,” says Clyne, a burly guy with a buzz cut and the exclusive supplier of Oscar’s regal rug for the past 10 years.

One of Clyne’s crew, operating a forklift equipped with a long rod called a carpet pole, pierces each 300-pound carpet roll and lifts it off the truck. Workers in matching blue T-shirts — some wearing back braces, others with knee pads — use metal wheelbarrows to haul the rolls into position.

Ready for high heelsBy Sunday night the grunts and groans of Clyne’s crew will be replaced by the glitter and glamor of famous feet as they make their way to the 78th Annual Academy Awards through a gauntlet of screaming fans and clamoring journalists.

The carpet of dreams’ long journey to Hollywood begins in Dalton, Ga., where it’s woven together in a natural shade of white. It takes about five days to dye it the proprietary Oscar shade, which veteran carpet queen Joan Rivers describes as “Nancy Reagan red — that wonderful red with a little blue in it.”

Then the carpet is treated with a protectant that prevents the rosy shade from rubbing off on the stars’ Valentinos and Pradas.

With the rolls unloaded, the carpet guys start their work. Passers-by snap pictures as the crew workers unfurl the tradition-steeped rugs, first with their feet, then on hands and knees. Then they start the meticulous process of piecing the carpet together.

With an oversized putty knife, one worker cuts the edges of the rug so they match exactly. One of his colleagues comes along behind him, picking up the remnants and collecting them in a pile for safekeeping from color copiers or eBay peddlers.

The carpet looks so fresh it almost glows. And for the first time this year, it is bordered in gold. A proprietary shade, of course.

Not all the carpet is new. The Academy typically replaces the red carpet every other year, and, pssst..., this is an old-carpet year.

Stored for next yearOn new-carpet years, Clyne’s crew takes the rug back to the company’s warehouse, where they spend up to 10 days giving it a thorough cleaning to return it to its pristine state for the next year.

And by Rivers’ account, it needs every one of those 10 days: “By the end, it’s just filthy and there’s gum on it and there’s cigarettes on it.”

As for the fate of the old carpets, they’re carted back to the California warehouse and disposed, very hush-hush.

Much of last year’s rug also got rained on, Clyne said, so at least half of it had to be replaced this year. He won’t say which half.

Historical moment: The practice of rolling out a red carpet for royal processions dates back thousands of years. Historians trace one of the earliest mentions to Greek playwright Aeschylus in 485 B.C. In one of his works, Agamemnon walks a red carpet fit only for “the feet of the gods.”

And how perfect for Hollywood, too, where a red carpet was first rolled out by famed exhibitor Sid Grauman when he opened the Egyptian Theatre in 1922, seven years before the first Academy Awards.

Back at the Kodak — it will take 21 men about two days to completely install this year’s Oscar carpet, including painstakingly sealing the carpet into place by running an industrial iron over every seam.

When all seams are sealed, workers will protect their efforts with a layer of “carpet mask,” a clear adhesive plastic that will keep the rug clean until its close-up on Sunday night.

Clyne also keeps a tuxedo-clad carpet worker onsite the night of the show. “It has to look good on TV,” he says. “It has to be firm and it has to be good.”

Army Archerd, who welcomed celebrities on the red carpet at 48 Academy Awards, says he never gave much thought to the rug under his feet. But he knows it’s a place where magic can happen.

“To look at the people who’ve been on the red carpet with me,” he says, “would be a total history of Hollywood and the Academy Awards.”