In November last year Dianne Ansbaugh of Coeur d’Alene entered a People magazine online contest to win two tickets to the Oscars Red Carpet Fan Experience. Multiple entries were allowed but Dianne entered just once. Fast forward to Jan. 20 when she was notified she’d won one of 45 first-place awards. Another five lucky entrants won grand prize awards that included airfare and hotel accommodations. Recipients had just 48 hours to complete paperwork for themselves and a guest to claim the prize or it would be assigned to another entrant.
When deadline was looming in just hours, Dianne posted on her Facebook page that she would decline the prize due to the expense of airfare and lodging. I responded, asking if she could transfer to another person but nope, use it or lose it. We spoke on the phone and came up with a plan. Since my daughter, Sarah Bluff, lives in West Hollywood, I asked if she’d be willing to host a couple of house guests and she happily said yes. So we scrambled to get the paperwork completed and submitted in just a few hours, including permission forms for a background check.
A few weeks later we received confirmation and information about what would be a whirlwind opportunity to go behind the scenes and view the red carpet arrivals on Oscar day, March 4.
On March 2, Dianne and I flew into LAX, where Sarah picked us up. That afternoon we enjoyed lunch at the historic Chateau Marmont hotel. Seated next to us was a fellow with a Jack Russell terrier. Sarah chatted him up about the dog and asked if he was in town for “the show.” Note: All of Hollywood was abuzz with people arriving for the Oscars and the set up on Hollywood Boulevard. The man said yes he was, he had a film that was up for Best Picture. We asked which film and he replied, “Darkest Hour.” Turns out he was Joe Wright, the director.
On Saturday we went down to Hollywood Boulevard for Dianne’s first visit to the iconic show business mecca. In front of the Roosevelt Hotel we found our sweet friend Anna Pearce’s “Patty Duke” star on the Walk of Fame. We saw John Travolta’s star and also his hand prints in the cement in front of the Dolby Theater, placed there in 1980, at the height of his “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease” and “Urban Cowboy” fame.
We viewed the setting up of the 50,000 yards of red carpet and the bleachers where we’d have front-row seats to the glamour and glitz the next day. Having a local as a tour guide and driver was perfect. Sarah made sure we saw many of the iconic sights, including Beverly Hills and Sunset Boulevard.
Oscar Sunday dawned sunny and bright and we headed out at 7:30 a.m. to check in, receiving our credentials and a shuttle ride over to the Dolby Theater. We went through a security checkpoint, received Oscar tote bags, a T-shirt and a seat cushion courtesy of People magazine. We were treated to breakfast and a number of courtesies such as a glam bar for hair styling, make-up, nail decorations, photographs etc. Then it was box lunches as we took our places in the bleachers alongside the red carpet.
The production is a well-oiled machine, a lot like Ironman Coeur d’Alene on steroids. The flurry on the red carpet in the early afternoon was the media taking their positions. International news outlets alongside local and national media. The entertainment reporters featured many well-known faces ... Nancy O’Dell, Ryan Seacrest, Mario Lopez, Lara Spencer, Kelly Ripa among them.
While we waited, Dianne was interviewed by a reporter from an ABC affiliate in Seattle. Famous chef Wolfgang Puck, who caters the big Oscars after-party, came down the red carpet with a cart that featured an array of his culinary creations. He tossed Oscar statue-shaped candy into the bleachers and Dianne enthusiastically caught one!
At 2 p.m. we were directed to take our seats in the bleachers where we would remain seated for the next two and a half hours. The four bleacher sections of fans and industry people were the backdrop for many of the celebrity interviews that took place non-stop until about 15 minutes before the live Oscar broadcast at 5 p.m.
The parade of famous faces in fabulous formal wear was a sensory overload. Dianne and I both thought it interesting to see which stars made it a point to interact with those of us in the bleachers ... the fans. Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman were especially gracious and friendly. Dame Helen Mirren was classy and warm. Matthew McConaughey, Mark Hamill, Armie Hammer, Donald Sutherland and the incredible Christopher Plummer, at age 88 the most senior actor on the red carpet, were having a grand time. Rita Moreno, 86, wearing the same gown she’d worn in 1962 when she received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “West Side Story,” was a treat. Viola Davis in shocking pink, “I-Tonya’s” Allison Janney in regal red and the statuesque Jennifer Lawrence were spectacular. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s Sam Rockwell would later that night receive an Oscar.
Director Steven Spielberg passed by with a wave as did Lin-Manuel Miranda. Dianne and I agreed that the most stunning actress of all on that red carpet was Jennifer Garner. Hollywood glamour meets girl-next-door.
And in a flash, the red carpet cleared, the live broadcast about to begin and we were escorted across the red carpet to the El Capitan Theater for a private viewing party and buffet dinner to watch the 90th Academy Awards on the big screen.
Like Cinderella after the ball, 12-plus hours later, Dianne and I were on the shuttle and then picked up by Sarah. Throughout the day we posted several Facebook Live videos and it was funny to see how we looked in the first one and the last one we videoed on the return shuttle.
It was quite an adventure which Dianne summed up perfectly. “I kept thinking those stars used to be regular everyday people who had a dream. Here they are at the peak of their profession. Good for them!”