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Peggy Siegal’s Reality Show Oscars

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Was this year different from all other years at the Oscars? In one vital way, it wasn’t. A24’s Moonlight won best picture because voters went for content over style. The win was for the poetic reflection of the best of American values. History was also made as Moonlight became the first Oscar winner with an all-black cast. It also addressed the LGBTQ community. It is also a beautiful film.

But on the other hand, Oscar voters were dealing with a political and emotional crisis in the film industry. After two years of #OscarsSoWhite, they responded by nominating a record number of African Americans: six actors, four producers and one director—Barry Jenkins, the fourth ever nominated in that category. Three films addressing race got best picture nods: Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight.

Lionsgate’s La La Land was a joyous escape from months of simmering frustration and anger at Donald J. Trump, himself a creature of the entertainment industry. The charming and modern musical danced its way to multiple awards commencing with the Venice Film Festival and strutting on to the PGA, the DGA, the BAFTA, a record seven Golden Globes, and an historic 14 Oscar nominations. Prognosticators predicted a “La La” landslide.

So what happened? Days before the voting deadline, La La Land was tripped-up by a last-minute backlash against frivolity. Even in La La Land, these are serious times.

Backstage at the Dolby Theater, starstruck nitwit accountant Brian Cullinan, oblivious to Oscar’s role as a sacred secular ceremony and distracted while tweeting a photo of Emma Stone, handed Warren Beatty the wrong envelope. Chaos—and headlines—ensued. Tweets, chaos and headlines? It was all too Trump for words.

When I arrived at the Dolby theater that night, I asked a dateless Andrew Garfield to take me onto the red carpet with him, to the chagrin of his publicist. A security guard rejected me because my ticket was the wrong color. Andrew winked, laughed and disappeared. Undaunted, I went back to the curb to find another walker. As I stood at the limo drop-off, inconspicuous in a Day-Glo orange satin dress, Kelly Bush, a publicist I knew from last year’s The Revenant campaign, leaned in and said, “There is going to be an upset. Moonlight is winning.”

On cue, La La Land producer Marc Platt arrived with the studs on his formal shirt popping off. As I nervously fiddled with his buttonholes, I blurted, “Kelly Bush just said Moonlight is winning.” Marc turned white.

The red carpet was a three-lane highway. The speed lane was for the superstars, the middle for frantic handlers, and on the right was the schlepper lane for relatives and relative nobodies. Four security guards escorted me there. By the time Marc and I met again at the end of the three- prong red carpet, La La Land publicist and West Coast campaign queen Lisa Taback was furious I’d told the shaken producer his film might lose. I said, “Kelly Bush said that, not me.” I felt terrible.

Sure enough, the “La La” landslide never happened. It did win six sensational Oscars before Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway walked to center stage for the best picture finale. I was now standing against the wall at the first row of the first balcony. Lionsgate publicists Julie Fontaine and Jennifer Peterson, both dressed in haute couture gowns and borrowed emeralds, anxiously insisted I join their good luck group hug as best picture was announced. Despite my faux pas with Marc Platt, and my work on most of the year’s top films, including Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and Hidden Figures, Oscar night, I was in the “La La” camp due to my long friendship with its director, Damien Chazelle.

So we three bejeweled broads were hugging tightly, when Faye broke Warren’s pregnant pause and screamed La La Land. The girls cried, the “La La” producers ran to the stage, and I was thinking about how to apologize to Marc Platt as he thanked his family. Then, the stage filled up with men in headsets. Producer Jordan Horowitz, the class act of the evening, grabbed the right card and calmly announced Moonlight. No joke. Platt, Horowitz and co-producer Fred Berger handed their Oscars to Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and producers Jeremy Kleiner and Adele Romanski, and left the stage as Mahershala Ali, the first Muslim actor to get the gold guy, ran to the cast waving his historic Oscar.

Julie and Jennifer bolted for Soho House to oversee Lionsgate’s victory party, where hundreds of confused well-wishers waited to celebrate the “La La” wins, including Emma Stone’s best actress, Justin Hurwitz’s best score, and Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Justin Hurwitz’s best song, “City of Stars.” At 32, Damien Chazelle also made history as the youngest best director ever. Some, lacking any empathy for the winners and losers onstage, called this historic screw-up “great live television.” Standing in the balcony, alone and speechless, all I could think was, How did I miss this upset?

I ran to the Governor’s Ball, the next stop for winners on their busy night. They get their statues engraved there before dropping by their studio’s party, getting photographed, Oscar in hand at Vanity Fair’s wall-to-wall celebrity fete, and then heading to Guy Oseary’s home high in Beverly Hills to rock and roll till dawn. At the entrance to the Ball, Warren Beatty walked up to me, still holding the two priceless envelopes as proof of his innocence. I asked him, “What happened?”

His phone rang. It was so noisy, he bent toward me to hear better. The phone was almost in my face and I heard Annette Bening asking where he was and saying, “Warren, come home.”

Warren said, “No. I have done nothing wrong.”

Beatty’s wonderful film Rules Don’t Apply received little Academy love, yet he was generous enough to show up. Now, 50 years after Bonnie and Clyde, he was in the Oscar spotlight again, the latest unwitting star of Oscar’s all-time blooper reel. As Jimmy Kimmel said, “We don’t have to watch reality shows anymore because we are living in one.”

Here’s my diary of this year’s reality-show Oscar week:


Tuesday, February 21

I check into Jeff Klein’s Sunset Tower Hotel and head straight to Charles Finch’s photo exhibition, “The Art of Behind the Scenes,” to see rare, candid on-set photos of Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner. Oscar balloting had closed an hour earlier, and IndieWire’s Oscar blogger Anne Thompson announces that a female friend had voted for all the diverse and minority nominees. This first hint of things to come doesn’t register as a bell ringer for best picture.

Back at The Sunset Tower Bar, diminutive maitre d’ Dmitri Dimitrov slid up to me, cupped his hands in prayer and whispered, “Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are in the corner booth with Warner Bros.’ Sue Kroll.” They were talking about their remake of A Star is Born, going into production within the month.

At the Sunset Tower Bar, Ryan Murphy, creator of the multiaward-winning FX mini-series The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, eats with his muse Sarah Paulson, who won countless awards for portraying Marcia Clark. I joke that the Oscar-nominated documentary O.J.: Made in America from ESPN will win because voters think both films are the same.


Wednesday, February 22

I meet Adam Lindemann and museum director Michael Govan at LACMA’s exhibition “The Inner Eye: Vision and Transcendence in African Arts.” Michael and I discuss the struggle to diversify the Academy. He tells me that at LACMA he’d hired women, African American and Latino curators years before.

Vanity Fair Editor-in-Chief Graydon Carter and Barneys hosted a private dinner for “La La Land” at the Chateau Marmont. Graydon always tries to entertain the winning film. Drinks around the pool were followed by a seated dinner for fifty in a bungalow. Damien Chazelle came late from an Academy dinner for the nominated directors. The Academy hosts a series of secret dinners during Oscar week for key nominees to keep them away from sponsors seeking to profit from their celebrity. They also want to protect their own sponsor, ABC.

Emma Stone brought her mother and talked about her next film Battle of the Sexes. She plays Billie Jean King opposite Steve Carell, an excellent tennis player in real life, as Bobby Riggs. Handsome hotelier Andre Balazs came. Ryan Gosling stayed home with his girlfriend Eva Mendes and their two baby girls.


Thursday, February 23

Larry Gagosian’s Oscar-week art opening for painter Joe Bradley is a hot ticket. Buyers and Larry’s close friends then migrate down the block to Mr. Chow. Elton John and David Furnish, Jonah Hill, Dakota Johnson, Sharon Stone, NBCUniversal’s Ron Meyer, Gus Van Sant, Emily Ratajkowski and Dasha Zhukova; artists Alex Israel, Harmony Korine and Dan Colen; and rocker Robbie Robertson and Page Six’s Ian Mohr dig into orange chicken on sticks. Larry’s girls come around and slip his home address onto laps. This means you have made the cut to attend Larry’s after-party at his house.

Ian and I head to Paul Haggis‘ intimate Artist for Peace and Justice benefit dinner for 65 at the LA club No Name‎ where a great time set guests back $2,500 for Haiti. We arrive just in time to hear Jeff Bridges sing a song from Crazy Heart, Jack Black recall School of Rock and Rita Wilson sing ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”. Jackson Browne is the master of ceremonies.

I end up at A24’s party at the Sunset Tower for their films 20th Century Women and Moonlight. Barry Jenkins wants to know if he is winning the Oscar. I chirp, “Yes, best adapted screenplay is all yours!” Not the answer he was looking for. I should have said, “Yes, you will win best picture, make history and bring the house down.” I would have looked like a genius.

Finally, I speak to the ubiquitous Janelle Monae, who is stunning. She also wants to know if Hidden Figures is winning the Oscar. I assure her that her real win was at the box office.

Before passing out in my Sunset Tower suite, I email Damien Chazelle a social wrap-up on the evening, as he is now sick as a dog, in bed with his dog, and has had visiting nurses injecting fluids into his flu-infested body all day. He, too, asks if he is winning the Oscar. I respond, It’s not if, but how many.


Friday, February 24

I’m a gal hell-bent on making a fashion statement with every outing, who runs her business from the back seat of a chauffeured black Cadillac with the license plate PEG-FILM. So marching or attending a protest rally is not a likely place to find me. I can’t resist United Talent Agency’s United Voice Rally happening at their Beverly Hills headquarters, where 2,000 of the creative community’s best-looking turn out on a gorgeous afternoon to stand together for freedom of speech, and against exclusion and division. It was an invitation I couldn’t refuse. This is a substitute for UTA’s traditional pre-Oscar party–and the ten percenters donated and raised $320,000 for the American Civil Liberties Union and the International Rescue Committee. CEO Jeremy Zimmer and clients Jodie Foster and Michael J. Fox speak passionately.

The surprise highlight is taped remarks from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, nominated for The Salesman, who announced he would not travel to Hollywood in protest of President Trump’s travel ban on Muslim countries. Some Oscar voters do not see all five nominated foreign films, so Trump assured Asghar his Oscar.

I stop by the Women in Film cocktail party at Nightingale Plaza where Meryl Streep announces, “I feel like never saying anything again.” We hear last year’s best actress Brie Larson and activist/documentary nominee Ava DuVernay speak. Back at the Sunset Tower, Livia and Colin Firth host their annual dinner for 50 to celebrate The Green Carpet Challenge and The Journey to Sustainable Luxury. Spotted: Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, Ruth Negga, Kevin Bacon, Tom Ford, Salma Hayek, and Mick Jagger. Kyra Sedgwick arrives late from directing her first film, Story of a Girl, starring her husband Kevin Bacon. Kyra sits with Meryl over coffee and says how exciting it is to direct. When I ask Meryl if she will join the minute ranks of female directors, the acting icon says, “Never. My job is done at the end of the day. I like to go home at night and let someone else worry about tomorrow’s location.”

Friday ends at the CAA party, a tough ticket now handed out by Maha Dahkil and Michael Kives. The white tent is filled with a sea of celebrity. Every CAA client comes out to eat, mingle, kibbitz and dance. Spotted: Meryl Streep (yes, she had a busy day too), Leonardo DiCaprio, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Orlando Bloom, Jerry Bruckheimer, J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard, Naomi Watts, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Barry Jenkins, John Mayer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kate Hudson, Jon Hamm and Jeff Bezos. At 2 a.m. I emailed Damien Chazelle another party report, as he is still sick in bed. Now, a team of medical talent is working on getting him well for Oscar night.


Saturday, February 25

I march down to the Academy’s theater to hear my producer friend (since Diner), Mark Johnson, also an Academy governor, conduct a symposium for four of the five nominated foreign film directors. ‎ As brilliant as the conversation was, four guys from Australia, Denmark, Germany and Sweden depressingly knew that the absent Iranian Asghar Farhadi was winning.

I take Mark Johnson instead of the still-quarantined Damien Chazelle, up Coldwater Canyon to Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg’s annual picnic lunch for Graydon Carter and Anna Scott. This gathering of the powerful and mighty occurs at exactly the same time as the Independent Spirit Awards for young and new talent. It’s all very familiar: cozy, and the best party of the week. Collectively there are more Oscar and Emmy winners on this lawn than will file into the Dolby Theater on Sunday.

The two hot owners of A24, David Fenkel and Daniel Katz, are so sure their Moonlight was winning all six awards they are here instead of the Spirit Award’s tent on the beach in Santa Monica. When asked, “What are you doing here?” they simultaneously say, “Our people are there.” The reason they were on Diller’s lawn for the first time is that they have a new television and film production deal with him.

I sit with petite Gloria Cooper, mother of Bradley. She is the only one wearing a hat, a large white felt fedora hiding enormous black sunglasses and her pretty face. I entertain Gloria with local gossip, which she loves, but when I ask her for details on the start of production for A Star is Born, I get nothing.

For months Casey Affleck was neck-and neck in a very tight Oscar race with Denzel Washington. I ask guests, “Who is winning best actor?” They reply, “Denzel, but I voted for Casey.” Casey, who touched my heart on- and off-screen, ran in a tight race with humility, despite a nasty whisper campaign against him. I never asked about best picture. I’m still in thrall to the conventional wisdom: It’s a “La La” landslide.

Rupert Murdoch brings his bride, Jerry Hall, who kisses and chats with Mick Jagger as the lawn people try to eavesdrop. Spotted: DvF’s kids Alexander and Tatiana, Sir Howard Stringer, Oliver Stone, Ted Sarandos, Ron Meyer, Tom Ford, Larry Gagosian and Chrissie Erpf, Jeffrey Katzenberg, George Stevens, Jr., Toby Maguire, Sandy Gallin, Robert Kraft, and breathtakingly beautiful Georgina Chapman, Lynn Wyatt, Fran Lebowitz, Henry Kravis, Jeff and Scott Berg and Irwin Winkler. Mick and I both go on to Charles Finch’s star-studded dinner at Madeo sponsored by Chanel. I sit next to Oliver Stone, who sits next to Michael Keaton. I bring over Pharrell Williams to meet Oliver, director of Snowden and JFK. Lily Collins asks to be introduced to Mick Jagger at the table next to us. She says, “Tell Mick my father says ‘hello.’ ” Lily is the daughter of Phil Collins and starred in Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply. Mick, never one to pass up flirting with an Audrey Hepburn look-alike, whispers in her ear.

Wendy Stark, daughter of Funny Girl producer Ray Stark and granddaughter of Fanny Brice, invited me to Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Night Before Party on the Fox lot for the Motion Picture Home. There is a building named after her father. Walking around with Linda and Jerry Bruckheimer, I kiss David O. Russell and Colleen Camp. Brian D’Arcy James tells me he may return to his original role in “Hamilton” as King George. I go home with the heaviest swag bag in the world.


Sunday, February 26

The shocking end of the Oscar show continues to mystify me. How could I be so close to every filmmaker and totally miss the upset?

Because Damien is still sick, he begs off on his invitation to take me to Guy Oseary’s—and heads back to bed. As I stand at the end of the Vanity Fair party carpet, Casey Affleck arrives holding his Oscar. I ask him to replace Damien as my escort and he says, “Of course. I am leaving in 15 minutes. Don’t lose me.” Casey then sends me off to find Jimmy Kimmel, who has already left the party. Fifteen minutes turns into an hour as everyone wants a selfie with the winner.

Spotted from Moonlight: Barry Jenkins, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Jeremy Kleiner. From La La Land: Emma Stone and John Legend. From Manchester by the Sea: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges and Kenny Lonergan. From Hidden Figures: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Pharrell Williams. Also swirling around the room: Fences Oscar winner Viola Davis, Brie Larson, Dakota Fanning, Elton John, Amy Adams, Jennifer Aniston, Javier Bardem, Michael Shannon, Alicia Vikander, Scarlett Johansson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Halle Berry, Isabelle Huppert, Michelle Dockery, Faye Dunaway, Andrew Garfield, Dakota Johnson, Mick Jagger and family, Kelly Ripa and Patty and Lydia Hearst. I find exhausted Oscar show producers Jennifer Todd and Mike De Luca and tell them what a wonderful job they did.

On the way out, a familiar-looking lady keeps waving and smiling at Casey as we wait in the cold for cars. I say, “Casey, that is Monica Lewinsky waving at you.” Casey is unfazed: he can’t wait to get out of the spotlight. Once we reach the Checkpoint Charlie to Guy’s party, a team of girls wrapped in wool instructs the driver to lower the window and asks for a name. Casey, holding up the Oscar says, “Affleck.” She says, “You only have a plus one.” The real deal is, if you win, you can bring a car full of friends—and eventually we’re cleared for takeoff. Once inside we lose each other in the darkness and pulsating Caribbean music. I get home at 5 a.m., pack my three huge suitcases and rush off to the private airport in Van Nuys, still wondering how I could have missed Moonlight’s triumph. Why couldn’t I see the forest through the trees? I must have been in La La Land.




P.S. The following weekend I arrive in the Dominican Republic at Casa de Campo at the home of sugar baron Pepe Fanjul and his wife Emilia. Juan Carlos, the past king of Spain, wants to watch a few movies with me. I pulled a dozen DVDs out of my bag and say, “Your Majesty, which one?” He says, “First, La La Land for fun, then Moonlight because it won, then The Founder for American ingenuity.”


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