I'm from Hollywood. I longed for an Oscar when I was ten years old. I still get choked up when the winners are announced, I see their reactions, and hear their speeches.
In my few decades of doing celebrity hair, I have done many who were nominated for Oscars and a handful who won. I styled my client, Faye Dunaway's hair the night she lost for Bonnie and Clyde, I cut Ellen Burstyn on my front porch before she filmed her Oscar performance in Alice Doesn't Live here Anymore and I did producer Irwin Winkler's wife, Margo, for their big Rocky win. I was extra proud on these Academy Award nights. I was living my childhood dream of being a small part of the Oscar.
There was one time, though, that I was actually backstage, and it turned out to be one very, very eventful Academy Awards night.
Before I even headed out to the downtown Academy Awards location to weave through the maze of cars, cops and congestion to do Diahann Carroll, who was the Mistress of Ceremony for the night, I had been in a frenzy, running all over town doing Red Carpet housecalls for Vanessa Redgrave, Jean Seberg, and other clients attending the prime gala parties. So by the time I hit the entrance of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, I was in a lather and extremely late... with all of Diahann Carroll's hairpieces in my possession. I still didn't know how to find her. It was the 70s. There were no cellphones. No contact was possible.
I was directed, wrongly, to what turned out to be the restaurant level, with rushing chefs and frantic waiters. I skidded around the counters to get out and found the correct elevator that got me to the correct floor. I flew down the hall swinging my hair cases. I saw Diahann's pacing crew out front of her dressing room. I whizzed by the clench-fisted agents, frowning publicists, her furious manager, Roy Gerber, and the panicked program director, because she was due to go on stage in seven minutes for the LIVE 45th Annual Academy Awards.
The one person not in full panic mode was Diahann Carroll. She was one cool lady, and as I flew in, she reached her arm out nonchalantly, handed me a glass of champagne, and said, "I knew you'd make it. Now hurry."
I worked like a hummingbird on speed. I finished the hair details as Diahann was being zipped into her gown and together we raced to the entrance curtain. If the footage were locatable, it might be possible to see my hand putting the last Bobbie pin into the back of her do as she walked on stage to the intro music.
"Whew, where's the green room?" I asked Louise, Diahann's assistant.
In the green room, I gasped and tried to be casual as I spotted Frank Sinatra standing at the bar. Messy and sweaty, I smiled into those famous blue eyes, concealing my swoon as best I could, said something silly (I'm sure), ordered a vodka, and went back to my post behind the stage in case Diahann needed me for an extra spray at a break.
Roy got over being mad at me. We even got to some good natured chit-chatting when a huge commotion began. What now, I thought. One of the worker boys rushed off stage, bumped into us, and handed Roy the Oscar. We stood there confused. The young man then said, "Hold this a minute." And he left us standing there with no explanation.
"Let me hold that," I insisted. He did. There it was for real -- the Oscar in my hand.
"Okay, give it back to me," Roy said.
Another big commotion from the audience broke me out of my stupor. A Native American girl walked off backstage and a flurry of people crowded the area. We heard repeatedly, "This has never happened before!"
"That kid hasn't come back," Roy said and tucked Oscar in his jacket. "I'm keeping this." And he left.
When Diahann came off the stage, she asked me, "Where's Roy?"
"I think he went to his car."
This was 1973. The Native American was Sacheen Littlefeather, an activist Marlon Brando had sent on his behalf to give a non-acceptance speech, refusing his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather because of the unfair treatment of Native Americans by the film industry. It was bold and shocking. Attention was achieved.
The following year, I cut Marlon's hair for the first time for Missouri Breaks. I didn't bring up the Oscar story. After all, he didn't want it.
Years have passed and so did Roy. I still cut Miko, Marlon's son. Neither of us know where this Oscar could be.
Oscar Night 1968: Faye Dunaway, nominated for Bonnie and Clyde, and me... after doing her hair