That Time I Sort Of Won An Oscar

The 2009 Academy Awards in Hollywood

It’s Oscar weekend again, which always reminds me of the time I won an Oscar, but it was really a flashlight, and I didn’t really win it, I had bought it, and the theater was empty, but otherwise it was exactly the same.

Bob and I were a couple of security guards schlepping around in the soon-to-open Hollywood/Highland complex during an overnight shift back in 2001. It was all new to us and it was kind of a mess and we even had to wear hardhats.

The Kodak Theater was in the center of the complex, and we knew they’d be holding the Academy Awards there after everything was to open, so we decided to go take a look. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion had been the venue for quite a few years prior to that, but the Kodak, which they now call The Dolby Theater, was built from the ground up with the Oscars in mind.

Since clocking-in at 10:00 pm that one night in late October, Bob and I alternated patrols. He went out first, then I went the next hour, and so it was until we got to about three in the morning. He’d wrapped up his 2:00 am patrol (it took about a half-hour to walk through the whole joint) and, as he came into the make-shift construction shack that served as a temporary security office, he made a proposal:

“Say Dave what do you think about us both going out at three? I’m bored to tears, but I also found an open door over at the Kodak Theater and want to take a peek inside, but I don’t want to wander around in there by myself.”

We were the only two security guys on duty but we knew some crew had been working all night in the Kodak, so the unlocked door he found wasn’t that big of a deal. We were smack-dab in the center of sleazy Hollywood, with Hollywood Boulevard on one side and Highland Avenue on the other, but the whole place was ringed in tighter than a drum with construction fencing.

The 3:00 am patrol was mine anyway, and I was glad to have him come along. We weren’t necessarily supposed to leave one guy at the security office, we could just lock it up and leave. We were only alternating patrols so as not to get too worn out.

We both started out at three and just made small talk until we’d made our way over to the theater about twenty minutes later. Bob pointed out the unlocked door and we gently nudged it open, calling out loudly, “HELLO! SECURITY! JUST CHECKING! ANYONE HERE?”

We weren’t really supposed to be in there. We’d been left a memo saying that a crew would be working inside, but it didn’t say not to go in, so in we went.

The place was brightly lit, so we turned our flashlights off and sheathed them as we took in the splendor of the newly designed theater. It was gorgeous, and much to our surprise, it was finished.

There wasn’t another person in sight and no one had answered us when we shouted out our intentions. Stage lights and house lights were on full, and everything looked entirely finished. Not a bit of plastic sheeting was laying around; no construction tools, loose cable, or anything like that. It looked like it would look ten minutes before they’d open the doors to let an audience in on a show night.

I’d dabbled in theatrical circles before, and I’d even been a house manager of a small performance theater a few years prior to this, so my guess was that we’d walked in on a tech rehearsal for a show that was soon to open, and we had perfect timing.

There were probably only a few crew members getting lights and things ready for the first show to open the theater. The Acadamy Awards wouldn’t be for a few months and, as I recall, the first show was something by Disney. I just don’t remember what it was.

My guess was that if we’d shown up fifteen minutes earlier or later, we’d have been assured that everything was okay and we’d have to leave after a fleeting glimpse of the interior. But as it was, the crew had probably slipped out onto Hollywood Boulevard to grab lunch at one of the numerous all-night pizza joints and diners in the area, and they’d be back very soon.

So of course, Bob and I went up on the stage. I stood in the center, a little toward the front, and gazed out onto the sea of empty red seats, which I could barely see because of the intensity of the stage lighting. The house lights being simultaneously on were the only reason I could see out there at all.

I thought ahead several months when many fabulously famous Hollywood A-listers would be standing on that spot, nervously stumbling through the narrative on the teleprompter. “The nominees for best (whatever) are..”

I decided to get a taste of it, to nudge my imagination as to what it must be like, so I unsheathed my flashlight and gripped it the same way I’d seen so many lucky recipients grip that little gold dude in the past, and I secretly hoped the crew would extend their lunch by at least another five minutes.

“I’d like to thank the Academy for this award,” I stammered loudly, to a huge theater occupied (I hoped) only by Bob.

“It’s been a long road and I have many to thank, but not a lot of time, so here goes; God, my mom, my high-school drama teacher, and of course everyone who worked on this film, ‘Night Security,’ including my co-star BOB, who is way more deserving of this flashlight than I am.”

Bob had jumped off the stage and I could barely make out his huge grin from down in front of me, right about front row center. “Okay, you nut!” he said. “The orchestra has kicked in and you are out of time, buddy, they’re playing you off! We need to get the hell out of here before these guys come back.”

He was right. I kept the flashlight in hand because we’d be out in the darkness again in a few seconds, but I had to linger at the door and take one last look around. I didn’t see the inside of the theater again until the actual live broadcast of the Academy Awards the following March of 2002, and I saw it on TV just like 3.2 billion other people.

But I had a new appreciation for those who would stand on that spot and try to get through their lines in front of half the world. I only had Bob watching that night, and it was still exhilarating, so I’ve not been one to poke fun at any celebrity who fumbles a name or a line while occupying center stage. There’s no way it’s an easy affair, no matter how comfortable with the spotlight a person might be.