My Night at the Oscars®

By on June 25, 2013

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Dan Walker on Film


Juliette Binoche with her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “The English Patient”



The 24-hour period of that Oscar night, March 24, 1997, beginning at 6am in the office – when I didn’t know I’d be going to the ceremony – and ending after I got home at 6am the next morning from the Miramax party at The Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Blvd., could be a big book chapter on its own.  I really pay attention and it was very eventful.  For example, Madonna, Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand were all scheduled to sing Oscar-nominated songs that night.  If you know anything about Streisand, you know she very, very rarely performs and every time she does is an event.  Unfortunately, Streisand pulled out and Celine covered for her.  I never found out the reason Streisand backed out but I always figured it was in protest of Lauren Bacall – the heavy favorite in more ways than one for “The Mirror Has Two Faces”, which Streisand directed – losing Best Supporting Actress to Juliette Binoche for “The English Patient” which, as the first Oscar awarded, began the night with a real jolt.  Juliette’s managers sat directly behind me during the ceremony and I got the full impact of that win, trust me.  Interestingly, at the cast and crew screening of “The English Patient” in Century City months earlier, I sat directly across the aisle from Juliette before I even knew who she was (she was introduced by either Harvey or director Anthony Minghella, both of whom spoke before the screening began, and stood up).  I felt witness to the completion of a fascinating circuit.

Frances McDormand with her Best Actress Oscar with her husband, Joel Coen, holding his Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, both for “Fargo”. She’s displaying the exact same smile she gave me and the photographers as we were exiting the Shrine Auditorium.

When the ceremony ended, my boss apologized and told me I couldn’t go to the Governor’s Ball – where all the winners bask in their winningness – with Harvey.  I told him I didn’t want to go and wanted to step outside to get some air.  I figured that might help alleviate the detachment from the real world I was feeling.  The Governor’s Ball would have been overkill and I was actually relieved I wasn’t going.  As I approached the Shrine Auditorium exit, I bumped shoulders with Frances McDormand, who, justifiably beaming and with whichever Coen brother she’s married to (an Oscar winner himself for “Fargo”’s Original Screenplay) on her other side, took the time to say, “Hi, hon”, before pushing open the door, thrusting her “Fargo” (Best Actress) Oscar-holding arm skyward and letting out a victorious, “Owwwwwww!!” to the spontaneous explosion of flashes of the mob of photographers that seemed to be waiting for just that moment.  She was nothing like the understated Marge Gunderson she played in “Fargo”, except for her not going to the Governor’s Ball.  I veered to the right so as to not spoil any pictures before stopping three steps later.  I politely waited behind Mr. and Mrs. Cuba Gooding as he responded to a group of reporters by graciously saying, “We’re both very proud of our son (Best Supporting Actor winner for “Jerry Maguire”).  Thank you.  Thank you very much.”  The reporters then flocked to their next subject and he turned to his wife and said, “I HATE it that nobody knows who I am.”  The night’s most sobering moment for me.  Having been a big fan of The Main Ingredient in my teens, my mind raced trying to figure out whether or not I should tell him that any knowledgeable music fan knows him as one of the coolest and most distinctive R&B voices of the 70’s, if not of all time.  I figured it wasn’t my place and let it go.  I regret to this day not telling him that.  If you only heard the disappointment in his voice.  Maybe I was just being a worshipful fan but his presence was towering.

His son’s acceptance speech, by the way, was even more exhilarating to witness in person than it came across on TV.  To hear the crowd go from warm to progressively louder and more enthusiastic applause to an almost fever-pitch roar was a phenomenal experience.  People all over the auditorium were yelling back to him.  It was like he had just scored the winning touchdown in a Super Bowl.  An amazing rush in a night that was already an amazing rush in itself.  Play this clip with the volume up, in full surround sound if possible:

Tom Cruise – whom Gooding thanked profusely in his speech – and Nicole Kidman are in the clip.  I was introduced to both in the lobby during one of the intermissions.  They were exactly what you would expect; he was super friendly and struck me as someone perpetually running for student body president.  She was porcelain doll pretty, very reserved, very polite and towered over Cruise, Harvey, me and my boss.  She was surprisingly tall.

Rosanna, David, and Patricia Arquette

When I later tried to enter the Miramax party at The Mondrian Hotel, I repeatedly had to step back to allow people to leave.  The procession began with Billy Crystal, flanked by a large group and much shorter than I thought he was, and continued with Ralph Fiennes who, despite having lost Best Actor to Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”), was still part of the night’s royalty (“The English Patient” won in nine categories) and, with his entourage, carried it well.  I thought I’d finally be able to finally enter the party when a posse-free Rosanna Arquette rushed up to me as though we knew each other, urgently asking, “Did you see which way Nick Cage, Patricia Arquette (she actually said her sister’s full name) and Sean Penn went?”  I pointed toward the sidewalk and eastward and said, “They went in that direction.”  Easy enough for me to remember since the three of them almost mowed me down as I again had to step back from the entrance to let them by, Patricia and Cage holding up an incoherent Penn by either arm as the toes of his dress shoes were being ground down by the concrete sidewalk with their every unified step.  That didn’t look fun to me at all.  The pitch of Rosanna’s voice got higher, she smiled broadly, pinched my cheeks and said, “Thanks, honey!” before chasing down the group. Her presence, energy level and voice were exactly like they are on screen, unusual for an actor.  They’re often much more subdued in person.  Except for Frances McDormand.  When I finally entered the party I found the head of Miramax Publicity.  I was supposed to help hand out “Miramax Greatest Hits” (a very good collection of score music) CDs to the attendees, which I would have been happy to do since then, at least, I could serve a useful purpose to someone that night.  She told me not to worry about it and enjoy the party.  Even my co-workers treated me like I was a different person that night.   I thought to myself that I should wear a tuxedo more often.

The experiences I mention here are just a part of what happened to me during that 24-hour period and an even more minute fraction of my interesting Miramax experiences as a whole.  Even the way I found out I was going to the Oscars makes for a great anecdote.  Maybe later.

What separates me from other people who write movie reviews is that very few have actually worked in the film industry.  Fewer still have gone to the Oscars and fewer still have gone to the Oscars as a guest of the most influential exec in the history of Hollywood.


June 25, 2013


In the 16 years I’ve had this stuff, it never occurred to me to take pictures of it until recently:

1997 03 24 Oscar Ticket

My Oscar ticket – I didn’t realize until just recently there’s a price on it.  It’s not like you could purchase them through Ticketmaster.



The AMPAS envelope with my ticket – For the record, that’s not my handwriting.



1997 03 24 Oscar Program

1997 03 24 Oscar ticket program envelope

My Oscar program – That’s Billy Bob Thornton’s autograph.  He won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and worked in our office.  One of only two Hollywood autographs I got the entire time I was there.


About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

2 comments on “My Night at the Oscars®

  1. Pablito on said:

    It was a briliant stroke to include the Cuba Gooding acceptance speech link after you took us there with your words. Thanks for the “insider’s” perspective on a night most of us will never get to see so up close.

  2. Dan Walker on said:

    Thanks, Pablito. I’m glad you liked the piece and YouTube link. I’m sure I’ll reference other happenings from that day and night in future movie reviews. They’re too good to keep.

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