The Greeks had their iconic heroes and myths, and so do we. For better or for worse, Hollywood movie and television celebrities have become our cultural icons and the movies and television shows they act in have become our cultural myths. As a result, we attribute a certain charismatic magic to those stars and raise them to the level of idols, whether they deserve it or not.
Many times in the past, I have been amazed at how life can unfold in wonderfully enriching ways when least expected. The once-in-a-lifetime event that occurred on June 10, 1999, was just such a serendipitous experience and has etched itself deeply in my memory. That night was the night of the 1999 MTV Movie Awards at Barker Hanger in the Santa Monica Airport and everyone in Hollywood, both famous and infamous, was going to be there.
As luck would have it, my beautiful daughter, Michelle, who worked as an on-call security guard checking identifications at entrances to the actual MTV Movie Awards, managed to obtain three guest security passes from her MTV Event Organizer friend, Tony Richards, to attend the MTV After-Awards Party for me, my youngest sister, Jill: and Michelle’s Bel-Air Country Club golfing partner, David.
I have always loved the movies because they combine my two favorite past times, both writing and visual art, into a cinematographic moving time lapse of drama, comedy, history, myths and magic; so I was profoundly excited at the chance to attend the After-Awards Party. Michelle told us to arrive promptly at the airport street entrance gate, dressed in semi-formal attire, and she would give out the guest security passes which we were to hang around our necks. I still have that precious pass in my possession, by the way.
Per Tony’s instructions, she told us to act like we worked at a Hollywood movie studio or production company and had attended dozens of similar events in the normal course of business. The rules were no cameras, no autographs, and certainly no gawking. Okay, I said to myself, I can do that, even though what I call ‘celluloid shock’ would set in later when I confronted the real deal at the party.
It was a chilly evening with the seasonal June Gloom hanging over the coastal city of Santa Monica and the pavement looked damp as we followed my daughter and her friend through the entrance into the After-Awards Party tent. I wore a fashionable black lace Victorian-style cocktail dress with black slides and the others were dressed in evening attire as well. Multi-colored strobe lights flickered across the people in the sparse crowd and big MTV video screens anchored high against the walls showed one MTV video after another, rock music blaring.
My first encounter with a Hollywood icon was the minute we walked into the tent, although I did not realize it then. Near the entrance against the wall on the left a few feet from where we were stood a tall man who was dressed like a shaggy, long-haired, bearded, chain-smoking hippie replete with blacked out front teeth. He wore a Grateful Dead tee-shirt under a frayed jeans jacket and had sunglasses on, but his dark eyes moved from side to side behind the lenses as he surveyed everyone coming through the door, including my daughter, my sister and me.
The deadhead made me do a double-take because he looked too outlandish to be attending such a prestigious event. My first thought was to shrug it off under the assumption that most MTV types tended to be out-of-the ordinary and even weird, with the exception of Tony, of course; but this scruffy-looking hippie dude was blatantly bizarre… and, for some reason, he seemed to be enjoying a certain amount of anonymity.
The next day, while watching the local television news coverage of the MTV Movie Awards themselves, I saw that same shaggy, long-haired, bearded, chain-smoking hippie wearing a Grateful Dead tee-shirt under a frayed jeans jacket being awarded the Golden Popcorn Trophy and, even better, the Best Male Performance Award for his dramatic acting in “The Truman Show.” Only then did I realize that the deadbeat dude standing at the door to the After-Awards Party scoping us out when we arrived was none other than Jim Carrey!
That night, he was just another anonymous weirdo wandering around greeting people at the party, so we moved on through the dramatically decorated tent. After the actual Movie Awards were over, the stars were slowly making their way over to the party from Barker Hanger, and it took awhile for the large area to fill up. My sister and I decided to get some drinks at the bar to survey the party scene before wandering over to where my daughter, her golfing buddy, David, and Tony were visiting.
Seemingly true to the MTV image, Tony had wrapped a brightly patterned triangle scarf over his head that he had cut from the corner of one of the event tablecloths that he wore for the rest of the evening. Looking a bit like a Pirates’ of the Caribbean-type Johnny Depp with the colorful head scarf, he blended into the surreal atmosphere quite well. As we stood there talking, I leaned over to peer around David’s shoulder to see Hugh Grant sitting at a table five feet away and next to him sat Lisa Kudrow and Ben Stiller.
Tapping my sister on the arm, I nodded back to their table, so she would see them as well. Jill, in turn, motioned to Michelle and David to turn around to look, too. We all glanced at the group quickly, so as not to appear to be gawking and, amazed, turned back to our discussions. That year, the main event in Barker Hanger was hosted by Lisa, who played Phoebe in “Friends,” and the Best Movie Award went to Ben Stiller’s hilarious “There’s Something about Mary,” so seeing them sitting close to where we stood made me gasp behind my raised hand.
For the rest of my life, I will never forget the side-splitting movie scene in the doorway where Cameron Diaz wipes the chizz off of Ben Stiller’s cheek and, thinking its hair gel, smears it on her bangs making them stick straight up! Not surprisingly, she received the Best Female Performance Award for her role opposite Stiller in that same movie and the Best Fight Award went to Ben Stiller for his hilarious dog wrestling scene where the dog dies stiff as a board, forcing him to act like nothing happened to Cameron’s sweet puppy.
All three of them, Ben Stiller, Lisa Kudrow, and Hugh Grant were laughing and joking over their drinks in a casual manner and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Their table was positioned close to another table full of more superstars, but I could not discern who the others were because their backs were to us and the rule was no gawking. Even Matt Dillon could have been visiting with them because he won the Best Villain Award.
The next day, the internet news listed some of the celebrities attending the event, which was informative for me because I had literally walked between many of them standing in groups in the dim light of the huge room without recognizing who they were. For the record, the noteworthy guests were Mike Meyers, Seth Green, Billy Crystal, Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, and Ben Affleck, who apparently kissed Director Kevin Smith during an award presentation.
Also attending were Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Antonio Banderas, Tim Tyler, Wesley Snipes, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rachel Leigh-Cook, Brandy, Chris Rock, Nick Cage, Meg Ryan, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Matt Damon, Joseph Fiennes, George Clooney, Denise Richards, Jeremy Irons, Robbie Williams, Guy Ritchie, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Stewart, Rose McGowan, Michael Bay, Kate Hudson, Dylan McDermott, and Chris Tucker. Most of them came to the After-Awards Party, even if they stayed for only a short time.
The whole event atmosphere was truly over-whelming with so many stars and superstars packed into one place, the bright multi-colored strobe lights briefly scanning over their indistinct faces, and Top Ten rock music filling the air. There were groups of them standing around the floor visiting with some sitting at tables giggling and joking. I suspected many of those standing around talking were the real powerhouses behind the Hollywood scene, such as Directors, Producers, Studio Executives, and Scriptwriters.
It felt like I was walking in a dream – just floating through a sea of the powerfully famous and the in-famous, all of whom seemed to be having a good time. In a haze born from over-stimulation, I followed Jill while we wended our way past fashionably dressed people to go into the adjoining tent section where they had a popular oxygen bar. A smell similar to ozone filled my nostrils when we walked by the long line waiting to inhale and it made me feel disoriented for a few seconds. Pure oxygen does that, I guess, although I didn’t need it to feel giddy that night.
We passed by someone walking in the opposite direction who must have been a celebrity V.I.P. because there was an MTV cameraman following him with the shoulder camera on and running. Not really wanting to be on television, we just kept on walking and I never did find out who the star was because I was afraid to stop, turn around, and stare.
I was also afraid of losing sight of my sister who walked more quickly than I did; so, skipping along between the groups, I kept her in sight the best I could. Truth is that it’s hard to skip in slides, especially when it’s through a crowded room lit by only strobe lights and reflected light from MTV Video screens. It’s also hard to see who might be approaching behind a group of influential people standing together casually talking.
As I rounded one such gathering in the dim light, I bumped into a handsome young man dressed in a black, collarless, long-sleeved shirt, almost knocking him down. I grabbed his upper arm and he also grabbed mine to keep both of us from stumbling and tumbling. I could see his pleasant face under blond-streaked hair when the strobe lights passed overhead and he had a slight dimple when he smiled.
The man squeezed my arm and asked me if I was alright to which I answered in the affirmative before I apologized to him for not watching where I was going. He laughed and said he was glad that I was okay; then he commented, “Isn’t this a great party?” to which I replied that it truly was. Turning to leave, he told me to have a good evening before he walked the other way to the oxygen bar and beyond while I continued to make my way behind Jill who had disappeared on her way to the back tent entrance to the restrooms.
‘Celluloid Shock’ (a term coined from the traditional composition of movie film and referring to a state of mind) occurs when confronted by someone whom we have seen on the small or large screen and the experience itself plays games with our heads. When this nice-looking young man and I bumped into each other, I looked into his expressive eyes and thought to myself “Wow, this is a great Ricky Martin look-alike!”
I was having a celluloid shock attack and was not aware of it until later. Never did I realize that I was talking to the real person until we got to our cars and I revealed my near accidental fall with a young Ricky Martin look-alike to my daughter. Her eyes got wide as she shook her head and exclaimed, “That was no look-alike, Mom! That was Ricky Martin!” It took awhile for the truth to soak in; but soak in, it did. Apparently, he had performed his song called “Livin’ La Vida Loca” on stage for the MTV Movie Awards earlier and was still wearing that famous black shirt.
In the meantime back in the party tent, my sister had all but disappeared. I assumed she was already outside standing in line for the restrooms, so I made my way between groups of formally suited men and cocktail dressed women out through the back door to the end of the line of ladies waiting to use the portable restrooms. All this time, I kept looking around in the hopes of seeing someone else I might recognize. The shorter woman standing in line in front of me dressed exquisitely looked so much like Jennifer Lopez that I would swear it was her!
She smiled at me between shifting her weight from side to side and glancing toward the front of the line to check on how fast they were moving up the steps into the long restroom. I commented to her about what a great party it was and she nodded in agreement. Noticing that no one was standing in line in front of the men’s portable toilets, I casually waved my hand over in that direction and stated that they never made enough stalls for women, no matter what the venue.
She laughed before responding that she had to use the potty so badly, she was going to cut to the front of the line whether anyone liked it or not… and she did. Whoever she was, the aide standing at the door to the restroom nodded respectfully to her and let her in. Considering the other women in line were actresses as well as studio employees, the woman I was talking to must have had clout because no one complained about her getting preferential treatment. They just let her in and I never saw her again.
When I finally did get into a stall, I sat there on the john surveying the feet of the gals on either side of me under the partitions. Yes, I’m an under-the-partition-peeker … Isn’t everyone? I noticed the high-heeled shoes on the left were gold glitter and on the right, black velvet with rhinestone straps, and wondered who they might be. The lady on the left in the gold heels asked for some toilet paper and I passed a handful under to her whoever she was.
Chuckling to myself, it struck me that something as mundane as the famous and the anonymous sitting side-by-side in these toilet stalls proved that people are merely people, no matter who they were. I was sorely tempted to reach into my purse for a nail file, so I could carve ‘Leila Was Here’ on the back of the door to my stall; then I realized that the next venue for this very portable toilet was probably not Hollywood, but maybe a dirty construction site in Compton and decided against it.
When she exited, Jill had waited for me outside, so together we returned inside the main tent and made our way to the dessert tables. Three or four large tables covered with table cloths that looked like Tony’s headscarf were lined up piled high with all manner of delicious desserts. Not wanting to miss a thing, I quickly grabbed a small plate of cheesecake and a fork, stepped away from the table to eat it, and watched the people surveying the sweet delicacies.
My sister seemed to be taking her time choosing something for herself, focusing on what was on the tabletop to the exclusion of all else, and, as a result, she missed seeing the two superstars standing only a few feet from us. And true superstars, they were! When I saw them, I did a double take … again! This time the couple was not weirdly dressed or bizarre looking at all – quite the contrary.
Glancing down the table to the left just past the man standing next to us, I saw Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt talking and laughing over their cakes on plates. That was during their dating ways before their marriage days and they seemed to be enjoying each other immensely. All too quickly, they left the table to disappear in the darkened room and were swallowed up by the constantly moving strobe lights. I didn’t even have time to tap Jill on the arm to look.
My mind must have been getting used to star gazing because I recognized them as who they really were and not as look-alikes. That was a positive thing. Of course, I didn’t bump into them and talk to them. If I had, the whole scenario may have been much different with ‘celluloid shock’ sickness setting in. Jill had finally chosen her dessert and we made our way back to where Michelle, Tony, and David still stood visiting near the bar and tables. As I walked around crowds of people on my way, a man touched my arm and stopped me to say what a great party it was. I looked over at him to realize it was Jackie Chan!
He had his long hair caught in a ponytail which he had grown for a movie he was filming and looked quite handsome. It seemed that he wanted to talk for awhile which was flattering, but I was afraid he would ask me where I worked and was a bit nervous about not being a studio employee.
I self-consciously chatted about trivia with him for only a few moments and I think he detected my hesitation, so he excused himself and made his way to the bar, leaving me regrettably alone. Sighing, I made my way over to where my daughter and sister already stood with Tony and David. After the party was over, we walked out to where the cars were parked on the street and went home.
The next day, I went back to work at Leegin Leather Products, which is the parent company for Brighton Collectibles. The owner’s wife happened to be a devout Ricky Martin fan as were a number of the young women in customer service, so I truly enjoyed telling them that they could touch my arm where Ricky Martin had grabbed me. Squealing with delight, many of them did just that with me teasing them that I should charge $20 each time, which I never would in fear of ASCAP retribution.
The events of the evening made me realize that living around Hollywood and seeing all the celebrities on the street, in the grocery stores, at the malls and at fancy parties is much like living in San Jose and seeing all the Google personnel on the street, in the grocery stores, at the malls, and certainly at the company Christmas Party. The only difference is that everyone knows the faces of the Hollywood stars, but few know the faces of the Google employees.
Hollywood is to Los Angeles what Google is to Silicon Valley, Boeing is to Seattle, Southwest Airlines is to Dallas, or Microsoft is to Redmond. After awhile, the celluloid shock fades into a daily routine without much fanfare; but that night, we were truly Moonstruck at the MTV Movie Awards After-Party, which was an experience that I will never forget, thanks to my daughter, Michelle, and to our friend, Tony Richards. The words of Ricky Martin’s popular song that he sang on stage at the Awards ceremony come to mind. We were “Livin’ La Vida Loca!” that night! Yes, that’s what we did alright!