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Best Performance by a Bad Girl
Oscar night. Hollywood. The blaze of klieg lights. The smell of perfume, jasmine, and fear in the air -- I love it.
No evening in the year holds greater power. To those who soar or suffer by Hollywood's whims, this annual honor, bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is instant and indelible. Tonight, amid the glitter and pageantry, transformations would occur. A thousand well-dressed people would walk into Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, but in three hours' time, only a few dozen of them would walk out holding golden statuettes, branded for the rest of their lives: THE BEST.
And before those worthy names could be called onstage inside the theater, another glittering pageant was well in progress outside. We had a little ritual of our own that also glorified the evening's finest talent but perhaps, in a moment of much-needed balance, punctured a few inflated egos as well -- the red carpet preshow coverage. This was where I took my part on the star-spangled battlefield. I, Maxine Taylor, have the privilege of holding a mike and brushing elbows with the great ones -- and the battle scars that come with it. While the talent of the stars is luminous, fascinating, unquestionable, their fashion choices may not be. Someone, after all, must play the role of jester at Hollywood's royal court, and that would be me.
The crowd around me, Jack Nicholson bumping into Leo-nardo DiCaprio, was aswirl. In my earpiece, the voice of my young, hotshot director, Will Beckerman, boomed, "Max, grab Cameron!" And suddenly, as is the nature of the evening, a gorgeous young celebrity dressed in some unfortunate piece of satin was thrust at me by her phalanx of handlers. I let go of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, two solid-gold "gets," allowing them to be pulled off into the onrush of lights and crowds, and I revved up, turning to face my new interviewee, pulling her closer beside me into a nice tight two-shot.
"Cameron Diaz is here," I announced to my athome audience above the noise of the throbbing crowd. I'd snagged another Alister before any other red carpet reporter. Everyone kept a scorecard of gets, a list of celebrity interviews one was able to get, and our careers could be instantly over if our ratio of Alist to Blist should suddenly fall. Hundreds of my competitors, stretched down a long row beside me, were now quietly seething at my good fortune. I blocked all that out as my camera's onair light glowed red.
Cameron smiled and said, "Max Taylor! It's good to see you." There was the requisite hugging and kissing. Then she added, "Be nice."
We both laughed. Like that would happen.
Over broad whitened smiles, Cameron and I eyed each other closely. What she saw was a fairly well-kept faux-blond, thirty-three-year-old woman. (Okay, who was I kidding? Forty...Okay, okay! Forty...nine. But they could put bamboo under my nails, and I'd still deny it.) I was dripping in borrowed estate diamonds and draped in a stunning gold Michael Kors gown. Tasteful...yet wow. Cameron's eyes narrowed, recognizing perhaps that I now wore the same borrowed diamond earrings she'd worn two years ago.
I, on the other hand, felt my own eyes grow wide as I gazed at the outfit she'd selected. "Who are you wearing?" I asked, my raspy voice perhaps just a tad raspier, gaping at the monstrous green gown that only a Trappist monk could love.
Cameron mentioned the name of a young designer, then turned 360 degrees so we could absorb the full effect of all those wasted yards of seaweed-hued satin. "Tell the truth, Max," she said like a brave young thing who was ready to take her medicine, "what do you think?"
"It's something!" I marveled. "Very few people could wear a dress like that..."
Cameron beamed. "You doll."
Then, before I could add,...but you're not one of them, she heard her name called from the stands of screaming fans and turned to wave. That's the red carpet. Blink and your interview is O-V-E-R.
I quickly changed gears. As the dewy beauty was whisked away to yet another interview, trailing a long train of poison-green tulle, I turned to my camera. "Cameron Diaz. Someone I love and adore and worship. But I have to tell you -- even Winona Ryder wouldn't shoplift that dress."
Yes, I said that.
Oh, come on. I'm Max Taylor, and that's my thing. I worked my way up from the cellar comedy clubs in Manhattan by telling the truth and saying what no one else would say. Look, I'll make a promise: if you should discover the cure for cancer, I swear I will not make a joke about what you wear to pick up your Nobel Prize. You, Cancer Curer, are safe with me. Global-Warming Averter, too. But everyone else...watch out.
The mad swirl of pre-Academy Award excitement ratcheted up a notch, and I checked my borrowed diamond-encrusted Harry Winston watch: twenty-six minutes until Oscar showtime inside the Kodak Theatre, if one could trust a $140,000 timepiece to tell good time. Which meant in just twenty-six minutes, our red carpet coverage would end, and I still hadn't nailed an interview to top last year's show. And in the castle where I work, they serve last year's jester as appetizers. Around me, the throng of glittering almost-stars, ministars, megastars, and over-the-hill dino-stars, along with all their nervous star tenders, began pressing forward as they realized it was time to get out of the hot afternoon sun and into their seats.
I, as always, kept right on talking -- "Wasn't Julia Roberts gorgeous this year? The government should pay her to stay home and have more babies, you know, like a natural resource" -- filling the airtime until my next celebrity was delivered.
Just off-camera was my own crew, the guerrilla commandos who kept me powdered and prepped throughout two hours of red carpet combat: hair, makeup, personal assistant, darling pet, all accounted for. Add to this behind-the-scenes cadre my celebrity-wrangler, Cindy Chow, the predatory huntress who even now stalked arriving VIPs, tracking down the most transcendent names for me to interview. Cindy, with her disgustingly thick black hair and tall, slender, pilates-toned body, looked like your typical, everyday fabulous L.A. chick. But don't let the sweet demeanor and those double-C cups fool you. That woman has a vicious streak, which is an excellent trait in a wrangler. She was waving at me to get my attention.
"Ah," I said, spying the man she had in her hot little hands, "here comes a repeat Academy Award nominee, the guy who Walked the Line, Joaquin Phoenix." I jabbed my mike in the direction of the tousled, dark, brooding movie star coming up the red carpet. "Joaquin!" I shouted, trying not to spit. It's a hard name to pronounce. Try it.
He slowed down but didn't quite make eye contact.
"Amazing performance, Joaquin," I yelled. Why hadn't Cindy brought him closer? He was just outside mike range. Joaquin, what kind of mother names her son Joaquin? Clearly a mother who doesn't give a damn who spits at her kid all his life.
He took another step toward me, but then, pulled along by his agent and still several feet from my particular square of red carpet, he came to a complete halt.
My earpiece buzzed alive. "Where the hell is your next interview?" screamed my frazzled director. I was now on the air, live, interviewing nobody. I momentarily envisioned Cindy losing her job in the bloody postmortem of this night's show. It was war, and our side was suddenly at risk of losing.
In the great crush, Deborah Norville stepped off her mark and grabbed Joaquin's arm, snatching him away for herself. I was furious and tried to reach for him myself, but Little Miss Locust Valley Tea Party had a grip on him that could win her a World Wrestling title. Bitch! Of course I kept score. We all do. "You lost him," cried my director into my ear. Like I didn't know that. "We're dying here. Go to Drew," his voice ordered.
"Let's see who Drew is talking to now," I said to the camera, seamlessly moving our live show along, segueing to my daughter, who held an interview position with her own camera crew closer to the door of the Kodak. I checked the video monitor and saw my lovely daughter and cohost standing next to the extraordinarily tall and dreamy Vince Vaughn. Our director, Will, was still yelling something stupid in my ear, but I was at that moment suddenly propelled into mom mode. My daughter is twenty-five years old and single, so why wasn't this naturally endowed girl wearing a "bait" dress with the neckline cut down to her waist? I despaired of her insistence on good taste. Opportunity missed.
"Say hi to Vince for me," I said cheerfully, handing the show off. Drew laughed her sparkling professional laugh and took it from there, and my own camera light went dark.
It's kindly been noted by the press that with my first red carpet coverage of the Oscars in 1985, I invented the red carpet arrival. But now, alas, dozens of entertainment news outlets have charged onto the scene: Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, along with all the networks and hundreds of magazines, so we are in a glutted market. Drew and I are the featured hosts with cable television's firecracker-style network, Glam-TV, and the suits at Glam expect us to outdo our competitors, star for bloody star. It's cutthroat. With such jackals as Diane Sawyer, Lisa Rinna, and Charlie Gibson in hot pursuit (I kid, but you don't want to get near an elbow when Charlie is running after Jennifer Lopez), the thing that distinguishes our trademark red carpet coverage for Glam boils down to a steady stream of big names, their own unfathomable sense of style, and, frankly, what unrehearsed and exciting moments Drew and I can coax out of them. Clearly, we are at a disadvantage without some big stars, and standing out on the carpet without a gigantic celeb next to me for more than thirty seconds of wasted time, I was now starting to get cranky.
I looked over at my wrangler, Cindy, my inner temperature rising. Her job was to provide fresh meat. She'd bungled Phoenix, and amid this blinged-out courtyard maelstrom of yapping publicists and beefy hangers-on, Cindy appeared not to be giving up without a fight: she was hanging on to the tuxedoed arm of Jamie Foxx as if her career were passing before her eyes. With Phoenix gone, she had been on the lookout for an approaching nominee. She had spotted the superstar's limo as it pulled up to the curb, expertly identifying Foxx through ultradarkened windows; made a beeline up to the rear door, outrunning the wrangler from Extra, elbowing aside the wrangler from E!, and tripping the wrangler from the BBC; caught Jamie by the sleeve of his midnight blue Armani jacket just as he stepped out onto the carpet; and herded him, between his stops to wave at the throngs of screaming fans in the bleachers, right down to my portion of the red carpet. On a good day, Cindy was like an Australian shepherd in a beaded Vera Wang. Looked like she was getting back to a good day. Thank God.
Billy Bush, standing down the row of entertainment reporters, called out, "Jamie! Over here!" and almost got his attention. Devon Jones from Entertainment Tonight screamed even louder, "Jamie, loverboy!" and at that, Jamie turned his head. But Cindy hung on tight and delivered him to me.
"Here's Jamie Foxx," I said just as my camera's light glared red. Finally. As we chatted about his picks for the Oscars this year, I heard Drew in my earpiece, letting Will, back in the control booth, know she was ready to go with Naomi Watts.
Drew has been my cohostess on all our Glam-TV Red Carpet Specials. While at age fourteen she had shown signs of a mother allergy so severe she had caused me to reconsider with dismay the sixty-one hours of hard labor I'd endured to bring her into this world, Drew had, at age twenty-five, grown up into a friend and wonderful interview partner. We make a good team. All the stars who will no longer talk to me -- the bastards -- will stop for Drew, who is young and bright and, let's face it, less lethal. Better for our show, she knows and likes all of young Hollywood -- she went to school with many of them -- and that history works in her favor every time. For our two-woman telecast coverage, I stand at the head of the line, and she always stands at the last position on the red carpet, ready to catch any celebrities who might manage to float past me on their way into the Kodak.
If I am like the strainer in the sink of Hollywood, Drew is the trap down at the bottom of the drain.
The pace of our preshow was picking up. Jamie Foxx left. Drew interviewed Naomi. I got a few quick words with Halle Berry, who looked amazing in Prada, and Sigourney Weaver, who didn't. Only twenty minutes until the doors to the Kodak would be closed. A crush of jewel-encrusted attendees choked the courtyard.
As we broke from our nonstop coverage for a quick commercial break, I turned to look at all the splendor and spandex. Between Drew and me was an ever-moving ocean of celebrities: Daniel Day-Lewis, Keira Knightley, and Cate Blanchett, each trailed by cameramen with handhelds grabbing full-length "beauty" shots; film producers checking their cells for text messages, eyed closely by the wives they were most likely cheating on; Denzel Washington escorting his beautiful daughter; young actors and the scantily clad teenagers with whom they were falling in or out of love; the accompanying fleet of agents, public relations mavens, managers, mothers, escorts, flacks, and handlers; closeted gays and their "girlfriends"; out lesbians and their girlfriends; and a string of dozens of fixed-camera units focused on entertainment reporters who were feasting on all the glamour like a gang of dolled-up vampires with their fangs in the neck of Hollywood. I shook my head. Poachers!
I looked up to see George Clooney approaching. Now, this was more like it. In my ear, I heard Will's voice barking that we had thirty seconds to air, but with George on the way, I began to relax for just a second. In this business, that is one second too long.
George is always a doll, and the renewed, super-charged-up Cindy had nabbed him, but in the moments we were waiting to get back on the air, ET's Devon Jones circled around Cindy and George, and then begged his publicist, Stan Rosenfield, "Stan, let me have five seconds."
"No!" I shouted over the crowd, glaring at Cindy.
"Three seconds," Devon pleaded, tugging on the publicist, who was holding on to George. "We'll put you on the air, too."
"We're ready right now," I lied. But all could see that my red light was off and Devon's was on.
Meanwhile, Will, watching our lost skirmish from the control booth where he could see us from various angles on many screens, had been in the middle of counting down to my live shot with George. "Five -- four -- three -- " he'd been saying. Then, suddenly, he screamed in my ear, "Damn it! You lost another one!"
Cindy, in shock, grabbed hold of the nearest star, Pamela Anderson, who was in midsentence talking to reporter Sam Rubin on live coverage, and spun her around, propelling her in my direction.
"...two...one!" came the disembodied voice of Will in the last of the countdown from my earpiece.
"Hi, Pam," I said brightly, "I see you brought your two most dazzling accessories." Then I immediately launched into an impromptu discussion on her latest marriage and divorce situation, making several bitterly brilliant jokes about failed relationships. This was not the lightest subject for me to joke about these days since Drew's engagement to that idiot Burke Norris had recently been called off. The story goes that she dumped him. Technically. But her decision was heavily influenced by his appalling fondness for spending the night at other women's apartments. It made my teeth hurt; I detested him so much, but okay. Drew was moving on. They were simply incompatible. She was a Pisces, and he was an asshole.
"One minute, Mom," Drew sang in my ear as I stood smiling at my live camera, reminiscing off the top of my head about all the brooding leading men I had once known or, frankly, fantasized about.
Meanwhile, Cindy was trying to snatch back our lost star George Clooney, who was now graciously receiving suck-up compliments from Devon Jones as the precious remaining minutes until the Oscar telecast clicked off.
My lineless eyes narrowed. No matter how expensive her borrowed dress, Devon looked, as always, cheap. She had taken thin to an extreme and had yet to find a shade of red that didn't make her look like a hooker long past retirement age, but that was simply no excuse to swipe the Aest of the Alisters from the clutches of my wrangler and keep him for herself. Devon was known to be a talent-challenged reporter, but she had been around the block and had hung on to her job year in and year out by finding ever new ways to stoop lower.
Cindy, at this point, slammed her head in her hands, defeated. Next to her, also off-camera, stood my hearty behind-the-scenes crew. No one in my position can do the job alone, and I do not perform without wonderful backup. Allie, my makeup girl, with her waiting powder brush, and Unja, my hairstylist, with his can of hairspray, shook their heads in sympathy at the lethal Clooney poaching. My stern Samoan driver/bodyguard, Malulu Vai, held my tiny Yorkshire terrier, Killer, and both looked equally miffed.
Pam Anderson said, "And that's why I am planning to take night classes at UCLA." With a wave, she walked on.
Meanwhile, Cindy looked after the one that got away, her eyes frantic. Clooney's publicist was edging George down the runway. Devon's "three seconds" had turned into "a thirty," and she clearly wasn't letting George move on. Noting all this, I still had to keep my head in the game, so I gave my live TV audience a brief review of Pamela Anderson's ensemble. "Chanel. Who could go wrong! She looked amazing from the ankles up, but did you see her shoes? Are you kidding me? The straps. The platforms. The rhinestones. The tassels. Cinderella would rather stay single than put those on."
My support team, off-camera, were all amused. Only I really feel the pressure. Only I know quite literally how we are doing at every second of the show. This perception of the rhythm of the show fuels my performance but also makes me vibrate on a slightly higher key -- all my senses ratcheted up. My support crew, however, never quite gets how seriously we are teetering on the brink of disaster. Even now, Allie was bent over laughing, which drives me crazy. Unja was just happy to be at the Oscars. Even my Yorkie, Killer, had a smile for me. Okay, from Malulu I got nothing, but what else was new?
Then, from out of nowhere, Cindy refished Joaquin Phoenix out of the ocean of stars and pushed him at me.
"Here he is!" I shouted out to all of America. "The guy who so brilliantly played Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, a movie, I should point out, that made me realize not all country singers pee out the window of their tour buses and wear Roach Motels around their necks. Oh," I assured my audience, "some do. They're animals, believe it. But not all! So I learned something. The man you're all waiting to meet. Here's..."
Cindy, still out of my camera shot, turned a shade of purple that didn't really go with her peach gown. She had lost Phoenix yet again. This time, he chose to schmooze with the beautiful Scarlett Johansson. Cindy started giving me big, call-it-off hand signals, arms swinging down across her body as if she were waving off a jet from landing on an aircraft carrier in stormy seas.
At this point, time ticking away as it was on live TV, I might have right oncamera broken one of our unspoken rules and glared a bit at Cindy from my upstage eye, but as I had just had that very eye relifted not too long ago, I resisted the urge. Here I was, Maxine Taylor, the Queen of the Red Carpet, with no star to interview.
"Screw him, that bag of no talent," I said to my camera brightly. "Here's an even better star!" Take that, Joaquin. And this time, with my famous croak shouting above the crowd noise, I yelled out, "George! George!" and George Clooney, God love him, waved at me, breaking off from talking to Devon. He came over and spoke to me for a full, undivided minute and gave me the worldwide exclusive on what brand of underwear he preferred (Calvins). Is there any wonder why women worship this man? It was a glorious red carpet moment!
The next interview was Drew's, and as the red light on my camera went off, my stylists rushed in to powder and straighten and spray.
"You were so funny," giggled Allie as she touched up my lip gloss with a tiny brush. In addition to knowing her Bobbi Brown from her Laura Mercier, Allie was an insistent laugher.
"You don't have to laugh," I told her. "You do makeup. That's enough." She'd been doing my makeup for seventeen years, and we'd had three hundred of these conversations.
"George Clooney!" moaned Unja, as he rushed up with a hairbrush at the ready. I had recently discovered Unja, my darling new hairstylist, on a visit to London, and for tonight's event I had brought him to the States for his first visit. Surrounded by all this glorious Hollywood manhood, Unja was coming unglued. He'd brought a tiny camcorder and was now documenting every second of the trip. Here, closer to celebrities than he'd ever been in all his twenty-three years, he'd strapped the camcorder to his cap and had it on permanent record mode. Unja fingered my straight blond bangs a quarter inch to the left and said distractedly, "I wish these were longer."
"I can't see."
"Who cares? This is so now," Unja advised.
"I suppose it could help," I added. "I'm blind as a bat, so when I say to somebody, 'I didn't know who you were,' they'll just think it's the hair."
Allie, bringing out her powder brush and swiftly powdering down my shine, giggled.
Unja pushed daintily at the ironed-straight bangs. "I can move them over a smidge."
"Just part it so that the iris shows."
He worked on it. "This style is really hot," he added in his cute British accent. "You look like a Jewish Marilyn Monroe."
"Right. The way she looks now."
With my hair adjusted, I could now see my precious teacup Yorkie, Killer, over on the sidelines. Killer, seven pounds of pure personality and fluff, tilted his little head, and I smiled at the good boy, who was staying so nice and quiet while Mommy worked.
Holding Killer was my Samoan bodyguard, Malulu Vai. Tall, swarthy, and devoted to plus-size pantsuits, Malulu had come to me four years ago after a scary fan incident, but I had kept her around long after it turned out that idiot had misaddressed two hundred passionate love notes meant for Liz Taylor. Anyway, I had become fond of Malulu. Okay, she probably wasn't the only graduate of the University of Pago Pago with a BA in philosophy to be employed as a driver, but I appreciated her for her other handy skills: she had an instant grasp of every sort of technological gizmo and gadget, was a master of the secret and deadly Samoan martial art, Limalama ("hand of wisdom"), could sew like Betsy Ross, and freely quoted lines from Twelfth Night and Fiddler on the Roof with a Samoan lilt.
Malulu looked at me, perplexed. "Marilyn Monroe, she was Jewish?" Unfortunately, Malulu has absolutely no sense of humor. Tell me I'm not being punished.
Through the earpiece, I heard Will's squawk: "In fifteen seconds we go to commercial. You can wrap it up, Drew."
I checked the Winston. In just nine minutes we would finish our show and be off the air, but first a long commercial break.
Cindy came rushing up to me. "Joaquin Phoenix. That bastard! I'll make it up to you. I promise. I'm so -- "
I waved her apologies away. Like it or not, we are in the major leagues. There is only one Academy Awards night. If one member of the team blows it, we're all out of work on Monday. "Drew," I hissed, "who doesn't even have a wrangler, is at this very min-ute finishing up with Matt Damon!" I let the accusation hang in the air.
"Mom," Drew called, pushing through the crowd. Cindy melted into the background.
I looked up through my bangs, startled. Drew, having completed her interview and thrown to commercial, had rushed over to my camera position to see me.
"Drewie, we only have a few minutes on this break."
"Five," she said. "Mom, we need to talk! I just got the most amazing text message." She held up her BlackBerry, waving it.
"It better not be phone sex from that traitor Joaquin Phoenix, because I'm telling you, I am through with men with scars."
"You won't believe this, Mom. I just got a text from Halsey!"
Oh, no. Not Halsey again. While everyone admired Halsey Hamilton's talent, her life choices were just a shame. Drew had been at private school with Halsey ten years ago, and somehow Drew had appointed herself the rescue ranger for this mixed-up girl, but it was like trying to save a drowning elephant. When it came to screwing up a life, Lindsay and Britney could take lessons from Halsey Hamilton, who was currently the tabloid princess du jour.
I looked at my daughter -- beautiful dress, beautiful jewels, beautiful skin she'd inherited from her mother -- and worried, yet again, at her commitment to her bent-on-destruction friend. A year of headlines had screamed, "Halsey in Club Raid!" "Halsey Busted for Pills!" "Halsey in Rehab!" "Halsey in Rehab Again!" "Halsey Fills Out Permanent Change-of-Address Card and Directs Mail to Rehab for Life!" Only in the last few months had the headlines died down. Even after her role in the Best Picture front-runner, The Bones of War, brought her a Best Actress nomination, Halsey had kept an amazingly low profile.
"So...what? She's in trouble again?" I asked, not surprised. As if that were a question.
"No, no, no," Drew said, smiling. "She's fine. She's great."
"Wonderful," I said, unable to resist pushing my daughter's long, dark hair off her face. Instantly, Unja appeared with a hairbrush, his videocam still attached to his head, and quietly went to work, performing magic on her heavy curls.
Drew knew my feelings regarding her hairstyles and suspected sabotage. "Mom!"
I looked all innocence. "What? Unja thinks you need a little help. Humor him." To distract her, I recalled, "Halsey's in Expectations, isn't she?" I referred to the luxury rehab facility in Malibu that had been the temporary home to many of Hollywood's young and wasted. It was such a shame about all these girls. But with Halsey it was somehow worse. She'd risen from a celebrated childhood acting for Spielberg and Disney, possessing an adorable mix of innocence and wisdom, and blossomed into that miracle, a child star who still looked good after puberty and could act. But with all the fame and the money came the turmoil. She'd been arrested so many times for drinking and driving, her bail bondsman had given her a bythe-dozen discount.
"She's not at Expectations anymore. She checked out of there in November," Drew said. "She moved to another rehab place called Wonders in Pasadena."
"Thanks for telling me." I looked at Drew accusingly. She and Halsey had been close for several years. Drew, about six years ahead of Halsey at school, had been her "big sister," so you think I would have been told.
"You never listen," Drew replied.
"That's because you never tell me anything good."
Mother. Daughter. Does it ever change?
Drew, her hair now completely gorgeous, gently waved Unja away. "Mom, don't be like that. She didn't want anyone to know."
I was impressed. Usually Halsey had her people issue a press release every time she went to the bathroom. Good for her. Maybe this time all the help the poor girl was paying for was actually working.
In our ears, Will's voice snapped, "Two minutes to air. Drew, get back to your place."
"Mom," Drew said, waving her BlackBerry. "Halsey completely disappeared for months. She's been taking care of herself. She's doing the steps. She wanted to stay away from Hollywood until she had four months of sobriety. But..."
"Mom," Drew said, abruptly changing the subject. "Tell the truth. How are we doing tonight?"
"We've done better. I counted thirty-two gets."
"Twenty-nine," Drew said.
"Damn you for being better at math than I am."
"We're in trouble, right?"
I could pretend, but what good does that ever do? We were now in a crowded field, and our ratings would only stay high if we delivered the best stars. Twenty-nine gets meant we were down five from last year. That's huge. We'd get the final ratings for our show later, but I knew in my gut we were going down. So, yes, we were in trouble.
Drew knew it too, yet she looked excited. "Mom, Halsey is the answer."
"She's not coming tonight, is she?" It had been rumored and reported for weeks that she would absolutely not jeopardize her shaky sobriety by attending the awards show. Even Perez Hilton, the Web gossip star, assured fans Halsey wasn't coming.
"She's here!" Drew whispered, waving the BlackBerry.
"Can we get her?" This would be phenomenal. Amazing. No one would remember the ones we missed if we got an ungettable star such as Halsey. One Halsey Hamilton was equal to ten other gets. I felt the adrenaline pump. I recalled years past and the many sleepovers at our old Bel-Air house -- Halsey hanging out with Drew and her big-girl friends.
From our earpieces we both heard Will's warning: "One minute!"
"Oh, yeah," Drew said, smiling. "She says she'll only do one interview, and we have it!"
I smiled back at my adorable, sensible, sober daughter. "I always liked Halsey, Drewie. She's a troubled girl, but good, thank God. She remembers you have always been a very good friend to her."
"No, no, she wants to talk to you."
"What? Why not you?"
"She's wearing an amazing outfit and wants you to do your whole Max Taylor fashion thing. Look, she's pulling up in that white Hummer limo. See?"
I looked off in the direction Drew pointed. God bless Halsey! I would pull this sucker out of the toilet yet. The only red carpet show to get Halsey Hamilton. On earth. Exclusive. I could imagine tomorrow's network coverage of the Oscars: wall-to-wall video clips on every channel. The winners. The fashions. And Best Actress Halsey Hamilton -- it could happen -- in her shocking return to Hollywood, as seen in her exclusive interview with...me. The public would walk over nails to see her. What did Halsey look like after these long months of exile? Had she let her hair grow out? Did she get a few tattoos removed? Had she bought underpants? In an instant, our fortunes had turned.
Drew squeezed my hand, then pushed quickly back to her spot as Will counted down the seconds to airtime in our ears.
My red light blinked on. "Hello, we're back! What a wild night this has been. But get ready. We have lots more show coming. And wait! We have big news. The one nominee who was expected to skip tonight's awards ceremony, the adorable Halsey Hamilton, is on her way here right now."
Quickly, Malulu, always dependable, slipped me an info card on Halsey below camera range as I continued, "It's a night to congratulate Halsey on her magnificent performance in one of the year's best films, and we certainly will, but this one dramatic high point only accentuates many, many lows. Everyone knows the regrettable events. The arrest for indecent exposure on a Singapore Airlines flight to Asia, where charges were eventually dropped. The rush to St. John's hospital after her eighteenth birthday party where her stomach had to be pumped after eating, her publicist later claimed, too many pieces of rum-spiked birthday cake. The fourteen-hour marriage to Thom Denney, the drummer of indie band Whaler, who, it turned out, was still married; and the wedding-night video threesome with the minister -- as seen on YouTube. All tragic missteps."
In the background, I could hear an announcement coming from the exterior loudspeakers: "Ladies and gentlemen, doors are closing. Please take your seats. Doors are closing."
I pressed on. "But here's our happy ending. Halsey went away to rehab. She got the help she needed. She straightened herself out. And now the Best Actress nominee for The Bones of War is coming here. To the Oscars! Tonight. So stay right with us here on Glam-TV, because I have the one...and only...interview with Halsey Hamilton."
By this point, even I was excited about what was to come, but scanning the now thinning crowd, I noticed with a weary eye that Halsey had not yet appeared. Damn! I listened to my earpiece and followed Will's onthe-fly advice. "But first," I said brightly to the camera, "Drew has both Colin Farrell and Will Ferrell. Take it away, Drew."
The camera light went off and all hell broke loose around me. Danny, my bald lug of a cameraman who was dressed in Teamster chic -- a baseball cap and dirty jeans topped by the required formal dinner jacket -- was the first to speak. "Hey, Max. No shit. Halsey is talking to us exclusive?"
"Yes. So listen up." My troops -- Allie, Unja, Danny, Cindy, and Malulu, holding an alert Killer -- gathered. "Look around chickadees. The news has broken." Actually, I myself had just announced Halsey's surprise arrival, but now every news director from here to Uzbekistan had heard me and alerted the media. Damn.
The buzz was working its way around the red carpet. I saw Ryan Seacrest practically drooling and making a run for the open drop-off spot at the curb. MTV's coolest entertainment reporters, those hot young Sullivan brothers, Matt and Kevin, thought nothing of knocking Ryan aside. Mary Hart, Lisa Rinna, Sam Rubin, Devon Jones, and Al Langer were grabbing their portable mikes and heading over. Even Charlie Gibson looked longingly at the curb. Of the thousand other photographers standing by, several hundred were craning their necks to see if Halsey was arriving. We had to get this right.
"Now, look," I said, "Cindy..."
My wrangler, tall and gorgeous in her strapless gown, shiny black hair pulled back, looked alert. "I'm on this, Max."
"No excuses, no regrets. Halsey is mine. Understand me? Mine! Do not let this one get away or you'll be floating facedown on the Yangtze River!"
"I'm on this," Cindy repeated, a strained smile on her face. She lifted her beaded gown and ran off. That girl ran like a gazelle.
Allie powdered my forehead, but I shooed her away. "Can you see Cindy? Did she get to Halsey?" The curb was only about fifteen feet away, but even up on my four-inch-high, gold-and-Swarovski-crystal Manolo sandals I couldn't see over the crowd.
"Look," Danny said. At six feet four he had the best view. "Halsey's limo has arrived, but the door hasn't opened. She isn't coming out. Hey, it's a feeding frenzy near that limo."
Despite my Michael Kors and my diamonds, I realized this was not the time for ladylike. I was off-camera, and as long as Drew kept one of her Farrell-Ferrells joking and the other one smoldering -- not such an easy task -- my mike was not "hot." Stepping up onto a packing crate, which the faithful Malulu miraculously procured, I screamed out, "Cindy! Halsey is ours. Exclusive. Go and get her!"
The circus of reporters and cameramen with handhelds crowding close at Cindy's heels, pressing hard against Halsey's limo, heard me too. For that matter, who, even as far away as Santa Monica, hadn't?
Cindy saluted me, then, shoving the crowd back, she knocked hard on the window of the long, white stretch Hummer. With no apparent response, she opened the rear door and looked inside. Whatever she saw inside Halsey's limo, Cindy threw her hands up to her mouth and didn't make a move.
What? What could Cindy possibly be thinking? Ticktock, ticktock. We were minutes from the end of a live telecast. If Halsey had become momentarily shy of the press -- that would be a first, but after four months stashed away at rehab, who could blame her? -- Cindy just had to gently urge her along.
On the small television monitor that showed the live feed of our program, I could see the right-this-second live version of our show as it was being broadcast to all of America. Drew was wrapping up her segment, having both laughed at Will Ferrell and drooled at Colin. She was now ready to throw the show back to me.
"Cindy," I yelled to my girl at the curb, just nanoseconds before my mike would go live again. "Just grab her! Bring her! Get her now!"
It was a battle. The crowd of reporters and cameramen with handhelds didn't give an inch, but Cindy knew what was at stake. She slivered herself into the open limo door and disappeared.
Minutes seemed to chug by. Hours. Days. Then Cindy's Vera Wang-covered butt backed out into view.
"Are you getting this, Danny?" I called to my cameraman as he worked the lens to focus a close-up on Halsey Hamilton emerging from the Hummer. From my earpiece I heard the end of Drew's "...so back to you, Mom. And say hi to Halsey for me!"
"Yes, Drew. I will!" I said into my suddenly hot mike. Just a few feet away at the curb, Cindy, having pulled Halsey onto the red carpet, cautiously kept her hand locked on Halsey's wrist. But Cindy stepped out of the way and allowed the world to welcome this returning princess.
"Oh my God! Oh my God!" whispered Allie with a hushed giggle.
"What is she wearing?" demanded Unja in his stiff British accent, from behind his little personal camcorder, aghast. "Do you like her gown?"
"Dat not funny," added Malulu, holding a well-behaved Killer.
Halsey Hamilton, the nineteen-year-old beauty with the head of shining auburn tresses, was now standing in full view of the screaming fans, amid dozens of flashbulb-popping paparazzi and the entire international press corps.
Did I like her gown?
Tall, slender, stunning Halsey was standing on the red carpet.
She'd remembered to do her hair.
She'd remembered to do her makeup.
She'd forgotten to put on her clothes.
Copyright © 2009 by Joan Rivers and Larry A. Thompson