HOLLYWOOD -- When it comes to the fans of the Oscars, the real winners are in the bleachers.
That's where the luckiest fans get to sit, the ones willing to sleep outside a few nights, subsisting on the food they're able to carry in and enduring chilly L.A. evenings (Hey, in L.A., 50 degrees is chilly).
Their prize: They get as close to the Oscars as the average fan can get. Last night they watched the stars arrive, snapped a few pictures, breathed the same air as the stars they adore.
They also earned the envy of a couple thousand more fans who can't get that close, who are forced to flit around the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion like moths surrounding a flame, getting close but never actually getting inside. If they plan on doing better next year, they'd better get an earlier start because the days leading up to the Academy Awards prove one thing: Oscar slumming is not for the weak, of mind or body.
Those people you saw (or heard) on the bleachers last night, some of them had been there since Thursday. Almost all had spent at least one night, lugging coolers full of food and drink, using the portable toilets and being interviewed late into the night by curious journalists. To them, it's worth a little discomfort to see the stars.
"Brad Pitt. All I care about is Brad Pitt," says Tessie Salcito, who's been here since 10 p.m. Saturday on this, her fourth go-round as an Oscar outsider. "He wasn't here last year, even though he was supposed to be, and that was a major disappointment."
What's goes on here seems as much ritual as hero worship. In fact, most of the sleeping bag-ensconced fans (maybe 125, in stands that could comfortably hold another 50 more) are repeat attenders.
Mike McCune, from nearby Covina, shows up with a scrapbook of photos he's shot over the years from the bleachers -- crowds of people with a waving Glenn Close or Tom Hanks or Arnold Schwarzenegger stuck in the middle.
Babe Churchill, from Chino, has been here 27 times -- so long that she doesn't even remember who the big winners were her first time.
"I've always been a movie buff," she explains. I've never grown up, that's the problem."
But even the possibility of star encounters and photo ops aren't enough to convince some people to stay. There are always a few weaklings in every crowd.
Like Barbara and Bennie Carter from Oceanside, who prepare to abandon ship just before midnight. They've been here since 4 p.m., and they've had enough.
"It doesn't look like there's going to be room up there on those bleachers for us," Ms. Carter says by way of rationalization.
And then there are those whose expectations simply aren't reasonable. Mike Runnells brought his 13-year-old-son, Chris, to try and get some autographs from the celebrities showing up for Sunday's rehearsal. By 11 p.m. Sunday, after some 20 hours of waiting, he'd corraled Susan Sarandon, John Travolta and Gloria Estefan.
But Mr. Runnells wasn't entirely satisfied. "When you're looking for Sharon Stone, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, it's a little disappointing."
With the ceremony just an hour away, everybody wants to get in on the act -- and onto those bleachers. But unless you were there last night or real early this morning, the bleachers are off limits. You pretty much have to be satisfied with shuffling your way along the sidewalk outside, along with about a thousand other folks.
For some, that's not good enough.
"We're not disgusted, but we wanted to get closer," says first-time Oscar hanger-on Paulette Nichols, who's taking a few final pictures before heading home with her daughter, Allison. "But we'll be back next year. We really want to see Tom Cruise."
This year's just fine with Gail Lewicki, however. She and her daughter, Lisa, 17, flew in from Chicago this morning just for this. Their plane landed at 10: 45, they dumped their suitcases at the hotel, and here they are, waving crazily at every passing limo and hoping that maybe Robert Redford or Brad Pitt might step within eye shot.
"They laughed at us at the hotel," Ms. Lewicki says with an understanding smile.
But on TV, you don't get nearly the full effect. You don't hear the constant drone of helicopters overhead, watch the tuxedo-clad security force, get to pay $20 for an Academy Awards t-shirt that mentions Best Picture nominee "Liveing Las Vegas," nor get to laugh at the guy with the gaudy make-up tooting a bicycle horn and waving a sign that reads, "Put the love scenes back in "Babe."
What's worse, you don't get to watch the supporting cast, the folks who show up wherever crowds gather. Although Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition has yet to make its promised appearance, the religious zealots are out in force, yelling at people they insist will fry in hell (most everybody, apparently) and waving placards that read, "Homo Sex is Sin," "Down With Dirty Movies" and, a crowd favorite, "Jesus, Not Oscardultery."
Down the block, Eliana Tomlin is trying to explain why she's been hovering outside the pavilion since early this morning: "I just want to see somebody important."
Pub Date: 3/26/96