The sun had barely risen and there was still ice on the ground when we slipped into the overly warm cocoon of a Town Car that whisked us to BWI. Hours later, a second Town Car, this one chilled to champagne levels, silkily took over, delivering us from the Los Angeles airport to a hotel in Beverly Hills.
"Pretty woman ... " the driver purred, as he opened my door. I'm trying to work up a modest blush and demurral when he finishes his sentence: " ... was filmed here."
Ah, Hollywood - so easy to fall under its spell, and so quick for reality to splash you right out of it.
Every Hollywood story has a backstory. Here's this one: About 15 years ago, my husband, Stephen Hunter, whom some of you will remember from his days as The Sun's film critic, wrote a novel that has been made into a movie. Shooter, nee Point of Impact, opens in theaters nationwide this month but had its Hollywood premiere Thursday night.
Which is why we were conveyed, by our third Town Car of the day (temperature: just right), to a neon-lit movie theater in L.A.'s Westwood neighborhood, where our feet finally touched pavement - but only for the few steps it took to get to the red carpet.
Oh, you didn't see on Entertainment Tonight or E! or Access Hollywood? Perhaps the shots of us are being saved for next week's US Weekly or next month's InStyle. They were all there, on the other side of the barricade, their positions marked by place cards positioned in advance by the publicity people.
Or do you suppose the media horde was more interested in the actual stars of the movie, Mark Wahlberg, Danny Glover, Ned Beatty, Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Rhona Mitra? Imagine, the Hollywood paparazzi not interested in two winter-pasty, nonsurgically-enhanced, eminently unrecognizable East Coasters who never leave home without their underwear?
Actually, we did draw an explosion of flashing bulbs - who knows, maybe in the age of digital photography, you no longer have to worry about wasting film - and several TV reporters interviewed Steve, who gives great quotes. The cameramen were literally screaming at us - "Look this way!" "Now this camera, everyone, this camera!" "Closer together!" - and I had sort of an out-of-body-experience, having done a few tours myself on the other side of the barricade, in the media pit.
In the frenzy - I was juggling my camera, a pocketbook and a pashmina that somehow had turned into my own personal shroud of Turin - I forgot all the posing tips I'd gleaned from studying red carpet coverage on TV: one foot crossed in front of the other in sort of a ballet fourth position (flatters the legs), hands on the hips (prevents the arms from squishing fatly against the torso) and a serene, not too wide smile (summons up an aloof glamour). At the after-party, I picked up a fourth tip as I took a picture of my husband and Mark Wahlberg - lean toward the camera (makes you look engaged).
Of course, none of this matters if you already look like a movie star. Although, as everyone always notes, the stars turn out to be smaller in real life than on screen, there's something so perfectly formed and polished - like gemstones - about them. (Actually, it's the men who usually turn out to be shorter in real life; the women seem towering, with flamingo legs that start at their armpits and end in stilettos.)
We make our way into the theater - there's actually a movie screening squeezed in between the red carpet and the after-party. In a crowd like this, a movie plays like a high school graduation - as names appear in the opening credits, cheers erupt in various parts of the audience. Steve's daughter, Amy, two of our friends who live in L.A. and I give it up when "Based on the novel by Stephen Hunter ... " fills the huge screen. Not much of a posse by Hollywood standards, but I think we still kicked the butt of a few other posses.
At the party, all sorts of people jockey to speak to Steve - if the movie is a hit, he'll be the hot author everyone wants to work with; if it doesn't, or so he says, no one in the 310 area code will ever return his phone calls again. For now, though, he's a player. The movie's producers, director, writer and stars chat him up, complimenting the book and asking about his latest one, out this fall and featuring the same lead character, former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger. Amy and I are particularly taken with Mark Wahlberg, the movie's Bob Lee, who is sweetly serious in a pinstriped suit hiding the abs that sold million of pairs of Calvin Klein underwear and terribly nice about us taking endless variants of pictures of him - now you with Marky, now me, now both of us ...
The next day, I'm the cliche of the Hollywood wife - I sit by the pool as hotel staffers bring me bottled water and a lobster club sandwich while Steve is out doing lunch with his agent.
The way this is going, maybe I'm the one who will have trouble getting my calls through to him.