Oscar night approaches and something is missing. My kids. The nest is empty, and 364 days a year I’m fine with that. But not on Oscar night. Let me tell you why. Growing up, kids are like natural hostages. Until they get their driver’s license, they’re pretty much always there. And the night of the Academy Awards was no different. On that night in March (now February) my children, the two cats and I would gather in front of our living room or sometimes bedroom TV and take it all in. This was before we all had wide screens that now make the event seem like a private Oscar party. It was just a modest little TV. We’d sit in rapt attention and watch what to me was the most exciting part. Everyone’s magical entrance. The Red Carpet.
As each stunning actress made her way through the gauntlet of tedious interviews, I would ooh and aah at how beautiful she was. That’s when my kids would turn to me, me sitting there in my dirty sweats, my unkempt hair tied above in a twisted knot, no makeup, and assure me that I was even prettier!!! I’m not kidding. No matter who the actress was or how young and beautiful, my kids would yell, in unison, that I was MUCH prettier. “You’re MUCH prettier than her, mom!!” Don’t get me wrong, I know they were humoring me, I’m not delusional, but I bought it. And, I looked forward to it every year.
I grew up in Beverly Hills, but on the wrong side of the tracks, south of Wilshire. It wasn’t where the stars lived, even though our house was located only a half mile from the Hilton, the current site of the Oscar Nominees Luncheon and the Governor’s Ball. My father was a B-movie producer, but most people might grade his movies with a D. He was a joyful, glass-completely-full kind of guy, who was thankful for everyday of his life on this planet.
So, in 1980, when the day came that he was finally recognized for his cinematic achievement, you would have thought he won Best Picture. On the contrary, his 1951 production, “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla” received the Golden Turkey award for Worst Movie of All Time. He beamed at this late recognition. Although he’d often said, “I made 104 movies, all of them shit,” he never dreamed that any were award worthy.
My mother assisted the famous makeup artist, George Masters, and together they worked on some of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses. But talk about movie star looks. I stare at my mom’s photo now and ask myself, how could I have not told her, even once, that she was more beautiful than any of those red carpet starlets. Unlike me, she, in fact, was. Coulda-woulda-shoulda may also be the reason why the Oscars resonate for all of us – the secret fantasy that that gold statuette coulda-woulda-shoulda been ours. Which is such a stretch for me since I only acted in some commercials in the 70’s. But, hey, why not? Dream on.
My real dream is that my kids find their way to reading this piece and show up at my door Sunday night. The big night. Oscar night. I can almost hear them as the A-list nominees strut their stuff down the red carpet: “Mom, you’re MUCH prettier!!!”.
Fredrica Duke shares how she discovered her love of food while growing up in Los Angeles on her blog Channeling the Food Critic in Me.
by Chef Mark Shoup