The Academy Awards

By TJ Sullivan
Published: 03/27/1998
Ventura County Star

What about Richard Dreyfuss?

The Oscars are over and he’s pacing back and forth as hundreds of limousines around Shrine Auditorium head west, a great peppery line of huge ants bound for parties in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Hollywood.

But Dreyfuss isn’t going. He’s just eating and pacing, a white-headed scavenger circling outside the metal detectors at the auditorium's back door. He walks away from the table near the limo tarmac, munches on the snack he just snagged, hovers and then dives again.

The last of the big winners, actor Jack Nicholson and director James Cameron, finished up their media interviews long ago. The kids, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, are off somewhere with their moms.

Clean-up crews are moving in, cursing, primarily because they have to clean up. A couple of security guards are gushing about Ashley Judd’s dress (somehow the slit gets higher every time they tell the story). And white-collared caterers are heading out to buses that will shuttle them back to their cars, which were parked somewhere in Utah.

But what about Richard Dreyfuss?

He’s wringing a napkin, looking up the driveway expectantly, shoving his hands deeper into the pockets of his tux pants, composed and cool.

Michael Caine, who won an Oscar for best supporting actor in 1986, is sliding into a back seat, looking as stiff as ever. Joe Pesci, who was honored as best supporting actor in 1990, is puffing on a cigar, joking with security guards as he heads out.

But Richard Dreyfuss, who was voted best actor 21 years ago for his performance in The Goodbye Girl, is just waiting.

He’s a little heavier and shorter than fans might expect, but he wears it well. In trousers, suspenders and a tux shirt, spectacles on the bridge of his nose, Dreyfuss looks damned distinguished.

He lights up a cigarette and peers down the driveway again. Nothing.

It doesn’t matter who you are. At the Oscars, you wait.

Wild-eyed star searchers with $10 cameras start waiting on the sidewalks at least a day before the ceremony, hoping for a glimpse of someone whose name they know, not just that guy from that TV thing who always seems to get spotted at the mall.

As the hour of the telecast approaches, the beautiful people wait to get within stiletto-heel striking distance of the red carpet, limo locked into a stream that moves slower than the 405 at 4:05. But there’s no other way.


Then the show begins, and visits to the bar or the bathroom must be postponed until the next commercial break. Some wait in auditory pain as singers belt out the nominees for best original song.

But few wait like Richard Dreyfuss when the show is over and almost everyone else has gone home.

The buzz among the guards standing nearby is that his limo driver is lost. Some say the car is jammed in somewhere out there. Maybe Utah, who knows? But it’s not where its supposed to be — here.

People with walkie talkies are yammering into the plastic boxes, looking very Secret Service-ish: Mumble, mumble, mumble, Dreyfuss, mumble, mumble, NOW!

Warren Beatty and Garry Shandling traipse out. Like familiar dogs, Shandling and Dreyfuss eye each other, hands extended, eyes lighting up, teeth showing.

Beatty bends way over to hug Dreyfuss and then wanders over to his waiting limousine, dateless.

Beatty shouts back to Shandling: I’ll just sleep in the car for a while. Shandling yacks a little longer, then gets in the limo with Beatty. They leave.

Dreyfuss spins around a few times. A big guy with big gray hair, slovenly attired in red tennis shoes, a T-shirt and a dark suit coat, walks up. With a yellow shopping bag in his hand, the man, who looks a bit like screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, says something.

Dreyfuss smiles, responds and turns away. The big hair lingers uncomfortably for a moment.

There are so many unrecognizable faces passing in dresses and tuxedos. Even members of the media, who never made it outside the tent in back of the auditorium, are formally attired, properly spiffed for interviews with the winners. But most of the hacks are homeward bound now.

An hour earlier, you couldn’t swing a laptop in the media tent without hitting the hairsprayed head of a TV reporter. Now it’s just a mess of paper scraps and coffee cups.

The mouthwash, styling gel and body lotion containers in the portable men’s restroom need refilling. The urn of regular coffee is empty. The decaf pot is full and cold.

A U-haul truck starts lumbering down the driveway and Dreyfuss laughs like a machine-gun. “Now I’ll be moving some furniture and going home,” he jokes, shaking his head.

After the diesel engine on the truck cuts out, it’s quiet. The three helicopters, the Cessna and the Russell Stover Candies blimp that circled the auditorium for hours are gone.

Dreyfuss wanders into a trailer to keep warm. When the car finally arrives, it’s near midnight and it’s not the car he came in, the one with his stuff in it.

“Just give the driver your address and well take care of it,” one of the coordinators says.

Dreyfuss slips inside and away.

Some people wait a lifetime to go to the Oscars.

Some wait that long just to go home.



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TJ Sullivan is a literary author, investigative journalist, photographer and college instructor whose work has been published in a myriad of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and The Detroit News, the latter of which he delivered while working as a paperboy during his childhood in the City of Detroit. Sullivan's writing has received many top national honors, including the Sigma Delta Chi Award, the second oldest journalism award in the United States after the Pulitzer Prize. Other state and national accolades include first-place awards from Best of the West, the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors, the Associated Press News Executive Council and the Los Angeles Press Club. In 2006, Sullivan was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel, the highest title of honor bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the home of his alma mater, the University of Kentucky. Sullivan's years as a full-time newspaper reporter were spent at several esteemed publications, including the Santa Fe New Mexican, The Albuquerque Tribune, and the Ventura County (CA) Star. Sullivan has also written for NBC Universal, The Dallas Morning News and the preeminent public affairs website LA Observed. Sullivan is frequently sought as an informative and entertaining speaker on the craft of writing, the art of investigative reporting, and the intricacies of state, county and municipal government. His presentations have been featured at professional development conferences conducted by both The Poynter Institute and the national Society of Professional Journalists. Sullivan has taught journalism courses and coached writers at UCLA's award-winning student newspaper, The Daily Bruin. He has also taught as a part-time faculty member in the Journalism Department at California State University, Northridge. And, in 2006, he was an adviser to SPJ's The Working Press, an internship program for college-level student journalists. Sullivan is currently at work on his third novel, [working title "Howard is Home from The Loop"]. He lives in Chicago, Il.