Blitz Behind the Oscar Glitz

Blitz behind the Oscar glitz

Hollywood specialists supply the glamour that makesthe Academy Award stars shine

Thursday, March 22, 2001

By Rebecca Redshaw, For the Post-Gazette

LOS ANGELES — There’s no business like show business and there’s no place like Los Angeles at Academy Awards time. More than a billion people around the world will turn on their television sets Sunday to root for their favorite stars or movies to win the Oscar. It’s the opportunity to view how the other half lives, or the top 1 percent, to be more precise.
As celebrities step out of limousines onto the red carpet surrounded by hundreds of media personnel and adoring fans, there’s no disputing Hollywood as the glamour capital of the world. But the number of people behind the scenes it takes to get these stars of the silver screen ready for their close-ups is as intriguing as the stars’ entrance into the Shrine auditorium.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

This year, one of the nominated actresses will wear diamond earrings Harry Winston, Ltd. replicated from the costume jewelry worn by Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Valued at more than $2.95 million, this stunning pair of dangle earrings totals more than 80.91 carats.

James Kersey, a representative for the jeweler, is more than happy to relay how Harry Winston became involved with the Oscars.

“In 1943, the producer David Selznick borrowed jewelry for Jennifer Jones, who was nominated for best actress in ‘The Song of Bernadette,’ ” says Kersey. “Harry Winston has continued ‘loaning’ precious gems to nominees and presenters for the past 55 years.”

On Oscar night, as many as 20 nominees and presenters will be wearing Harry Winston diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls. Emeralds, with their degree of brittleness, can be damaged if not handled carefully, so they are rarely loaned.

Security around the awards is very tight. Jewelry is delivered by Brinks trucks, and a guard is assigned to protect pieces valued at more than $500,000.

“We’ve never lost anything,” notes Kersey. “Although one year Madonna gave us quite a scare. She was singing the nominated song from ‘Dick Tracy’ and wearing an incredible amount of jewelry, including a pink diamond worth millions and millions. At the end of the number, she took off one of the earrings and threw it into the audience. Unbeknownst to us, she had worn a pair of costume earrings similar to the ones on loan. Everybody thought she had absolutely lost her mind. I thought that was a very clever, funny thing to do. Heart-stopping, but funny.”

Stars frequently drop in at Harry Winston, on Rodeo Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills, to peruse possibilities for the big event. Everyone has a different idea about what looks best on them. In Kersey’s opinion, the simpler the dress the more important the jewelry.

“The wisest actress to me is the one who chooses her dress around her jewelry. If she’s wearing great jewels and a simple dress, she’s going to be photographed the most.”

The promotional value of the mention of an establishment’s name isn’t easily determined, but perhaps Harry Winston’s most entertaining publicity came a few years ago on the day of the Oscars when it loaned Kaye Coleman, the self-proclaimed “Waitress to the Stars,” a necklace and earrings worth $3.5 million.

Wearing her beige cotton Nate ‘N Al’s Delicatessen uniform and the same jewels Whoopi Goldberg would wear that evening as host of the show, Coleman served up pastrami sandwiches to the surprise of the lunch crowd — all while under the watchful eye of three armed guards.

“Everybody in L.A. knows who Kaye is,” says Kersey, “and it was a terrific day.”

Put on a happy face

A hundred actresses will carry a “Red Carpet 911″emergency makeup kit valued at $200 each on Oscar night, compliments of Valerie Beverly Hills. Just a five-minute walk from Harry Winston’s, the makeup salon owned and operated by Valerie Sarnelle is on the cutting edge of creativity in cosmetics.

Sarnelle, an attractive blonde who might easily be mistaken for one of her glamorous clients, speaks candidly about her successes and failures as an independent business woman.

“I built this up from nothing. Seventeen years ago, it was just a beauty salon with three hairdressers and me. It’s taken years to develop my own cosmetic line. In 1991, I wanted to go on TV and sell makeup, so I mortgaged our house and spent all of our own money. I actually failed, but it was a good experience because out of it came ‘Secret Weapon Foundation.’ ”

Now, in addition to her busy studio with more than 20 professionals on staff, she has placed her product line in upscale establishments in Los Angeles, New York, Boston and San Francisco, as well as online.

When it comes to award shows like the Oscars, Sarnelle is accustomed to last-minute phone calls. “Sometimes an actress will phone and ask what I would do and I go do a trial. They might have four dresses hanging there and, of course, the makeup changes with each dress.”

Listed among her clients are Oscar winners Jessica Lange and Goldie Hawn, as well as Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry and Sarah Jessica Parker.

“Frances McDormand is a client and a nominee [for Best Supporting Actress, “Almost Famous”]. I hope she calls,” Sarnelle says. “The Oscars are a big thing because it caters to people who don’t live in the real world.”

An in-shop appointment costs about $100, but an in-home visit from a Valerie employee starts at $300. The house calls are time-consuming but an important part of building a personal relationship.

“It doesn’t take an hour, it’s never an hour,” she says. “It’s driving. It’s preparing an area. It’s getting the client a Coke and then waiting while she talks to her shrink on the phone. It’s not just makeup. You sit and talk to them. You get to know their whole life.”

As an artist, the owner admires the look of various actresses who have left an impression on her over the years — stars such as Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren. Asked to name a contemporary who might fill their shoes, Sarnelle doesn’t hesitate. “I love Catherine Zeta-Jones. I think she’s got the look of old Hollywood. She is the epitome of what an actress should look like in my book. I’m into glamorous actresses, which means they should be smart and beautiful.”

Sarnelle credits part of what she calls her “cult following” to her candor with her clients.

“I really try to advise rather than accommodate. If an actress asks me, ‘Does this dress look good?’ and her thighs look big, I’ll tell her.”

There’s a small hotel

The rich and famous stay at the Four Seasons Hotel. Of course, only the rich and famous can afford to since the rates for one night start at $675 for a room and end at $4,000 a night for The Presidential Suite.

Discretion is a strong selling point for a clientele that routinely registers under aliases for protection and privacy. Situated unobtrusively on a corner just east of Beverly Hills and surrounded by luscious flowers and manicured greenery, the Four Seasons boasts of individual attention for the guests who occupy its 285 rooms.

Joyce Bonaventura, director of public relations, notes: “We have 519 employees, 70 of whom are managers, giving us an excellent ratio of staff to guest. One guest said to me, ‘My life should be as easy as my stay at the Four Seasons.’ ”

For the Oscars, the hotel is booked a month in advance, with one movie studio holding as many as 30 suites and 10 regular rooms.

“On any given day throughout the year,” Bonaventura says, “We’ll have eight or nine superstars registered. But Oscar week, that number leaps to 40 or 50 guests who require attention to the nth degree.”

Requests range from a guest who wants her suite blanketed only in fresh, white flowers to a guest with a passion for cigarettes who wants unopened packs placed in every available space so he never has to look for a smoke.

The day of the awards show, room service is inundated around 1 p.m. because everyone in the hotel wants to eat well before show time. Hundreds of limos, all arriving at approximately the same time, are coordinated by representatives armed with walkie-talkies and cell phones.

Televisions are placed throughout the lounge for guests and staff who watch the awards from the hotel. A personal note and a bottle of Dom Perignon are immediately delivered to the suite of any guest who wins a gold statue.

Any potential for disaster is handled with calm professionalism. Last year an actress lost her safe deposit key and had to leave without her jewelry. In less than an hour, Bonaventura found a locksmith to drill the box, phoned Academy Awards security and studio representatives, arranged transportation for a hotel manager to get through downtown Los Angeles on the busiest night of the year — all to deliver the jewelry in time for the ceremony.

As Bonaventura says, it’s all part of the service at the Four Seasons.

The look of love

A stone’s throw away from the Four Seasons Hotel you’ll find the Robert Matt Salon.

Or maybe you won’t.

A hair stylist for 25 years — and at this site the past seven — Robert Matt barely has a sign on the door. All of his clients are referrals; he has no walk-in traffic. When it comes to discretion, Matt makes the Four Seasons look like the Dew Drop Inn.

“The atmosphere is appealing to people who don’t want the glitz but want the quality,” says Matt. “There’s no difference in the work at a bigger shop, it’s just not where I’m at. People come to me to get truly individual attention, care and quality.”

With a staff of only five, Matt keeps the stress level down in his life and continues to enjoy working for himself. Eighty percent of his clients are in the entertainment industry, and 30 percent are men.

“Men are not as easy as people think. In the industry, they’re not the average man when it comes to looks.”

Of course, the Academy Awards is hardly an average event. Matt says there is a proper sequence of events in prepping a star for the Oscars.

“For a hair stylist to do his or her best work, certain things should occur. First, they bring the dress in. You must know the neckline and the material and, of course, the color of the gown for the hairstyle to be complementary. No. 1 is skin tone, then hair color, then makeup, then dress.”

Oscar attendees, wearing a top that buttons, should make an appointment no later than 2 p.m. By that time, their hair has been washed and, if desired, color treated. After being styled, it’s time for makeup and then a dash home to dress for the ceremony.

The secret to Matt’s success, he says, is only partly about fabulous hair.

“I enjoy centering a person. When you’re talking about Oscar night, their mind is going in a thousand different directions and their energy is fractured. I have a calming effect. That’s one of the qualities they appreciate in me.”

Everything’s coming up roses

As you walk past the Beverly Hills storefront of Flourish and Garland, your mind may trick you into believing you’re strolling along a quaint street in the heart of London. Fourteen years ago, owner and designer Joy Myerscough opened her specialty flower shop with only one other person on staff. Today, four designers, a manager and any number of drivers on stand-by create and deliver one-of-a-kind floral arrangements to famous clients on holidays, birthdays and special occasions like the Oscars.

In addition to flowers, the shop sells gift items — particularly vintage containers that complement the floral creations.

“More than half of our business is involved with the entertainment industry,” Myerscough says. “A major film producer just had his dining room redecorated, so I visited his home to make sure the fresh flowers he orders twice a week will complement the new decor.”

The challenge of an awards show is particularly demanding on a high-end floral design shop like Flourish and Garland. Myerscough has no idea who will send congratulatory bouquets until the day after the Oscars.

“We’ll hear from people around noon or 2 o’clock, and they want the flowers delivered right away. They’re all big artists and the custom arrangements reflect that in cost, anywhere from $200 to $300. What our clients are paying for is something unique that they’re not going to see on someone else’s table.”

Last year, Best Actor winners Kevin Spacey and Hilary Swank received gifts from the shop. Having watched the show the night before, the designer at Flourish and Garland created a bouquet to complement the beige gown and 18th-century jewelry Swank wore to accept her award.

Keeping in sync with “American Beauty,” Spacey’s vase consisted of dozens of “Black Magic” roses, which are a deep, velvety red.

Myerscough marvels at the changes in her business over the years.

“The flower industry has changed drastically. There are no more pre-dawn trips to the downtown flower mart. Vendors deliver every day or orders are placed online. Because technology for shipping has so improved, fresh flowers can be guaranteed delivered from the ground in Holland, Australia or Thailand to our shop in Beverly Hills in 24 hours.”

It’s all part of the business of show business.