It didn't count.
They started handing out gold statuettes inside the Kodak Theater Wednesday morning--but the "Oscars" were plaster replicas used for rehearsals, the "winners" were stand-ins pretending to be excited recipients, the names inside the envelopes were chosen completely at random, and the whole ritual was simply for Lou Hovitz's cameras, to make sure the director and his crew are ready come Sunday night.
The run-through with a crew of about two dozen stand-ins was supposed to last until noon, but it was sidetracked shortly after 11 a. m. when a nondescript figure in black shirt, blue jeans and Converse sneakers wandered onto the Kodak stage.
"Welcome to the 79th annual Academy Awards," stage manager Garry Hood said to host Ellen DeGeneres, an unscheduled visitor to the stage.
"Thank you," she replied. "But isn't that my line?"
Spotting DeGeneres onstage in his monitors inside the command truck parked behind the Kodak, Horvitz playfully began a countdown over the p.a. system. "We're live in five, four, three " he said. "Cue Ellen."
DeGeneres grinned. "We're on the air now?" she asked. "But I'm not ready. "
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A pause. "I have to pee."
Over the next 15 minutes, the group surrounding DeGeneres gradually swelled from a handful to almost two dozen, as Horvitz, producer Laura Ziskin, co-producer Danette Herman, supervising producer Michael Seligman, writer Bruce Vilanch and a large crew of others joined her on the stage.
DeGeneres eyed the cards that indicated where stars and nominees would be sitting. "I don't want Penelope Cruz so close to me," she said, laughing.
"No problem," said Horvitz. "We'll throw her out." Looking back about 20 rows, DeGeneres then spied the card for Kevin O'Connell, the 19-time sound nominee who's never won. "Oh, I need Kevin O'Connell moved closer," she said. Horvitz promised to take care of that, too.
The first-time Oscar host didn't have any official business on the stage, but she did hang out for a couple of hours and do a string of television interviews; before you can host the show, after all, you've got to sell the show.
DeGeneres talked about how she's not nervous now, but she will be on Sunday; about what she's going to wear; about how she doesn't plan on making jokes about Britney Spears. And then the next crew stepped up, and she talked about those things all over again.
As she did her interviews, rehearsal moved onward, with much of the day devoted to a particularly complex (and secret) performance slated to occur early in the telecast. One new face on the show is model Eric Weldon, who will become only the third man in the last twenty years to bring out Oscars and help guide winners offstage. Women, who are invariably dubbed "trophy girls," usually handle the job but every so often a trophy boy slips in, too.
In 1989, for example, producer Allan Carr used male trophy presenters on what was perhaps the most derided Oscar telecast of all time. The job then went exclusively to women for the next dozen years--until March, 2002, when Ziskin hired model and ex-"Survivor" contestant Silas Gathier for the gig.
Backstage, Gaither quickly became known for his goofy grin, and for hitting on every woman who passed his way. Weldon's first day on the job, though, appeared to be smoother and less eventful.
Outside the Kodak, meanwhile, workmen continued to lay the red carpet, which runs along Hollywood Boulevard before making a right turn and heading into the Hollywood & Highland mall and toward the Kodak.
The stretch of the carpet immediately after that turn crosses the sidewalk and covers several stars on the Walk of Fame. Since the carpet has yet to be laid in that area, you can see that Oscar attendees will be tromping on several luminaries with definite ties to the Oscars.
Previous winners Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Steven Spielberg all have stars that lie directly beneath the red carpet--and so does this year's best-director favorite, Martin Scorsese.
The carpet, incidentally, is not simply laid on top of the Hollywood Boulevard pavement. This afternoon, workmen were using bags of sand to fill in potholes and smooth out manhole covers. After all, high heels and long dresses with trains are hard enough to deal with on even surfaces; can't risk any untoward stumbles in front of all those cameras.