A crisp spring day in 1981 and Mom was so excited when I mentioned I might be able take her with me to L.A. to see the Academy Awards.
I had my press accreditation, but what about Mom? How would I get her in? That was but a minor stumbling block. One L.A. reporter who was a friend of mine had been assigned to cover only the arrivals at the ceremony before going back to the office. She agreed to give me her accreditation badge.
Such a move, of course, was not strictly kosher, but hey – I had been watching the Oscars with Mom since I was seven.
“Wouldn’t it be vunderful, Tomika to be dere in Hollywood right now? Can you imagine?”
“I promise you Anyu that when I grow up, if I ever get nominated for an Oscar, I will buy you a beautiful dress and I will take you to Hollywood.”
Okay so I was never nominated. Mom did have to buy her own beautiful dress. But I did get her to L.A. for Oscar night.
She was thrilled when we checked into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and she spotted Timothy Hutton. He would go on to become the youngest actor to win the Best Supporting Actor award. He was only 20 at the time or, as Mom said, “Just a kid, but a very talented kid.”
The official date stamped in gold on the Academy Awards program was March 30 1981, but the actual presentation took place a day later.
Why? Because there has been an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in Washington. The decision to postpone the show until the following night was made only four hours before it was about to begin.
Mom was very upset when she heard the news.
“What are we going to do?”
“You are going to get dressed so we can go out to dinner. And I am going to go downstairs and tell them we have to stay an extra night.”
I was not the only person lined up at the front desk. Everyone in town was scrambling. Tuxedo rental companies were going crazy and any calls to limo companies were greeted with busy signals.
“I am here with my mother and we have to stay an extra night because of the Oscar delay.”
“I am really sorry, sir. We are doing our best to accommodate everybody, but we really are full for tomorrow night.”
“You don’t understand. My mother is very fragile. This is very important to her. She is closely associated with the Istvan Szabo film ‘Confidence’ which has been nominated for Best Foreign Film.”
She was associated with it in a way. The film was Hungarian and so was Mom.
My white lie worked. Our hotel stay was extended by one night.
The following night was Oscar night. Mom and I arrived early at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and strategically stationed ourselves on a patch of sidewalk. We had an unobstructed view to gawk as limousines deposited their glamorous celebrity content at the rate of three movie stars per minute.
I wore my press badge with my name on it while Mom proudly wore my friend’s badge. What could go wrong?
My friend’s editor said that one of his reporters had called in sick. My friend would now have to stay to cover the entire evening and obviously she would need her press badge back.
Now we had only one press badge between us. I would wear it for a few minutes and then Mom would wear it. If she saw someone who looked remotely official, she would discreetly hand it back t me.
This scheme worked very well until a 6”5” black cop casually walked up to us. He looked at me. Then he looked at Mom who was wearing my badge.
“Interesting,” he says. “Now please tell me which one of you is Tommy Schnurmacher?”
Before I could even open my mouth, Mom looked up at him and said, “Officer, it is my fault. The badge belongs to my son. I don’t have a pass. I am not a reporter.”
She handed me the badge.
“It’s okay, Officer. Don’t vorry, I vill just vokk beck to da hotel alone even though I am very afraid because Los Angeles is so dangerous. I hope I vill not get lost.”
“You’re not going to walk home alone, Ma’am. Come with me, you two.”
I was terrified we were going to be arrested. Mom did not appear remotely concerned. What did the cop do?
He took us to a place where we would have a better view!
“Take care of your mom,” he said to me. “It’s nice you brought her to the Oscars.”
More relaxed at this point, I provided Mom with a running commentary as the celebs arrived.
“There’s Eva La Gallienne. She’s nominated as Best Supporting Actress. She was born in 1899 and used to be a drama coach She once told Bette Davis she would never make it in the film business.”
“Who’s that elegant woman over there?”
“That’s Blythe Danner.”
I didn’t tell Mom that she was the mother of Gwyneth Paltrow for two reasons. First of all, I had no idea she was. And secondly, Gwyneth was nine years old at the time.
“Look, Anyu! There’s Lillian Gish. She is a Hollywood silent screen legend who starred in ’Birth of a Nation.’’
“Gish, Smish. Look over dere qvik! “Det’s Robert Redford. He is the gorgeous goy Barbra Streisand loved in ‘Da Vay Vee Veur.”
Mom did not know that she was about to meet that gorgeous goy.
Mom and I, you see, spent the whole evening in the press room waiting for the celebrities to be brought in. When winners finish making their acceptance speeches, they are immediately hustled backstage through a series of adjoining rooms. First came print media followed by radio and then television.
Redford won the Oscar for Best Director for the movie Ordinary People. When he was brought in, the sophisticated Hollywood press corps was so in awe of the guy that no one wanted to be the first to ask a question.
After an uncomfortable moment or two, one woman stood up. It my mother!
“Excuse me, Mr. Redford, but now that you hev an Academy Avard, vill you be running for president?”
He was most amused at the question. I was so impressed at the time that I thought if I ever wrote a book about Mom, I would call it ‘Excuse me, Mr. Redford.’
The day after the Oscars I took Mom for a drink at the famed Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. This was 1981 so there were no cell phones, but there were telephones at every banquette for producers to make deals without having to get up from the table.
I used one of those phones to call Zsa Zsa Gabor whose phone number I had because I had interviewed her on radio when she was promoting her national tour in the play Forty Carats.
I told her I was in Hollywood with my mother who was a big fan and would she mind talking to her for just a few minutes. It would really make Mom’s day.
Zsa Zsa Gabor was more than gracious. She agreed and the two of them babbled away in rapid fire Hungarian for about 15 minutes about every subject from men to shoes.
Zsa Zsa was very proud of all her shoes and wanted them to show them off. She actually invited Mom over to her mansion which had once been owned by Elvis Presley.
Guess what? Mom politely declined the invitation.
It turned out that Mom, who had no problem standing up in the press room to ask Robert Redford a question, was too shy to visit Zsa Zsa Gabor.
What did Mom say to Dr. Zhivago star Omar Sharif when she met him at the Cannes Film Festival? That’s another story.