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Prologue

Sometimes, the best parties to attend are the ones you were never invited to in the first
place.
This has been true of many of my exploits over the years, but especially so of the Vanity
Fair Oscar Party. The bash was infamously star-studded, and over the years it had been
populated with the likes of Kirk Douglas and Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston,
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Spike Lee and Meryl Streep, Prince and Jay-Z, hotshot
producers and big-time agents and mega-pop stars and best-selling novelists. It was a party so
exclusive, with an invitation so coveted, that security team members were routinely bribed with
cash in exchange for entry. Needless to say, I wanted in.
I’ve had a unique relationship with the Academy Awards ever since 1972. That was the
year Charlie Chaplin famously returned from exile in Switzerland to receive an honorary Oscar
—and the year a friend and I, then seniors at the University of Denver, found our way into the
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and onto the stage to shake his hand. The next year, I managed to get
on stage again—this time alongside the talented Academy Award winner for Best Actress, Liza
Minnelli. In the years following, as I built a successful career as a political consultant, I stayed
away as part of a deal I struck with the head of security to “never crash the Oscars, again,”
though my annual Oscar parties have achieved a level of infamy among my friends.
By the mid-aughts, Vanity Fair’s shindig had been the preeminent post-ceremony
celebration for over a decade, picking up where talent agent Irving Lazar’s left off in 1994. Lazar
—whom Humphrey Bogart nicknamed “Swifty” after the agent closed three deals for the actor in
a single day—started hosting an Oscar night bash with his wife, Mary, in 1964. It soon became
the hottest party in town, eventually landing, after several different locations, at Wolfgang Puck’s
Spago in 1985. These were star-studded, if not necessarily relaxed, affairs: Swifty was
immensely well liked, though he was known to be a stern host, oftentimes screaming at his
guests (he forbade them to be late). When he died in 1993, the esteemed editor of Vanity Fair,
Graydon Carter, became the de facto torchbearer.
Back in 1994, the Oscars were still held on a Monday, so Carter opted to hold the affair at
Morton’s, where the who’s-who of Hollywood elite converged to do business—particularly on
Mondays. In its heyday, the restaurant was so discreet and accustomed to celebrity—studio
heads, producers, actors, and wannabe studio heads, producers, and actors—that, as legend has it,
Jack Nicholson felt comfortable eating at the bar alone.
From the get-go, Carter established a few general ground rules: once inside, for example,
the party would be extraordinarily democratic—no roped-off sections, no shadowy V.I.P. areas.
The guest list, Carter revealed in 2005, took two months of deliberation. Its mix of rock stars,
literary legends, politicians, athletes, and newsmakers, as well as both new and old Hollywood,
catalyzed encounters and interactions that were simply not possible any other night of the year. It
was also infamously difficult to get into. In the early years, you were guaranteed entry with an
Oscar, whether you were on the guest list or not; all that changed when, according to the party’s
one-time security chief, people started showing up with fake Oscars, or otherwise real ones
they’d purchased at a pawnshop.
Coincidentally, I myself had purchased a fake Oscar statuette in the ’80s, at Carr’s
Trophies in West Los Angeles, because the salesman told me it was an exact replica, made in the
same factory in Rockford, Illinois, that makes the real statuettes. For years, it had stood proudly
on the bookshelf above my desk. I never thought about using it to gain entry to an important
party, until the Vanity Fair Oscar party reached a new level of prominence. Then I wondered, if I
showed up in my best tux with a fake Oscar and told the guards I’d won it that night for some
obscure award, might I be able to talk my way inside?
In 2006, I decided to find out.
I watched the broadcast at home that night, drinking wine to calm my nerves. Normally,
obscure award, might I be able to talk my way inside?
In 2006, I decided to find out.
I watched the broadcast at home that night, drinking wine to calm my nerves. Normally,
when the Oscars came on, I was surrounded by friends; this year I was alone. The contrast made
my plans all the more concrete: it seemed I was actually going through with it.
What I was on the lookout for was a nondescript everyman of my age, height, and build
who took home an award for one of the technical categories—costume design, sound editing, etc.
—someone I could portray while remaining relatively incognito. I had in my lap the ballot from
that morning’s Los Angeles Times, with the list of all the nominees, and I watched intently. About
halfway through the telecast, I knew I’d found my man.
Directed by Peter Jackson, King Kong was a faithful remake of the groundbreaking 1930s
original starring Jack Black, Naomi Watts, and Adrien Brody. It wasn’t particularly memorable,
albeit with one sizable exception: that giant, lifelike ape. At the time, the creation of King Kong
himself was generally perceived as a significant technical achievement. No surprise, then, that it
won the award for visual effects. And from the seats behind the stars at the Kodak Theatre
walked four unremarkable-looking men, one of whom, Richard Taylor, wore glasses—just like
me. This was my guy.
As the credits rolled, I shined my shoes and donned my tuxedo, then took stock of myself
in the full-length mirror on my closet door. There’s a moment before every crash, when the
surreality of what I’m about to do brushes up against the reality of the present moment. My life
becomes a movie, and I—the star. Or someone like me, but more. Before I know it, the wheels of
the plot are set in motion. Action.
With my beloved fake Oscar in a brown paper bag looking like a bottle of liquor, I drove
to Santa Monica Boulevard, parked and stopped at the East/West Lounge for a drink. I told Trip
Wilmot, the owner of the place, my big plans; knowing me, he said that if anyone could pull it
off, I could. With his bid of confidence, I proceeded to the Abbey, which was hosting its own
Oscar party, in hopes of finding a crashing partner. Since nobody showed up alone to these things
but an entourage would prove too difficult, I wanted to arrive with another person.
As it happened, a friend of mine was waiting outside, so I followed him past a few
security checkpoints to get inside the bar. That’s when I pulled out the fake Oscar. Soon enough,
a crowd surrounded me, peppering me with questions: “What did you win for?” “Can I hold it?”
“Can I have my picture taken with you?” Because there were no other gold statuettes at this
party, not only did mine look like the real thing but it was legitimately generating buzz. My
confidence soared. Maybe, I thought, I could actually pull this off.
Even with the Oscar, however, I failed to recruit a crash partner. They were either too
scared of the repercussions or unconvinced of our chances. For most people, the risk of crashing
a party, even one as legendary as Vanity Fair’s, doesn’t equal the reward; for me, the risk—the
thrill of the challenge—is the reward. Their admonitions only spurred me on more. I decided to
go it alone.
If I really wanted to do this, the first thing I needed to do was commandeer a limo. Unless
you’re Brad Pitt rolling up on a motorcycle, attempting to enter Vanity Fair’s party in anything
less—or, God forbid, on foot—would arouse immediate suspicion. Fortunately, this was Los
Angeles—and Los Angeles on the night of the Oscars, no less—meaning my fateful carriage
couldn’t be far. As luck would have it, there was a super stretch right across the street. I marched
up to the driver, a heavyset man standing stoically in his suit. We chatted for a bit. He told me he
was waiting on passengers from another Oscar party, at the Factory.
I showed him my Oscar.
“Would you drive me down the block to Morton’s?” I asked.
He agreed, so long as he could have his picture with it. If only he’d known it wasn’t real!
Hell, maybe he did. And maybe he didn’t care. This was Hollywood, after all.
We headed south on Robertson Boulevard for the half-block ride to Melrose. I sat back,
wanting to take this time to mentally steady myself before things stepped into overdrive.
Suddenly, we stopped. Hordes of security, flashing lights, and screaming fans crowded the
intersection of Robertson and Melrose. L.A. County sheriffs were everywhere. It was absolute
mayhem. My head began to spin as a clump of nerves rose in my throat. I was out of my depth.
No way in hell would these people believe I was who I said I was. I felt nervous and insecure—
not unfamiliar feelings for me, especially during the decades I spent as a closeted gay man,
forced by circumstance to hide his identity from nearly everyone. And we weren’t even being
pointed in the right direction. As a deputy sheriff approached my driver, it was all I could do to
forced by circumstance to hide his identity from nearly everyone. And we weren’t even being
pointed in the right direction. As a deputy sheriff approached my driver, it was all I could do to
simply not panic. The deputy informed us we had to pass the party, turn around, and wait in the
long line of limos dropping people off. Given the fact that my driver had another commitment, I
had to abandon the limo.
I stepped out into the chaos. So far, two central tenets of my plan—to find a crashing
partner and to commandeer a limo—had failed miserably. Keep in mind: there only really were
two tenets, total, to my plan. Things had gone wrong during past crashes, of course—and usually,
if I’ve been turned away, I’ve redoubled my efforts and been resourceful or charming or foolish
enough to rebound and find my way in. But now I would really have to improvise. I watched the
line of limos depositing their stars and sending them through several checkpoints. How the hell
was I going to pull this off?
That’s when, as if on cue, I saw a group of three very attractive women and one guy come
bounding up Robertson Boulevard. With their good looks and devil-may-care attitude, they
must’ve been actors, or models, or most likely, models who called themselves actors. No matter.
They were just the sort of credential a well-heeled gentleman like me could use in this kind of
situation: beautiful young people.
“Are you going to the Vanity Fair party?” I blurted out as they passed by.
They replied yes in a chorus of shrill chirps and shouts.
“Are you?” the guy asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Are you on the list?”
“No. Are you?”
“No,” I replied. I held up my Oscar. “But I’ve got this.”
They barked with excitement.
“Let’s do it!” the freckled brunette said gleefully.
Without missing a beat, the guy in the group lifted the yellow police tape cordoning off
the intersection and we all scooted under—something I’d never have done had I been alone. A
move like that draws too much attention, and it makes you appear uninvited from the get-go. As
was to be expected, several sheriffs closed in, surrounding us like desperate fans around a poorly
disguised movie star. I noticed my makeshift entourage begin to lose their collective nerve.
“Oscar winner!” I shouted, acting on pure instinct and adrenaline, hustling my way up to
the cop who looked the most affable. I held out my golden ticket, explaining my situation—who
I was, which award I’d won, the whole bit. I played the entire thing rather bashfully, feigning
innocence—a textbook crashing move of mine. I’d only won for visual effects, after all, and
wasn’t sure whether that entitled me entry to the party.
“King Kong, you said?” the sheriff asked, his interest piqued.
“Yes, Richard Taylor. Visual effects.”
He paused for a moment, digesting the information.
“I loved that monkey,” he said. “I wanted to hug the big ape.”
“The monkey was what I worked on!” I exclaimed.
He told us to wait right there.
After we had stood in the middle of the street for a couple minutes, the sheriff returned
and proceeded to march us past all three checkpoints and right up to the front of the line,
bypassing three layers of security. The final obstacle was the private security. Vanity Fair lore
suggests that many would-be crashers have made it this far, only to be turned down by these wily
veterans who’ve seen every trick in the book. They wouldn’t be so easily fooled.
“What’s your name?” one of them asked.
“Richard Taylor,” I replied. “I won the Oscar for Visual Effects.”
He relayed my name into his radio.
“How many in your party?” he asked.
“Five.”
As we waited for what seemed an eternity, the stars began to pass us by—first, Jake
Gyllenhaal, then Jessica Alba. Having spent my fair share of time around celebrities during
previous crashes, I could keep my cool. The rest of my entourage openly gawked. I wondered
whether the security guard noticed. He had been side-eying us closely. Could he hear my heart
pounding between my ears? Could he sense my freckled brunette friend’s very civilian reaction
to seeing Jake Gyllenhaal? Would any of that even matter?
A voice came through on the guard’s radio. He paused for a long second before uttering
those two wonderful words: “You’re in.”
to seeing Jake Gyllenhaal? Would any of that even matter?
A voice came through on the guard’s radio. He paused for a long second before uttering
those two wonderful words: “You’re in.”
In these situations, the relief hits you first, knocking you back on your heels. But it
quickly gives way to a lightheaded giddiness. Years of pining over this party, and I was finally
going inside. I walked through the assembled press and paparazzi, one girl on each arm, the guy
and the other girl trailing behind us. It was quite the entrance. I felt as if I was stepping into a
dream, though one I’d bent through sheer force of will into a reality.
Once we made it inside Morton’s, though, the girls took out cameras and started taking
pictures of each other. I figured they might get thrown out before they’d even arrived, so I darted
in another direction.
I took in a 360-degree view of the party. For someone like me, it was crashing nirvana.
I’d made it into the fucking Vanity Fair Oscar party! The front room was overflowing with
moguls and real stars, the kind whose faces you rarely see plastered across the front page of a
magazine in the supermarket checkout line. I descended into the restaurant’s main dining room
and immediately ran into a good friend of mine, Paul Nelson, a well-regarded manager.
“Oh my god,” he said when he saw me. “You got in.”
Next to him stood one of his clients, the late actress Brittany Murphy.
“Is this Fred?” she asked. Evidently, he’d let her in on the ruse.
“Yes.”
She lit up.
“You are kickass,” she gushed. “And I rarely use that term, but you are kickass!”
Lauren Bacall, one of classic Hollywood’s great dames, was standing nearby, and I was
dying to get a picture with her. As one of that evening’s presenters, she’d stumbled on stage in
front of millions of people. Clearly, she’d been bombed.
“You were incredible tonight,” I said earnestly.
“Yeah, right,” she shot back.
Naturally, I offered to bring her a drink, and when I returned with her vodka, she agreed
to take a photo with me.
Though I’m usually solo during my crashes, I’m a natural schmoozer. Years of cold-
calling donors for political campaigns had immunized me to the sting of rejection. Nobody is too
big-time to approach, and that night, I made the rounds with Jennifer Aniston (as sweet as she
seems), Jon Stewart (nice guy), and Jacqueline Bisset (thrilled for my fake-win). I saw Madonna
and Uma Thurman, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, the late Heath Ledger and Michelle
Williams, Adrien Brody and Martin Landau and Keira Knightley. Every major A-lister was in
attendance, and then some. At one point, Howard Bragman, a successful Hollywood publicist I
know, was holding the Best Picture Oscar for his client, Cathy Schulman, a producer for Crash.
He offered to let me hold it.
Having my own Oscar certainly didn’t hurt. Parties like these tend to be clique-y if you
don’t know the right people, which, as a crasher, I often don’t. If you’re a nobody, you can get
blown off by everyone. But not tonight. Tonight, everybody thought I was an Academy Award
winner. After a while, the constant adulation went to my head. A part of me began to believe I’d
actually won.
The only hiccup came when I spotted Catherine Keener, the charming actress nominated
that night for her role in Capote. I was feeling pretty comfortable by then, and I easily chatted
her and her party up. She agreed to a photo, but in order to reach for my camera inside my tux, I
had to tuck the statuette under my arm. Suddenly, the fake Oscar fell to the floor with a
resounding thud.
The group let out a collective gasp, as if I’d just knocked over an ancient urn at an art
museum. They stared at the Oscar on the floor, then up at me, then back at the Oscar.
“They sure build these things to last,” I joked, scooping it up. They all scattered after that,
except for one woman.
“Would you mind if I use that in my story?”
“Who are you reporting for?” I asked.
“The L.A. Times.”
Realizing that having my story documented by a major newspaper would cement my
crash in history, I shook my head.
“I’ve got a better story for you.” Two days later my crash appeared in Robin Abcarian’s
article on “Oscar Night’s Biggest Parties.”
“I’ve got a better story for you.” Two days later my crash appeared in Robin Abcarian’s
article on “Oscar Night’s Biggest Parties.”
“Speaking of inappropriate, a very congenial impostor had made his way into the party.
Fred Karger, who had purchased a slightly sub-sized Oscar statuette at a trophy store, said he had
managed, by brandishing the fake, to get through security with no questions asked. Karger, who
described himself as a retired corporate public relations man, announced that he was part of the
winning ‘King Kong’ special effects team, and no one challenged him. (While chatting with
Keener, he dropped the Oscar, nearly on her foot. It bounced.”
After the Oscar drop, I was tired and ready to leave. But as a self-respecting gay man, I
couldn’t show my face around my friends if I didn’t at least try to get a photograph with Jake
Gyllenhaal, the star of that year’s personally affecting, groundbreaking film Brokeback
Mountain. He’d been nominated for Best Supporting Actor but had lost to George Clooney. I
waited and waited as he flirted with a regenerative lineup of gorgeous girls, before finally
interrupting him for the shot. He wasn’t happy about me butting in, but I played the “I’ve got an
Oscar card,” which had worked throughout the night. He acquiesced. Then he looked down at
my Oscar.
“That’s not real, is it?” he quipped.
“No,” I admitted. “Not really.”
Funnily enough, he was the only person to ask all night long. (Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t
look too thrilled in the picture.)
The party was coming to an end. I walked out into the Los Angeles night, the cool breeze
tickling the sweat on the back of my neck. In the distance, a constellation of lights hung over the
hills, earthly imitations of the stars in the sky.
Whatever was going on in my personal or professional life, crashing had always hovered
around the margins. It was both a casual hobby and a constant pursuit; a time to pretend, but also
an endeavor during which, ironically, I felt most myself. At this particular point, the Vanity Fair
party was the culmination of these adventures. And it came on the precipice of what would be
my ultimate crash—one I’d embark on not as Richard Taylor, nor some other alias, but just as
me.
I made a few stops on the way back to my car, trying to prolong the moment that was
slinking irrevocably into the past. When I finally did make it home, I placed the statuette back on
the bookshelf in my office and slipped into bed. I lay awake for hours. How could I possibly fall
asleep? So much had happened. And there were so many parties left to crash.

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