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Oscar: An Overnight Sensation : El Rescate Party at Vertigo Was No Piece of Cake

Like some Oscar ceremonies of years past, some Oscar parties have more glitches than glitz.

Take Wednesday night’s second annual Oscar-watching party and fund-raiser held by El Rescate, a support group for Central American refugees in the Los Angeles area. The 1988 El Rescate party at the Mondrian Hotel attracted a large crop of young actors, but this year’s version, held at the newly reopened discotheque Vertigo in downtown Los Angeles, attracted fewer celebrities and more logistical problems.

Many guests who paid $100 apiece to attend were left out on the sidewalk during the telecast--when the doormen, who insisted that the club wasn’t ready to receive partygoers, acted as if they were shepherding a standard Friday-night club crowd instead of prepaid ticket holders. And many of those who managed to get in soon regretted it. Every one of about 20 people questioned expressed displeasure with the night’s events.

Costume designer Scilla Andreen-Hernandez did finally get in. She and her escort had arrived at 5:30 and were not allowed inside for more than an hour. Once in, she made the mistake of trying to enter a restricted area--which was not marked--and was grabbed roughly by a Vertigo guard.

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“This is ridiculous. I almost wonder why I came,” she said.

As the Oscar ceremony began at 6 p.m., only about 100 people were inside the club; ticket-holders were lined up outside. Those who circumvented the guards outside watched the ceremony on monitors donated by KMEX-TV.

Guests got the first peek at Vertigo’s interior, which combines high-tech industrial furnishings with a ‘70s-style disco floor, complete with fog machines. Vertigo’s employees appeared touchier than Secret Service agents, treating guests like interlopers and in at least one case, cursing at a woman who was merely trying to find a bathroom.

“You can’t take pictures inside the club,” one employee told a television newswoman, “and you can’t take pictures of anyone--unless they’re smiling.

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More gracious was event chairman Esai Morales as he ran around, fixing a number of last-minute details.

“We’re dealing with a club that’s holding its first opening,” he said. “On the last day (before the party), it seems that everybody decides they want to come and they call.”

Morales was less enthusiastic about a competing Oscar party at the Mondrian, which was billed as “The Second Annual Academy Award Celebration at the Mondrian.” Sources within El Rescate had indicated that the group was considering legal action against the other fund-raiser’s organizers, for possible misrepresentation of their party.

“Put it this way,” Morales said. “We as an entity don’t want to take legal action, but who knows? I’m going to let the powers that be straighten it out.”

Things took another bad turn at about the time that the best picture was announced. Lots of people were inside by then, but actress Rain Pryor, who was scheduled to speak on stage at the concert afterward, was refused entry at the door when she couldn’t produce identification. (She later got in when she was OKd by someone inside the club.)

Other ticket-holders on the sidewalk--including actors Harrison Ford and Kiefer Sutherland--gave up and left without ever getting inside.

Fire marshals arrived at 9:15, sealed off one balcony, forbade further admissions and promptly threatened to shut the club down for overcrowding. (Fire Marshal Addison Burdine declined to comment or to estimate the number of people on hand.)

“The Fire Department was sort of unreasonable about it,” said Vertigo’s general manager, Goyn Samuels. “They made us take the tables off the dance floor, and I can understand why some people who had to get up would be upset.”

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Asked about guests’ other complaints, especially the guards’ manhandling of some partygoers, Samuels pointed out that the night’s staff also included security people hired by El Rescate.

“This is not all Vertigo staff,” he said.

El Rescate officials, however, said Vertigo was responsible for the evening’s problems. The organizers expected the club to have been open for several weeks before Wednesday night’s party.

Instead, Oscar night turned into a dry run for the new club: There was not one public telephone in the building, and guests who left to use one were not readmitted. Many guests never had a bite to eat. Those who ate, however, were enthusiastic about the peeled shrimp, cheese puffs, seafood pizza and fresh oysters.

Dessert arrived without silverware. Waiters simply told guests to take pieces of cake off of trays. Hungry guests who complied discovered, to their dismay, that they were holding cold, wet hunks of ice cream cake.

A musical jam session began after 11 p.m. and soothed some feelings. Jane Fonda introduced singers Holly Near and Bonnie Raitt, who performed songs in support of Central American causes, and Dennis Quaid was scheduled to join them later.

And there was always celebrity watching. Those spotted included Gregory Hines, Billy Idol, Robert Downey Jr., Sarah Jessica Parker, Howard Hesseman, Sen. Alan Cranston, songwriter Stephen Bishop, Chad Lowe, Rob Lowe, Daphne Zuniga and comedian Taylor Negron, who was a late arrival, coming straight to the party from emceeing another Oscar party at City Restaurant.

Marlee Matlin, best actress winner of 1987, was another late arrival.

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“It was so nice not to have to be a nominee or a presenter this year,” she signed. “I watched the show over at Henry and Stacy Winkler’s, with good friends. And my shoes off.”

Some of the other guests might have envied her.


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