Nice as it was to have a free lunch, Jeff Claspell wasn't diving into the spaghetti on his plate. After a moment's hesitation, he draped a cream-colored cloth napkin over his white tuxedo shirt and mauve bow tie to keep them in mint condition for the unpaid job ahead.
By 11:30 a.m. Monday, Claspell and 117 other seat fillers--dressed in everything from beaded gowns to basic black dresses and tuxedos--were in ABC's Sound Stage 57 (normally reserved for "America's Funniest Home Videos") to begin their night at the Oscars.
The Italian lunch was part of the orientation and freebies given zealous movie buffs from as far away as Manchester, England, who would crawl, sprint or dash to any vacant seat in the most important rows of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Their successful sit-ins while nominees or presenters go on stage or take a powder would mean 1-billion-plus television viewers in 121 countries never saw an empty seat.
Tenia Christian, who was about to embark on her 13th Oscar night, knew the instructions by heart, and for the moment she wasn't interested in food. She needed nail polish or glue to prevent a run in metallic-flecked tights that could be seen through the thigh-high slit of her body-hugging black dress.
Christian was saved by a plea from Joseph DiSante, director of ABC guest services, who chooses fillers--many of them ABC employees--from hundreds of application letters. Among makeup and other treasures stuffed into evening bags, someone had nail polish. Christian's own silver bag contained needle and thread--and a pair of short socks to wear on the bus ride back to ABC.
With the evening's demand on fancy footwork, it was no wonder 18-year-old Tom Rice, a high-school senior from Jackson, Miss., started his double-breasted, shawl-collared tuxedo from the ground up.
"I knew I wanted to wear loafers," he said, placing a handsome loafer and "psychedelic-patterned" black-and-white socks in view. "And I knew I wanted cuffs, because no one else would have them." A quick survey of tuxedo legs in the room proved his assumption correct.
Rice's one difficulty was his burgundy-and-black bow tie. Unaccustomed to formal attire, he didn't know how to tie it and said he had gotten help from someone in the check-in line.
Photographs helped Tere Johns, a two-year Oscar veteran from Pittsburgh, decide which of three dresses she would sit in. "I had a picture taken of me in each one, and about 100 people voted. I didn't ask which one they liked , I asked which one should I wear to the Academy Awards. There's a difference."
The winner was a glitzy gold-lame gown with puff sleeves, hip-line ruffle and back slit, which she "bought as a joke." Her large, glittering gold earrings carried the face of comedy on one, the face of tragedy on the other. "I just thought they were appropriate," said Johns, who arrived in Los Angeles a week early as part of her promise to DiSante not to be late.
Undisputed star of the orientation was Heide Godt, a secretary and actress, who won her filler spot with an application poem, from which DiSante read a few lines.
Godt borrowed her small rhinestone earrings and black-and-white, flounce-skirted dress from a friend. Unlike many in the room, she decided "to err on the conservative side. I wanted to be attractive and not too strange."
As for hair and makeup, Godt went for early-hour overkill. "There is more of both," she explained. "I figure by 6 o'clock they will be down to normal."