The Waiting Game

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walking the dog. Breaking out in hives. Hanging out at the pool. Chatting with your parents. And, of course, writing down lists of everyone in your life you'd better thank.

Did you ever wonder what the nominees really do on the big day?

For Oscar nominees, the waiting can be the hardest part. The ceremony doesn't start until 6 p.m., giving Academy Award hopefuls hours to get their hair done, prepare acceptance speeches and fret the day away.

With the 70th annual Academy Awards just hours away, we asked some former winners and nominees to reminisce about their Oscar day memories. They range from the ridiculous to the mundane, but they all carry one theme: It's an unforgettable experience.

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* Emma Thompson recalls the day she won best actress of 1992 for "Howards End"; she also won for best adapted screenplay for 1995's "Sense and Sensibility"

My memory? Of my absolute and utter horror of wearing high heels. Apart from all the excitement, and seeing all the stars and dresses, it's thinking, "I'm going to have a serious accident in these shoes!"

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* Steve Tisch, produced the 1994 best film, "Forrest Gump"

5:45 a.m.: Woke up; put on tuxedo.

7:35 a.m.: Dropped a slice of bacon on my formal shirt; changed shirts.

8:15 a.m.: Took my chocolate Labrador, Forrest, for a walk.

9 a.m.: Took my second shower; changed hairstyle; tried to remember everybody at my bar mitzvah.

10:45 a.m.: Alphabetized my CD collection.

12:30 p.m.: Took a nap. Naps suck!

2 p.m.: My wife and I checked in the Four Seasons Hotel; I watched my first soap opera.

2:30 p.m.: Took my third shower; tried on a different tuxedo.

2:45 p.m.: Tried on my wife's dress--not bad!

3:15 p.m.: Departed for the Shrine Auditorium.

6 p.m.: Arrived at the Shrine; for the next three hours sang every Beatles song I could remember (to myself).

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* Billy Bob Thornton, won best adapted screenplay of 1996 for "Sling Blade"

It was all about clothing and details. My mom was in town, and my best friend was going with me. I was so numbed out, that day was really fuzzy. My mom said she was proud of me and that she always knew I would be there. That was great. That was the highlight of the whole thing--having my mom with me.

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* Jack Lemmon recalls the day he won best supporting actor of 1955 for "Mr. Roberts"; he also won best actor in 1973 for "Save the Tiger"

One of the kids who was a member of the crew went over to Warner Bros. a couple of days ahead of the Oscars, walked into the wardrobe department, and he pinched my cap--the ensign's cap I wore--and he came by the house the morning of the Oscars and gave it to me, which I thought was great.

The other thing I remember is, Warner Bros. sent a limo for my then-wife and I. When we got to the Pantages, the platform that we walked up on to stop and be interviewed, the platform and the railing had just been freshly painted, and they had a sign warning us, "Fresh Paint." I got up there and relaxed--I thought I wasn't going to win anyway--I was leaning on the railing and then I sat on the railing. So I had a fanny full of red paint on the back of my rented tuxedo. And red all over my hands!

Well, I pulled out my handkerchief while we were sitting in the audience and I got most of the red paint off my hands, but I didn't know I had red stripes all over my back. But when they called my name out, I ran up there so fast, nobody could've seen 'em anyway. I looked like a zebra.

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* Whoopi Goldberg, nominated for best actress of 1985 for "The Color Purple"; won best supporting actress of 1990 for "Ghost"

The first time I was nominated, I gave myself the hives. I got them so bad, I had to go to the dermatologist. I was totally freaked out.

The second time I was nominated, I just kept walking around. I walked around and sat down. I got up and walked around some more. I walked into things and couldn't put five words together to form a sentence. Like Frankenstein, I was led to the car, arrived at the Oscars and I had no concept of what happened that night. And I was sober!

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* Tommy Lee Jones, won best supporting actor of 1993 for "The Fugitive"

It's unreal, otherworldly. People seem to be disembodied somehow. I worked that day [on "Cobb"] and [director] Ronnie Shelton let me off early to go to the ceremony. I never saw so many famous people in my life--that's the thing that impressed me; all these people I'd been seeing in the movies. Damn, there's a lot of famous people there. I felt like a kid.

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* Bruce Davison, nominated for best supporting actor of 1990 for "Longtime Companion"

That year we also had heavy rains and I was having renovations to my house and the roof caved in, so my wife and I were temporarily staying at the Oakwood Apartments.

When I got into the limo to go to the Oscars, all the little old ladies from the Oakwood, who had been sitting poolside with white zinc oxide on their faces came running out to wish me good luck.

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* Kathy Bates, won best actress of 1990 for "Misery"

It was great. I'd been away for several weeks and so I missed all the buildup, which was just perfect. The day before, I went for a fitting because my designer had one final fitting for the dress he'd made without ever having laid eyes on me. That was great.

The day of the ceremony I was getting ready in my kitchen--I was renting an apartment at the time--getting my hair done and makeup and getting into this limousine that had 57 miles on it. My driver said, "I got the best one! I got the new one! We're gonna win!"

And going to this ceremony, I ran into a lot of people that I'd worked with, which made it really seem down-to-earth and easy. I've been since then, and it's been megabig, overwhelming . . . but the first time was sweet and easy.

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* Alan Menken has won numerous times for score and song including the best song of 1989 for "Under the Sea" from "The Little Mermaid," best song of 1991 for "Beauty and the Beast," 1992's best song for "A Whole New World" from "Aladdin" and 1995's "Colors of the Wind" from "Pocahontas." He's nominated this year for best song for "Go the Distance" from "Hercules"

The only thing I do which is a ritual, which I have done in previous years--but don't think I'll have to do this year--is sit with a pad and think of people to thank and then pare that list down.

I put myself through a real complex because nobody really wants to see a composer up there go on any longer than he needs to, but I want to get everyone in. And I'd love to do like actors do, which is really speak with feeling, speak from my heart, but I know I'll forget somebody. You know, I've gotten calls from people who say, "Congratulations, why'd you forget me?"

So it's a balancing act, and I can't stand it. I want to thank all the right people, yet not bore people, and at the same time not go with the assumption that I'll win anything in the first place. There was a time I did not win at the Golden Globes when I made up a song parody that I would sing as my acceptance speech. In retrospect, I am so grateful I did not win--I would've made a fool of myself.

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* Lili Fini Zanuck, producer with her husband, Richard Zanuck, of the 1989 best picture winner, "Driving Miss Daisy"

Well, I lost my voice. Quite frankly, one of the most exciting things is being nominated because the whole time you're nominated you're a winner and you belong to this club because you see the other nominees. It's a time of this incredible activity and it was really exciting, that process.

Just from the excitement of it and nerves, the morning of the awards I had no voice. But I mean none. I went to see [a doctor] and he said, "We're going to give you an injection," like they do opera singers and he said it should kick in about 5. So the whole time I'm getting dressed I have no voice. Sure enough, just around the time Jessica Tandy won my voice came back and then I won.

They said to me when they gave me the shot, don't abuse it. But you abuse it big time and I didn't mind not having a voice the next day.

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* Celeste Holm, won best supporting actress of 1947 for "Gentleman's Agreement"

I was sure I wouldn't win. But I got my hair done because I was going to attend in any case.

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* Rob Fried, won best live-action short subject of 1991 for "Session Man"

On Sunday [one day prior to the announcement of the awards], I was reading a major newspaper article on Oscar predictions. All of their major critics chose another short film to win. We had lost and we would still be required to sit through the entire Godforsaken event. I filled my day with preoccupying activities. I went to see a film at the Imax theater, visited a museum and then a Laker game.

At the Governors Ball, after winning the award, I spoke with one of the newspapers' critics and asked why they chose another short film to win. The critic replied, "I never saw any of the films. I based my opinion on the plot line." Who knows?

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* Martin Landau, won best supporting actor of 1994 for "Ed Wood"

The day of the awards I actually tried to be laid-back and take it easy, but I did make sure that I carried 400 pounds of horseshoes with me.

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* Marlee Matlin, won best actress of 1986 for "Children of a Lesser God"

I spent the day at the Bel-Air Hotel, lounging around the pool with my family and friends who flew in. We all had massages and just took it easy. I wasn't too nervous as I had been to the Oscars the year before and knew pretty much what to expect. The day after I won, I went to Disneyland! (Honest!)

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* Arnold Kopelson, produced the 1986 best film, "Platoon"

I remember it like it was today. I remember being in the limo, and the proceedings had started, and being nervous as one could be. I came into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and sat in the first row . . . all of the potential winners were in the first or second rows. Right behind me was Dustin Hoffman. He leaned over, patted me on the back and said, "Good luck."

Oliver Stone was very nervous. Another movie was getting many of the awards. He leaned over and said, "What's with this other film?" I'd never spoken to Oliver like this but I said, "Oliver, I'm very nervous. Would you sit back and shut up? You're gonna win, and the movie's gonna win."

Freelancers Steven Smith and David Kronke contributed to this story.

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