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Keeping stars aligned

Times Staff Writer

Danette Herman wore tennis shoes with her black pantsuit Sunday night. After 31 years and hundreds of miles on the red carpet, you learn to wear comfortable shoes when you’re working.

And as the Oscar executive in charge of “talent,” Herman had been on the job since December, securing the best and brightest stars to present awards, perform and otherwise participate in the 77th annual Academy Awards. Hours, days and weeks of calls and e-mails, negotiation, persuasion and diplomatic refusal led up to the six hours (including arrivals and pre-show) of Oscar night.

Producer Gil Cates, director Louis J. Horvitz and other members of this year’s Oscar team have a higher public profile. But Herman is legendary among the people who matter -- the stars and their publicists.

With a mane of red hair and a calming voice in which the steel is barely audible, Herman is the person who makes the calls and fields the calls, who keeps track of who’s in and who’s out. She knows what flight they’re on and where they’re staying, when they’re supposed to be at rehearsal, on the red carpet, in the green room, on the stage -- and how they’re getting there.

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If a star isn’t where he or she is supposed to be, Herman is, according to staff, the one yelling into a walkie-talkie or sending an assistant scurrying down the limo line. During the show she escorts the stars from the gold-draped green room to the backstage area and then moves toward the house to make sure the next presenter is escorted from her seat on time.

Herman laughs at the description of her shouting into a walkie-talkie. It’s not her temper, she says. “I am technically challenged. My walkie-talkie never seems to work.”

She is unapologetic about her protective reputation. “We work very carefully on who’s going to present,” she says. “It’s like casting a movie. And these are big stars with many commitments, so we need to have everything work as smoothly as possible.”

A veteran of many awards shows, including the Oscars, the Emmys and the Golden Globes, Herman started making calls in December. “Oscar tradition has it that for the four acting categories, the previous [year’s] winners present,” she says.

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But the rest of the presenters are up for grabs. Working with Cates, Herman draws up wish list after wish list of the ideal mix of hot and classic stars, deftly fielding inquires from the many people who want to be part of the show while waiting to hear who from the A-list is interested, and available.

“After the nominations are announced [this year it was Jan. 25], we have a better sense of what the show will be,” she says. She and Cates keep track of who’s in the running on huge grease boards that they call “show boards.” The press announcements of who will present are doled out week by week like the Reese’s Pieces trail for “E.T.”

Rehearsals with stand-ins begin on Wednesday. “When I see the set, it all becomes so real, all the stuff we’ve just been talking about for months,” she said. “It’s never not exciting.”

But her big day is Saturday, when most of the talent arrives for run-throughs. “My responsibility is to make sure everyone knows what time they’re supposed to be and where. And to keep things moving.”

On the day of the show, she worked all day at the theater, changing into her Oscar duds in her office, and then out on the red carpet to make sure everyone was where they should be for arrivals and pre-show.

When Alan Alda, Clive Owen and Leonardo DiCaprio were hustled through the red carpet crowd as if they were four-star generals on the way to the war room, it was because Herman was determined they would hit the marks for their pre-show interviews -- and they did.


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