He crashed Oscar parties and stole Paul McCartney’s seat. But he’s leaving the scene
A onetime gate crasher recounts sneaking into Oscar parties and the night he sat in Paul McCartney’s chair.
The maroon 1997 Caddy rumbles up to the Beverly Hills Hotel, a Grateful Dead sticker plastered onto its back window, a long crack defacing the windshield like a nasty scar.
Handing the keys to a valet, Adrian Maher wears corduroy pants and a blue suit jacket that looks ripped from a secondhand rack as he passes swanky sports cars and arching palms. He’s vaguely reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson, a 60-year-old outlier with a receding hairline and a distinct whiff of recklessness.
Clearly, this man does not belong here.
Still, he makes his move to reenact a scene from one of his most outrageous escapades, trying to foil the formidable hotel security apparatus one more time.
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With darting shoplifter eyes, he moves into the lobby. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Maher has a comical loping gait, equal parts Bill Murray, “Seinfeld’s” Kramer and Borat. He slips past a velvet rope and heads down a circular stairway, journalists in tow.
“This way,” he says.
Moments later, hotel security chief Len Hollandsworth is in his face, saying a worker alerted him about some suspicious characters floating through the lobby.
“Copy that,” Hollandsworth says into his walkie-talkie. “I’m with them now. Code 4.”
Not that long ago, Maher found it relatively easy to sneak into places like this. For 20 years, he embodied a particular breed of L.A. animal, a nocturnal creature who lurked on the fringes of the most-exclusive celebrity events, and who usually found his way inside locations with security befitting the Kremlin.
He ran with a pack of neurotic gate-crashers who infiltrated Hollywood’s elite soirees and awards after-events for the Golden Globes, Grammys and even Oscars. They were oddballs and loners with voracious appetites for subterfuge, who fed on the adrenaline required to waltz past thick-necked security guards to mingle with cosseted actors and directors, “wetting their beaks” with free booze, working the buffet like hungry hyenas in elaborate disguises.
Awards season once made Maher salivate, his stomach growl. There were sumptuous parties to frequent, such as the annual Elton John Oscars viewing and afterparty, which he infiltrated almost every year.
He retired from the VIP circuit in 2018, after reckoning with a new Hollywood reality: The specter of terrorism has prompted increasingly zealous security — sometimes aided by such advances as facial-recognition technology — and that’s meant hard times for the people Maher calls rope-line ruffians.
“I’ve aged out of this,” he says. “This used to be a big game. But the game is over.”
Case in point: his quick detection at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he had hoped to demonstrate his infiltration technique.
Maher recently published a tell-all memoir called “Uninvited: Confessions of a Hollywood Party Crasher” that plumbs a bizarre subculture of risk-takers who seem to hail from a Saturday-morning cartoon lineup. Like the Italian redhead known for “strip mining” a buffet table and Clement von Franckenstein (yes, his real name), who Maher described as an eccentric who “with the whiff of an aristocrat on hard times would attend the opening of an envelope.”
The book has put Maher at odds with the crasher culture, with former comrades complaining that he’s spoiled the party.
He describes how he and his cronies cased hotels for entry points — janitorial doors, garden pathways, underground garages, freight elevators. Crashers have climbed hedges, ducked into kitchens and donned uniforms to blend with the staff.
Maher has impersonated band roadies and FedEx deliverymen. At least to gain entry. Many nights, he peeled off a uniform to reveal an Armani or Hugo Boss suit or tuxedo.
Inside his getaway car, he kept party-crasher accouterments — ascots, badges, ink stamps for ultraviolet light and thousands of event wristbands. If he saw guests passing security while wearing, say, a light-blue wristband, he’d check his collection to find an approximate color.
One favorite ruse involved pacing a checkpoint with a Champagne glass, turning to guards and asking, “Oh, I’m not supposed to drink this out here, am I?”
“No, you’ve got to come inside,” came the typical response. An interloper was only happy to comply.
Brad Pitt has made many speeches this awards season. Without notes or a list of names to thank, his speeches have been sweet, sincere and funny.
Tuxedo-wearing crashers have rolled past security in wheelchairs. Maher insists one climbed a tree to drop onto a hill of ivy, cartwheeling to the bottom, landing between two guards who somehow did not notice him. Then, Chaplinesque, he got up, dusted himself off and slunk into the party.
Maher once observed a crasher use a technique he calls “the Crab,” in which the infiltrator hunches over and walks backward past a checkpoint, yelling into his cellphone in a shell of conversation, hopefully difficult to interrupt.
Once Maher walked past security by linking arms with his girlfriend, who everyone assumed was actress Tahnee Welch. They were even announced on the red carpet.
He wasn’t always successful: He could never penetrate Vanity Fair’s Oscars party. And while he was kicked out of several events, Maher was never arrested. He survived by obeying such rules as never carrying your own ID or making eye contact with security once inside the party. And once 86’d, you can’t go back in — that’s trespassing.
“And never,” Maher now adds with a smile, “write a book.”
One 2007 romp involved crashing the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s “Night Before the Oscars” party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He and Avi Fisher, a onetime Israeli intelligence operative, slipped onto a freight elevator, “popping out like whack-a-moles” until they found their moment.
They emerged inside a vast ballroom, where they picked up food trays, making their way to the pool party. They later ditched the trays and had to pass one last guard to reach the bash.
“Follow my lead,” Fisher whispered. As the pair approached the guard, Fisher hissed, “Man, you screwed it up with Castle Rock!”
“You were the one who accidentally deleted the friggin’ script on your computer!” Maher shot back on cue, as the pair walked past the checkpoint.
But not this time at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
In an interview, Hollandsworth, a veteran security chief, said crashers like Maher are irritating pests staff are trained to foil, especially during big-ticket events. “Our employees watch everybody, because there’s always that threat out there,” he said.
“It’s kind of sad, really, that people resort to this.”
Maher grew up in Pacific Palisades, monitored by a stiff-lipped British father whose cool demand for table manners only deepened his son’s rebellious streak.
He earned a degree in English literature at UC Berkeley and a graduate degree in journalism at ColumbiaUniversity. At parties, Maher would often recite long passages from Shakespeare by memory, in a Winston Churchill accent, honing an ability to ad-lib he would employ as a crasher.
In the 1990s, Maher worked as a Los Angeles Times reporter, and while covering Hollywood events he noticed the same middle-aged men in attendance, always hungrily hovering around the buffet table. He realized they were crashers and envisioned writing a story about them.
But trouble loomed. Maher got laid off from his job, his mother died and his girlfriend dumped him, throwing him into a spiraling depression. His way out: Joining the crasher crew he once viewed from afar.
Maher, who eventually began working on documentary films, saw the parties as networking opportunities, along with the free booze, food and intrigue. Once past the velvet ropes, he noticed, people actually let down their guard.
Many of his fellow trespassers lusted for free gift bags and libations, celebrity encounters and a heady feeling of entitlement. Others were itinerant mooches and kleptomaniacs. Still others prided themselves as thrill-seekers, “living in the bold zone.”
Fisher says Maher became a master of the craft.
“For Adrian, the idea of embarrassment simply did not exist,” he said from New York, where he now lives. “He was quick on his feet, using a childlike innocence to accomplish feats not for the faint of heart.”
At one event, Maher thought he spotted a fellow documentarian, whom he grabbed from behind and shook lustily before realizing he was manhandling Clint Eastwood. In 2012, he mistakenly sat in a seat reserved for Paul McCartney before being chased away by Yoko Ono.
Eventually, Maher grew weary of the conniving, fearing he’d become “a solitary, middle-aged man with darting eyes, a thin film of chin sweat and hunted gait,” as he wrote in the book. Once inside, he also found most high-end parties to be incredibly boring.
After his recent hotel encounter, Maher arrives at a back gate of the Los Angeles Convention Center, which that evening would fete the band Aerosmith — the same annual MusiCares tribute where he stumbled into McCartney’s chair.
Walking past dumpsters, he pulls on a side door. Locked. Then, surprisingly, a security guard on the other side throws open the door and, even more surprising, ushers Maher inside. He’s not sure why, but he’s in.
Maher looks around. “The queasiness and anxiety are all flooding back,” he says. “I’m glad I’m out of the game.”
Moments later, he’s surrounded by a phalanx of security, radios squawking.
Where is his ID? Doesn’t he know this space is off limits?
Twice in one day, Maher has been outed. Moments later, as he sits behind the wheel of his car, the roof is suddenly dive-bombed with bird droppings.
He sighs. Then the old Caddy with the Grateful Dead sticker disappears into the afternoon traffic.
This Sunday, he’ll watch the Oscars from home. And skip the parties.
Glionna is a special correspondent.
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