When dinner was served at the Oscars

I’m in Los Angeles right now, staying at the Biltmore, the massive old grand hotel downtown. In a little hallway on the ground floor, the walls are covered with photos of early Academy Awards ceremonies held here at the hotel.

The most striking photo is a huge image of the 1937 Oscars (reproduced below; to see it bigger, just click on it). The first thing one notices is a somewhat scared-looking young Henry Fonda staring out from the bottom of the picture. He’s the only immediately recognizable figure, although some more looking turns up Walt Disney and big-mouthed Martha Raye. A distinguished looking man in the foreground stands out as obviously important — turns out he’s Cecil B. De Mille.

dinnerWhat really gets me, though, is that everybody’s sitting at tables together waiting for dinner to be served. In the middle of the room is a little table with a few Oscar statuettes on it. Giving them out clearly won’t take up the whole evening. Instead, it’s your basic industry get-together, where people chat with their tablemates, visit friends at other tables, catch up on gossip, etc. It looks like it might actually have been fun. Then the industry had to go and get too big and too glamorous — not to mention too afraid of eating —for things to work that way anymore.

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