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February 27, 2017



Dressing Down at the Oscars, or Accountants So Dumb

Could it be that Dr. M. -- well-clothed as he was, if a bit dressed down and with no sign of Mark-Rylance-like headwear -- missed the very end of the Oscarcast this year? If so, by now he knows what happened. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway (Prabal Gurung long-sleeved white ensemble with shoulder cut-out detailing and fabric-covered buttons with fabric loops), appearing on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the release of Bonnie and Clyde, were presenting the Oscar for Best Picture when all hell broke loose. They were given the wrong envelope by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) accountant Brian Cullinan. The card inside the red envelope  said Emma Stone (gold Givenchy gown with 1920s-style tiered fringing on the skirt), Best Actress for La La Land. She of course had just won some five minutes before.

Beatty clearly did not know what to do. It seemed like it could be the start of a feeble comic routine but it was not. Dunaway evidently thought it was, for she said to him "You're impossible! C'mon..." He finally showed the card in the envelope to Dunaway and as the two clutched the pieces of paper together she announced the winner as "La La Land!"

Everyone cheered and LLL producer Jordan Horowitz onstage was making a very good speech when a number of head-setted strong-arm types, Cullinan included, swarmed on stage and began rudely snatching red envelopes from LLL cast and crew members who had won Oscars earlier in the evening. Cullinan's PwC partner, Martha Ruiz (a vision in red), also at this point appeared on stage. Very ominous and troubling, like something you'd see at the inauguration of the strong man of a third-world country.

It turned out that the winner should have been announced as Moonlight, not LLL. Horowitz revealed this to all and sundry and you could tell he was angry as he abruptly snatched the correct envelope from right under the nose of Beatty, who had just been given it by Cullinan, and shoved the card inside right in front of a camera for all to read. Meanwhile the stage began milling with the cast and crew of Moonlight, by now quietly euphoric, as the LLL people took themselves offstage and disappeared.

It was a terrible embarrassment for all the principals, and PwC issued a public apology, by name, to everyone they ever met in their entire life as accountants. In the media outcry, Beatty and Dunaway were castigated for not noticing the mistake and/or deciding to do nothing. They were blameless in my opinion -- it was PwC's fumble not theirs (and Cullinan had been tweeting just before he picked up the wrong envelope). Beatty was confused and he was paralyzed. He might have been thinking that Stone's win was now in jeopardy, or of his wife who was a member of the Academy's board of directors, or perhaps he was not functioning at full mental capacity and/or had forgotten his glasses -- or else he for one would have surely announced that they were given the wrong envelope, that they needed someone from PwC to come on stage pronto, that he and Dunaway would begin a silent fox trot in the interim, that they needed Jimmy Kimmel to come back on stage, that they needed to cut to a commercial NOW, or all of the above.

Meanwhile I had heard a week or so earlier that the Academy now prints up "winner" cards for all of the nominees in a category, indicating each one as the winner, and engraves little metal tablets to be affixed onto the base of the statuette for all of the nominees, indicating each one as the winner. This is to neutralize the effects of possible leaks to the media. This, added to the fact that PwC uses two sets of cards/envelopes as a precaution to assure that the accountants simultaneously monitor the order of presentation, did not in my opinion bode well for accuracy. Also, traffic control issues backstage abounded, with people circulating around the stage and behind it, both areas heavily trafficked as winners and their entourages proceed to the press area for photo ops. So it's clear that with these issues in play, envelopes could appear, disappear, and/or be lost track of. Ultimately the Academy is responsible for all of this, and eventually Cheryl Boone Isaacs (black strapless gown with silver horizontal zigzag design, and blue stone ear and neck jewels) firmed herself up and apologized to everyone too.

Heads were certainly going to roll for this mistake. Worst case scenario: a hapless "card inserter" turns out to be female, an immigrant, and a temp. Best case scenario: six hapless PwC white male management types get to fall on their swords. What actually happened: Cullinan and Ruiz kept their PwC positions but will no longer be handling the Oscar account -- presumably because the two took too much time backstage comparing their stories before appearing on stage with the correct envelope.

Incidentally, this isn't the first time the wrong information was given to a presenter. At the 1963 awards in early 1964, presenter Sammy Davis Jr. was given the wrong envelope by the then Price Waterhouse, and when he noticed the mistake and called for the correct envelope, quipped to the audience "wait till the N Double A C P hears about this!" (And surely a more hip and quicker presenter than  Beatty -- say, Tom Hanks or Denzel Washington -- this time around could have quipped "wait till the AARP hears about this!") Interestingly, as with 2017, 1964 was a big year for African American principals, with Sidney Poitier winning the Best Actor award for Lilies of the Field.

And an earlier snafu occurred during the 1932/33 Oscars when among the nominees for Best Director were Frank Lloyd and Frank Capra. Presenter Will Rogers -- drunk, stupid, or both -- announced "Frank, come on up and get it!" Capra began running up to get it, but unfortunately for him, the winner was Lloyd.

Sadly the whole envelope gaffe stole much thunder from the other nominees and winners dressed to the nines on their big night -- my favorite look involving the gowns resembling recently deployed parachutes (such as the Zac Posen deep citron one worn by actress Leslie Mann), making their wearers look like high-end soldier-ettes of fortune tramping through the Hollywood jungle -- CLUMP CLUMP CLUMP -- on their slow march to red carpet exposure and adulation.

Meanwhile, Cullinan and Ruiz received their dressing down backstage behind closed doors. Accountants so dumb, indeed!

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