2012 Oscars: Navigating a sea of stars at Vanity Fair after party

LOS ANGELES — “I’m in the middle! I’m in the middle of the roooom!” Catherine O’Hara yells into her cellphone, across the sea of Chevy Chases and Sandra Bullocks and a guy who people keep thinking is Zachary Quinto but is not. “Right in the middle!”

“I can hear yoooou! In the middle!” Her man friend is on the side of the room. They meet in the middle. They meet in a dim room at the Sunset Tower hotel, near the cascading loveliness of Claire Danes’s red dress.



If you can get into Vanity Fair’s Oscars after party — please present your electronic ID here — then the interior is a nirvana of celebrity pinball. Ricochet from Jon Voigt’s white scarf to Maya Rudolph’s plum gown, all the way up, up, up to Rooney Mara’s formidable bang-shield.

Some folks over at Elton John’s party paid $230,000 for two tickets to this one. This is the party where, instead of “Red or White?”arriving guests are asked, “Carpet or No Carpet?” choosing whether they want to strut for the paparazzi. Olivia Munn opts to Carpet. So do Mia Wasikowska and Miley Cyrus.

For a moment, we just need to take it all in, to treat it like the silent script for “The Artist” and let the scene unfold: Michelle Williams and Busy Phillips perch in the entryway, smiling, smiling with Meryl Streep’s daughter Mamie Gummer. Host Graydon Carter shakes hand after hand as waiters swan about with trays of nibblies, goblets of champagne. It looks like there’s a tremendous view, back near the back, but we can’t seem to reach it — oof — because someone keeps bumping us with her rump. Let’s try going around — bump — maybe if we just turn side — bump — easy does it, now — bump. That’s quite enough, Miss. Who do you think you are, Jennifer Lopez?

Yes. Yes, in fact, this is J. Lo’s butt, attached to J. Lo’s person, as she chats happily with Sean Combs. Bump away, Miss Lo.

And since you want to know: The tush is firm and springy.

Over to one side, Penelope Cruz is waiting for Ginnifer Goodwin to finish up in the photo booth.

Off to the other, Steven Tyler and Cloris Leachman are pressing their foreheads together in some sort of deeply spiritual communion. She runs her fingers through his hair and murmurs, “I’m only 85.”

There are some things one cannot unsee.

But Vanity Fair is unfiltered, witnessing celebrities in their natural habitat with other celebrities, a snug environment where nobody’s famous because everybody is.

Right now, Tina Fey and Elizabeth Banks and Olivia Wilde are all bobbing their heads rhythmically to something Jason Sudeikis is saying (very touchy-feely, Sudeikis and Wilde are — Roman hands). We are attempting to casually infiltrate this group — Sorry Tina, don’t mind my foot — but the conversation is drowned out by some doofus bellowing, “You’re amazing! You’re amazing!”

Sir, would you please pipe —

Oh, he’s talking to Kristen Wiig.

Kristen Wiig. You are amazing.

Her adorer appears to be Jon Hamm, trailing her as they reverse-commute away from the bar. Is Jennifer Westfeldt going to be jealous? Nope — there’s Hamm’s ladyfriend now, canoodling on a banquette with Martin Short, who has slouched into an angle of deep repose, his head lolling in loopy circles.

There are whole communities of sitters here, people who land-grab swathes of squishy couch, then park and loaf, let the party happen around them. Jane Fonda has begun one of these settlements up near the front — a round table populated first by Gwyneth Paltrow, then by Cameron Diaz, then Penelope Ann Miller. It’s a rotating harem of beauties who fetch drinks and giggle and gossip. Everyone who wants to sit must come to Jane World eventually.

The only alternative to sitting is to keep circulating. Vanity Fair is an ocean. You are a shark. If you stop swimming, the stiletto blisters will catch up to you, and you will sink. If you settle for the colossally famous people in this room, you may miss the astronomically famous people in the next. Swim on. Swim through the outpost that Williams and Phillips have set up on the patio. Swim past “Margin Call’s” J.C. Chandor convincing Colin Firth that he’s glad his screenplay didn’t win. Swim past Michael Moore asking where the bar is — find it yourself, Mike — and past Seth Rogen’s cheerful bray, and Jessica Chastain singing along to an INXS song.

Jonah Hill and Rashida Jones are cracking each other up.

Katy Perry’s hair is blue again.

Emma Stone has changed out of her enormous bow.

Kate Bosworth. I could floss my teeth with your spindly shin bone.

Swim on.

On the breezeway, something tantalizing enough to pause for. Michael Douglas, tete-a-tete with Glenn Close (spectacular lady blazer), earnestly commenting on the celebration of the night. But faster than one could boil a bunny, Aaron Sorkin has swept into the conversation, clapping Douglas on the shoulder. “You look well,” he says to the throat cancer survivor. “Great.”

“That looks like your daughter!” Douglas says cheerfully of the pretty blonde with Sorkin.

“Wow,” the blonde says. “Wow.”

(Not his daughter?)

Swim on!

Oh good, Octavia Spencer’s here. All night long there have been plenty of big celebrities but nary a little gold man. Spencer’s — she won best supporting actress for “The Help” — is sitting right here on the couch. “It’s really heavy,” an onlooker whispers.

You got to touch it? No fair!

But there’s no time to fret, because Billy Crystal has just been spotted and he’s already halfway out the door, hanging around the exit with his valet ticket at the ready.

“Good job, Billy!” we say, boldly.

There is something about his face. It is less wrinkled than it should be. He smiles, vaguely, looks over our shoulder. Maybe he didn’t hear?

Dang it. Should have caught his attention with, “Good to see you back in the saddle again.” Made it a little “City Slickers” reference. (It is only later, back at our hotel, that we realize what a moronic joke that would have been, and how profoundly drunk we must have been to have thought of it. Another note from this point in the party reads, “Furry hobbit with glasses; must be a socumentarian.”)

Meanwhile. Need bathroom.

The always-complicated maneuverings of the ladies room are complicated further by the addition of poofy dresses. A kaleidoscope of silk and satin swirls around the vanity. Lipstick is reapplied. Bustlines are hitched up. The door swings open.

“Hello? Are you in here?”

It’s the second Kristen Wiig sighting of the night! She shimmies into the bathroom and over to a stall. “Hellooo?”

“Kristen!” a voice calls. “Kristen, I’m peeing!”

Wait it out? Not Wiig. She slides into the stall with an unseen pal (Who is it? Who is Kristen peeing with?). After two minutes, Wiig appears with . . . Annie Mumolo, her co-nominee for the “Bridesmaids” screenplay. “You guys, we didn’t go to the bathroom together,” Wiig assures everyone. “We just both had dress problems at the same time.”

No one would judge, Kristen. Not one smidge.

Back outside, back into the breach.

Elizabeth Olsen, Indie It Girl, baby sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley, is hanging around a suburb of Jane World, cute as a button in a cap-sleeved black gown.

Hey, Elizabeth! Remember when you came to Washington and we wrote that story about you?

“Of course!”

Good memories.

“I should come back to Washington for a visit,” Olsen muses. She thought Georgetown was adorable, and she already guilt-watches “D.C. Cupcakes.” “It’s the worst show.”

The cupcakes aren’t that great, either, we assure her.

You know what cupcakes are great, though? The mini red velvet ones that waiters keep trotting out, wafting under your nose. They’re iced with the names of nominees.

“Melissa McCarthy?” A waiter waves around the lone remaining treat on his tray.

Spanx say no. Mouth says yes. Mmmf.

Best actor winner Jean Dujardin has arrived, toting his Oscar, his tuxedo shirt unbuttoned to his sternum. How French!

And now that he’s here, all of these other statuettes seem to be coming out of the woodwork. We plop on a settee and nearly sit on one, guarded by a redheaded woman who must have won one of the more technical categories.

Bet a lot of people comment on how heavy that is, we say knowingly.

She sighs and waves her hand. “Go ahead.”

We lift, and — Whoa, Nellie. This thing is primed for bicep curls. So we do some.

Bet a lot of people try to do bicep


And then Michael Moore appears, finishing a cupcake and beckoning to the redhead. They must be dates, or buds, or carpoolers. “Let’s grab these Oscars and go.”

Go? But it feels like we only just got here. Time for another lap.

But Michael’s right. The stars are dissipating, hurtling away from the Sunset Tower, grabbing their freebie In-N-Out burgers from the food truck out front and then waiting for their town cars. Proximity to celebrity has rubbed off its sheen. The inhabitants of Jane World haven’t rotated in far too long. Ellie Kemper is still chatting in a corner, Kate Beckinsale is still mincing along in her tight sparkly dress.

Hello for the sixth time, Judy Greer.

Someone is standing on the train of our dress. Darn it, Kristen Wiig. Move along now. We’ve already had our moments.

A good rule of thumb for any party: When you are tired of seeing Kristen Wiig, it is time to go home.

Out into the chill night air, with a sackful of burgers for the ride home.

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