by Alan Light
I don’t recall exactly when my friendship with Shel Dorf began, but it was early in my fanzine publishing days. Shel wrote columns for both of the publications I founded, The Buyer’s Guide for Comics Fandom (1971) and Film Collector’s World (1976) – now called Comics Buyer’s Guide and Movie Collector’s World.
I first met Shel in person when I attended the 1976 San Diego Comic Convention, one of the only two times I attended. (The other was in 1982, the year before I sold my magazines to Krause Publications.) Once, when I was vacationing in Los Angeles, he came up and drove me around to comic book and movie poster shops, and we stopped by the usual tourist sights. I loved listening to his “inside” stories as we spent time together.
After I left the publishing world and comics fandom behind, Shel and I still kept in touch. In those pre-internet days, if I saw a magazine or newspaper article I thought would interest him, I would send it to him – and he’d do the same. I would also sometimes send him movies or TV shows on videotape, and we exchanged cards every year at Christmas time. We talked on the phone once or twice a year to catch up.
In 1988 I learned that Shel knew someone, Earl Lennon, who was very good friends with Bette Davis. Earl and his wife would cook dinners for Bette and vice versa. Shel mentioned that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gave Bette four tickets to the Oscars every year, but since she had no interest in going she gave them to Earl. Earl and his wife attended several telecasts.
I asked Shel if he thought Earl would be willing to sell the tickets, so Shel inquired and Earl said he would, for $500 per ticket. Tickets to the Oscars were, and are, very difficult to come by. The Academy tries to police the sale of tickets to outsiders. I bought all four tickets from Earl, and to thank Shel for the middleman favor – and because I knew how much he would enjoy attending – gave him one of the tickets.
Two friends and I flew out to Los Angeles two days before the telecast, and joined Shel for dinner at the original Spago.
We had our picture taken with chef/owner Wolfgang Puck and after eating we hung out with the paparazzi, including famed photographer Ron Galella, who were outside the restaurant. We saw Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, Fay Wray, Elayne Boozler and Lucie Arnaz.
Photographer Ron Gallella was famous in his own right because Jackie Onassis had once gone to court to get a restraining order against him to keep him from photographing her so much. We talked to Mr. Galella for a while and then Shel had the idea we should turn the tables on him, so Shel took a picture of my friends and I with Galella.
The Academy Awards telecast was scheduled to begin at 6pm on April 11, 1988 – LIVE of course – at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The instructions that came with our tickets said CAMERAS STRICTLY PROHIBITED but I snuck my pocket 35mm camera and extra film in my pockets anyway.
To “do it right” I had arranged for a stretch limousine to pick the four of us up at 3pm, and we took the 40-minute ride to the Shrine. We were all excited and beaming, including Shel.
Shel waved to the fans in the bleachers as we walked up the red carpet and went inside the Shrine Auditorium.
We saw and took photos of dozens of stars, including Sean Connery, Tom Selleck, Michael Douglas, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Stack. We asked Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) to pose and he agreed. He got one of the loudest receptions from the crowd in the bleachers.
We watched the telecast from our seats in the mezzanine. After it was over, the four of us went down to the main floor where Shel briefly spoke with Jon Voigt, Celeste Holm and others. I took their pictures together, and Shel took a photo of me standing with Charles “Buddy” Rogers. He also took a photo of the three of us with Candice Bergen, who as I recall wasn’t thrilled to be bothered. As soon as the flash went off I turned to thank her, but she had sped away.
After milling around the lobby for a while we went outside and socialized with the fans. Our chauffeur spotted us and asked if we would mind walking to the car, 5 minutes away, because of the traffic jam around the Shrine. We were on cloud nine.
I will always be grateful to Shel for making the wonderful memories of our Oscar adventure possible.
For more of Alan Light’s 60th Annual Academy Awards photographs, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/alan-light/sets/72157594230523625/