The Oscarheads Are Here!

There are deadheads. And then there are Oscarheads. Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium

Call them fanatics, devotees, or even fools, but nothing — neither puzzled stares, physical discomfort nor gusting wind — is going to quell the insistent fervor of Oscar diehard fans. Don’t believe? Just cruise down to the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium and witness the long row of tents, beach chairs, and sleeping bags neatly adorning the sidewalk. While construction crews began to erect public bleachers at the arrival area of the auditorium today, about a dozen Oscar enthusiasts from California to Germany hunkered down here in the hope of getting one of those first-come-first-serve seats for Sunday’s ceremony.

As you make your way through the makeshift Oscar shantytown outside the Shrine, several questions pop into your head: (1) Why are these people here?; (2) Is the experience really worth it?; and, (3) Don’t these guys work?

And yes — they do work, but it’s just that they — 90 percent of them at least — happen to be on vacation. And if you were to question the wisdom of their vacation choice (which we did), they’d tell you, in unison, that there’s no other place they’d rather be than on the bleachers come Oscar morning.

“I always wonder what it’d be like to see the stars arrive at the Oscars,” says Chris Collins, a Port Huron, Mich., native who’s been camping out at the awards for five years. “I’ve read about people lining up outside the awards, and then one day, I just said to myself, ‘Well, I’m gonna try it.’ And I’m glad that I did. I think it’s a worthwhile way to spend a vacation.”

Diehards: Oscar campers at Shrine Most of the Oscar campers out here today were bona-fide veterans who’d been through the routine before – many times before.

“This is our 31st years at the Oscar,” said Babe Churchill, who’s driven from Chino, Calif., Thursday night to claim the first spot in line. “And the reason why we keep coming back is because we love the movies and we love seeing the stars.”

And who are some of the famous elite they want to see? Julia Roberts, Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, and Liz Taylor are the most popular mentions.

Some of the Oscarheads estimated that the crowd will grow to 1,000 people on the day of the ceremony, and they expect the real fan onslaught to come Thursday and Friday. That should make for an interesting situation, since according to the Oscar folks, there are only 200 seats available on the bleachers this year.

But instead of a survival-of-the-fittest mentality, there instead is an atmosphere of relaxed camaraderie pervading the campsite (at least for now). The sense of community is best embodied by “Oscar Chatter,” a monthly newsletter for “the dedicated fans of the Academy Awards” (i.e., the people who’ve been here for four days).

“You meet people here year after year, and even though you always promise to keep in touch, you never do,” said Tina Hernandez, the editor-in-chief of the fanzine, and a 17-year veteran of the event. “The reason I started the newsletter in 1997 was because I want to bring all the people whom I’ve met together somehow. This is a way for all of us to keep in touch throughout the year. We have 35 members right now, from England, Germany and the U.S.”

There’s an undeniable excitement you get from the faithful as they recount their celebrity encounters, like the time John Travolta and Steve Martin talked to a “Oscar Chatter” member, or the time that Robin Williams waved to Hernandez. And you begin to realize that what the Oscarheads want is not so much to see the stars, but to relate to them in ways that, so to speak, make celebrities tangible and human.

“Seeing them in person and seeing them for real,” says Hernandez. “The key to this whole thing it’s to see the stars and to see them being receptive to you.”