Better yet, I wanted to have a good reason to be there. It was 1990 and I was invited to go to the big dance. I’d just finished working on my first name picture, CHAMPIONS FOREVER starring Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, George Foreman and Ken Norton. And my feature documentary was in the running for best picture in the documentary category. In the end I didn’t make the cut. It was still a time when Ali was looked down on over his ties to a not popular religious group.
That would change later with, When We Were Kings. My movie was the only time all five champions were together in one room and interviewed about their careers and fights with Ali – he’d fought them all.
My best pal in LA, actor Sonny Landham, had invited me to go with him to the ceremony. Sonny’s career was hot with 48 Hours, Predator, Lock Up and more. And Landham was a longtime member of the Academy.
Even back then they checked to make sure only invited guests would walk the red carpet and get seats. Seats to the awards show were selling for up to $5,000 each. But if you got caught selling them you were terminated from the Academy. You had to get permission for a guest to use one of your seats.
Obviously, the theater didn’t have enough seats for all the members, so they did a lottery to see who got seats and who didn’t. I’m sure if you were say John Travolta or Spielberg, this wasn’t an issue.
What made my attendance so odd, is I was still in the federal halfway house in downtown Los Angeles. I was in my last month of custody and I had to get permission to go from about 10 different higher ups. They said, OK, but be back by 10 pm.
Sonny and I were joined by screen writer Robert Roy Pool to walk the red carpet that afternoon. Yep, it starts pretty early and all the attendees walked the red carpet. Pool had written a couple big films like Armaggedden and was the writer of my movie script for OUTLAWS for Universal.
The crowds cheered as everyone walked the carpet, even though I was friends with Variety columnist Army Archerd – his son was my lawyer – we didn’t get to stop and be interviewed. Hah. The cheering was for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg who were just up in front of us. Bob Pool thought they recognized him, but, uh they didn’t. Sonny was popular though.
I was introduced to a ton of stars ranging from Kim Basinger to Denzel Washington. I felt stupid saying, “I have a movie in development.” Who there didn’t have a picture in development?
Sonny and I got a bit bored during the five hour show and ended up in the bar at the ABC lounge at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The show wasn’t over when I had to leave before 10 pm so I wouldn’t get in trouble. But they want you to stay in your seats so when the TV cameras pan the audience there are no empty seats.
It was an experience to say the least.
However I didn’t feel great about it, my film not getting a nomination. I would attend one more awards ceremony with my partner Ron Hamady years later. I’ll wager that it’s likely anybody else attended the Academy Awards while in a halfway house.
Today, I am still good pals with Sonny Landham, I was best man at his wedding in Kentucky. Bob Pool wrote and produced a couple more films including Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman. Ron and I did four more sports movies.
And today my life story has just been optioned from the book KING OF STING, by yet another major production company with Touchstone Pictures.
Who knows, maybe I’ll be back at the awards again before long?