The plush, wavy-top seats of the Tribeca Grand's screening room are often occupied by celebs like Matt Damon, Ben Stiller, Uma and Ethan. But this Oscar night, they'll be filled by the folks who answer their phones.
The 75 aides-de-camp to such people-who-need-people as Kyra Sedgwick, Kevin Bacon, Edie Falco, and Sarah Ferguson formed an association called the New York Celebrity Assistants five years ago. This will be the first time they tune in to the ultimate starfest all together.
"The group is good for contacts," says the Duchess of York's right hand, John O'Sullivan. "You know, 'Does anybody have Madonna's phone number?' " When an assistant needed a sugarless, vegan cake last week, O'Sullivan was there with the answer. When Bonnie Kramen, NYCA's co-chair and Olympia Dukakis's aide for the past fifteen years, needed to get her boss off jury duty, she put out an e-mail for advice and received twenty responses in fifteen minutes.
Because their jobs are like being the ultimate fan, the line between them and their bosses begins to blur. "If you're a good celebrity assistant, you know how to get right into the heart and soul of your celebrity," notes Jacques Boubli, former assistant to Isaac Stern. "The relationship is intimate. I don't mean in a sexual way. But if somebody asks your celebrity a question, you should be able to answer it as they would." (Note: "Boundaries with your boss" was a recent NYCA lecture topic.)
When the lights go down, however, it's not the nominees they'll be taking about. "Every time the camera shows Harrison Ford, Richard Gere -- I think, 'I know their assistant,' " says O'Sullivan. "When I see Oprah, I think, 'Oh, Libby! How's Libby doing?' " Probably freaking out, since awards-night prep work is like being on Dubya's advance team. "You find out where the dressing room is and walk the route," says George Shephard, who did just that for Betty Buckley. "When I went anywhere with Betty, I had panty hose, a flashlight, and a small sewing kit at all times." Then there's the Speech. "Assistants type up scripts or write them, even," says Elaine Stritch's Rick Borutta. "I'll worry that they've left it in the bathroom or something."
Their tasks may seem onerous, but the associative glamour has its perks. The Tribeca Grand approached them about the party in its precious basement theater and offered free wild-mushroom risotto with truffle essence (and popcorn). "But the food will be outside the room," says Kramen. "Inside," she emphasizes, "attention will be paid."