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Excerpt: So 5 Minutes Ago

In a Hollywood journalist's first novel, our heroine Alex fights her way through the down-and-dirty world of movie-biz publicity.

By Hilary de Vries - February 20, 2004
The days leading up to the Golden Globes are a big blur. But then they always are, given that they're basically the kickoff to Hollywood's Super Bowl. The endless meetings and phoning and arranging of limos, dresses, shoes, hair, jewelry—all for three hours of televised self-congratulation. If you think Hollywood secretly winks at awards handed out by a bunch of photographers and part-time "reporters" from Israel, Germany, Spain, and South Africa, think again. Actors will take anything for free. Especially if they can be photographed receiving it. Just when you can't take one more call from a stylist or an assistant or an E! producer, you remind yourself that it's only going to get worse before it gets better. If that doesn't work, comfort yourself with the fact that at least the Globes serve booze, so there's always the hope someone famous will do something outrageous, like Harvey Weinstein publicly flaying his publicists in the hotel lobby, and make the whole endeavor worth attending after all.

The day of the Globes dawns gray, damp, and cold. Might as well be Seattle except for the helicopters already buzzing over Beverly Hills. The capper is that rain is predicted, which means the clear plastic awning will go up at the Hilton and my hairdresser has to use the flattening iron to give my hair a fighting chance. By the time I head out in the Audi, a light drizzle is falling and I feel like Cinderella. Not because I'm going to meet my prince, but because the clock is ticking on when my ironed hair turns back into the unruly pumpkin.

I'm driving because the Phoenix, my client and this year's Lifetime Achievement award winner, has insisted on coming in a Toyota Prius limo—the first limo made from a hybrid car, or so I've been instructed to tell the press—which means there's only room for the driver, the Phoenix, and her outfit. Instead, I'm to meet her and my boss Suzanne at the entrance to the red carpet. Which is like saying you'll meet somebody in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

By the time I hit the parking garage in Century City, wedge myself into the hotel shuttle bus that's packed with the other non-celeb funeral guests—grim-faced, dressed in black, and reeking of perfume and Altoids—it's just past three and a steady rain is falling. Nearly two hours until the show begins, but it's already chaos, between the rain, the screaming fans, the limos, and the helicopters. Just getting on the carpet requires pushing through the crowd to the layer of cops ringing the hotel driveway, flashing my credentials, having my bag searched, and being waved through a metal detector.

Finally, I am squirted out onto the plush red runway and under the clear plastic tent. I shake the rain from my hair and scan the crowd. Everyone's pretty much in place except the A-listers—aka this year's Oscar hopefuls and the HBO stars—who will not arrive for at least an hour. But everyone else is here. The press and photographers are jammed into their booths, cordoned off to the sides. Media outlets are assigned their own minute square footage that they zealously guard and from which they scream like carnival barkers at a county fair. "Step right up and try your luck with Joan Rivers!" "Right here, folks, Access Hollywood!"

Later, they'll be herded into the press room, one of the hotel's ballrooms that has not been rented out to a studio or a network for its after-party, where they'll scream out their questions to the winners. So much for the glamour of the Hollywood press corps.

As for the river of celebs, it's still early. Mostly careers-on-the-wane-or-rise presenters like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Hilary Duff anxious to milk the moment, a few long-in-the-tooth TV stars like David Caruso and Kelsey Grammer and their wives. Wives are their own special category, falling into one of two camps: sylvan or porcine, both of which merit close study and raised eyebrows.

But mostly the carpet is populated by the folks you can't tell without a scorecard—dour-looking agents, executives, and producers. There are also fleets of my colleagues already looking panicky, expressionless security people in headsets and sunglasses—even in a downpour, sunglasses are de rigueur—and the requisite eye candy, the portfolio-free pretty young things in pastel evening dresses and expressions of great self-possession. Well, they're still young.

I check my watch. Just past 3:30. The Phoenix won't arrive for at least half an hour—other than the Best Actress nominees, she's the queen of this ball—so I decide to hunt down my assistant Steven and Troy, a client, who for all I know are stuck in the limo line out front. I reach in my bag for my cell and try dialing, but can't get a signal. Figures. I fish out my new BlackBerry. It's our latest gizmo from the office, but I still can't get the hang of typing on a keyboard the size of a credit card. I scrunch up my thumbs and type, Qgwew r U?

Shit. I try again. Where r U?

BH 90210 comes flying back.

Fk U, I type back. WHERE?

"Actually, we're right behind you," Steven says so suddenly that I drop the damn thing as I whip around.

"God, these things are great," he says, waving his BlackBerry. "How'd we ever get by without them?"

"Yeah, they're great," I say, diving to retrieve mine from under a security guard's feet. "So, you look nice," I say when I resurface, shaking my hair from my eyes. Actually, he looks better than nice. New Armani tux, slicked-backed hair, and the remnants of his Hawaii tan. "God, if I didn't know you were gay, I'd assume you were an agent."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Steven says, straightening his tie. "Although I wouldn't try that line at CAA."

"Right," I say, glancing around. "So where's Troy?"

Steven nods over his shoulder. "Back there somewhere. He got snagged. By Merle, I think."

"He got snagged?" I can't believe Steven is being this casual. "Then we're going back there and unsnag him."

I press through the crowd, scanning the little pas de deux's going on at the press booths. No sign of Troy. I catch sight of Merle Ginsberg, the indefatigable entertainment writer and fixture at these events, deep in conversation with Shalom Harlow about the lineage of her skintight flame-red gown.

"Great," I say to Steven. "You've been here, what, 10 minutes and already you've lost him?"

"Wait, there he is," Steven says, nodding down the carpet. "Talking to People, or is that the Today show?"

I turn and see Steven Cojocaru, aka Cojo, the legendary wispy-headed, acid-tongued style writer, talking animatedly with Troy. "Oh, fuck!" I say, turning and sprinting down the carpet. My new boss G will have my head here and now if he sees Troy talking unescorted to a TV outlet.

"Hey, guys," I say, pulling up breathlessly, clamping my hand on Troy's arm. "How's it going?"

"Hey, girl," Troy says, flashing me a blazing smile.

"Alex, you look fabulous," Cojo says, bending down to give me a kiss.

"Not as fabulous as you."

"No, but then no one does," he says, shaking his highlighted and flat-ironed locks from his eyes. "Although this lad comes close."

"Well, Troy is hard to beat," I say, smiling up at them. "Especially in Armani."

Troy looks confused. "Wait, isn't this Gucci? Steven?" He looks at Steven hovering behind me. "Gucci, right?"

"Right," Steven says, giving him a thumbs-up.

"Honey, it's Gucci," Cojo says, running his hand down Troy's lapel. "And with what, Tony Lama?" He glances down at Troy's snakeskin cowboy boots.

"Good eye," Troy says, sticking out his foot. "With a walking heel."

"A classic," Cojo says in a tone of voice that is a little too sarcastic for comfort.

"So Gucci, then. My mistake," I say brightly. But this is what I do here. Prattle, prattle, prattle. Fashion, fashion, fashion. Flatter, flatter, flatter. Keep things moving, Everyone smiling. Everyone talking about bullshit.

The prattle continues while I take a second to gaze around the crowd. It's almost doubled in the past few minutes. The carpet is a river of black shot with color—red, fuchsia, azure—and with more famous faces swimming into view. Tobey Maguire. Vin Diesel. Reese Witherspoon. Debra Messing. God, is that Kevin Costner? But what's with the hair? I make out the cast of The West Wing strolling in the way they always do, like the class valedictorians. Just wait until they get canceled. I stand on my toes to get a look at the entrance. Still no sign of the Phoenix—better call Suzanne and find out their ETA—but I make out another client, Val and her costar Melba and the rest of the show's cast streaming in flanked by Fox publicists. Val's got a tiara or something glittery clamped to her head, but what else is she wearing? I stand on my toes again. Her dress looks flesh-colored but floor-length, thank God. Still, I better do a drive-by.

"So I've been hearing good things about DWP, Alex."

"Wait a minute, what?" I say, turning back to Troy and Cojo.

"Troy was just saying the agency is really doing great," Cojo says. "After the merger. That you guys are really clicking."

"Really?" I say, giving Troy a what-gives? look.

"Ah, come on, Alex," he says, grabbing me by the shoulders. "I told him I wouldn't be here except for you."

"Oh, don't believe a word he says, except when he's talking about me," I say, laughing and leaning into him. Happy Client and Happy Publicist.

"Oh my God," Cojo says suddenly, catching sight of Kevin Costner. "Can you say 'thatch roof'? Kevin," he says, waving wildly. "Kevin, over here."

"OK, we're done here," I say, pushing Troy back into the crowd and looking around for Steven. Already, I can hear Troy's name being called farther down the press line.

"I'll take it from here," Steven says, surfacing next to me.

"Are you sure?" I hiss. "You can't let him out of your sight."

"Yes, I'm sure. Go find Suzanne and the Phoenix. I'll see you inside."

I push off, dive into the crowd, and head upstream. But paddling against the current is difficult. I am jostled around, thrust up against Sharon Stone, the unofficial queen of the Globes who will show up at this thing when she's in a walker, and nearly trip over Brad Pitt, who looks even cuter and more stoned up close. I finally surface next to Melba, Val's costar. Actually, I surface next to her breasts. Melba herself is still a few inches away. "Hey, Melba," I say, trying to wedge past her. Val is just behind her, holding forth to KNBC, her tiara glittering in the light of the video camera.

"I don't know, I mean the Globes is just, it's just the start of something big," Val says, breaking into the song and flinging her arms over her head. The reporter laughs delightedly. Bingo. My little flasher just made the evening news.

I catch sight of the Fox publicist flanking Val. She rolls her eyes at me and I roll mine back. No point in waking the baby. I give the publicist a little wave and disappear back into the crowd.

Hilary de Vries is an award-winning journalist who has covered Hollywood for more than a decade. This is excerpted from So 5 Minutes Ago, by Hilary de Vries. Copyright © 2004 by Hilary de Vries and published by Villard Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher. You can buy So 5 Minutes Ago at De Vries will be reading from So 5 Minutes Ago at Book Soup, at 8818 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, on March 4 at 7 p.m.

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