"You know how to handle the red carpet? Just turn your head and smile, but don't stop. Never stop." Goldie Hawn dispensed that sage advice to Winona Ryder while backstage at the Oscar telecast of 1996. Veteran entertainment journalist Steve Pond was there to hear it. For nearly a decade, Pond was given unprecedented access to the Academy Awards. The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards is the meticulously detailed result. From milestones to minutia, it's the ultimate backstage pass to the show of shows.

Pond reveals how the Allan Carr-produced 1989 telecast shaped what was to come. True, Carr's much-hyped, heavily panned night abounded in mind-boggling moments, like the opening number featuring Rob Lowe and Snow White warbling "Proud Mary." But it also marked the first time we heard the words, "And the Oscar goes to. . ." rather than, "And the winner is. . ." Carr also brought aboard a fashion coordinator and corporate sponsors. And, he amped up the glamour.

But if there's a template, there's also headache-inducing uncertainty. Pond gives us a fly-on-the-wall look at what goes on in the producer's office, the control room, the media area and more. You want rehearsals? For her song from Dick Tracy, Madonna practiced so many times she ranks as a record holder. She actually showed up late one night wearing nightgown and slippers. Then there was the time she wanted to rehearse even after a camera operator had taken a spill in the orchestra pit and was awaiting the paramedics. "But she's just lying there. Can't we do this?" Madonna whined. For a classier star turn, there was Kevin Spacey, helping a dazed Julia Roberts backstage following her Oscar win. When the out-of-breath Roberts requested champagne, a show staffer pointed to the water cooler. "No. Only champagne will do. You have to understand," insisted Spacey, who knows firsthand what it's like to win. Hey, Oscar recognition should have its privileges. Howard Hughes biographer Pat H. Broeske never misses an Oscar telecast.

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