Dressing Suitably for the Emmys

Last night’s Emmy Awards reminded me of a story about my dad. I last recounted this story in June when my brother, sisters, niece and nephew sailed out into the San Francisco Bay to dispose of Dad’s ashes. We all told a story about him, and this is the one I shared.

In 1983, I arranged for my dad and his wife Mary Lynn to get tickets to that year’s Emmy Awards show. It was a fun chance to hang out with well-dressed Hollywood stars, even though we were in the nosebleed seats. I get dressed up in my tuxedo (I still owned one then) and Mary Lynn put on a nice gown, but my dad showed up in a dark blue business suit.

I was a bit appalled. The invitation had clearly said “black tie” and he looked embarrassingly out of place in a sea of tuxedos and bow ties, but there was nothing to be done.

The lobby of the Pasadena Civic Center was very crowded and, since we weren’t VIPs, it took us awhile to even get in. Once we finally got inside, Dad excused himself to go to the men’s room. The rest of us found our seats and waited. And waited. It was getting very close to the start time and Dad still hadn’t made his way back to his seat. This was a live television show and I was concerned that if he didn’t return on time, he might get locked out. I was just about to go look for him when he showed up, looking a bit flustered.

“The strangest thing happened to me”, he said. “I was coming out of the restroom when someone grabbed me, said ‘There you are!’, and starting dragging me backstage. I didn’t know what was going on, but I eventually pulled myself free when I saw that he wasn’t taking me to my seat. The guy asked ‘Aren’t you part of the show?’, and I told him no and had to show him my ticket before he’d let me go.”

I should explain here that my dad was an incorrigible storyteller. I had shared many of his adventures and noticed that, in the retelling, certain elements had become, and I say this generously and with affection, exaggerated. I greeted his backstage tale with a healthy amount of skepticism, but let it go as the show finally started.

The 35th Primetime Emmy Awards are remembered mostly for the coarse language that came from the hosts, Joan Rivers and Eddie Murphy. For viewers at home, a lot of it was bleeped out, but we got to hear everything in all of its original glory. Cheers and Hill Street Blues won a lot of awards. Judd Hirsch won for Taxi and gave a bittersweet acceptance speech since the show had recently been cancelled. We saw clips of Michael Jackson wowing the world from the Motown 25 special.

There is a time in every awards show where they explain how the votes are tabulated. It’s generally a low point, since it is difficult to make really exciting TV out of rules of accountancy. To spice things up that year, the president of the Academy came out and introduced the Price-Waterhouse dancers. As he explained how the votes were counted, out came a line of men in blue business suits, swinging suitcases and executing a well-choreographed dance.

I turned and looked at my dad, sitting next to me in his blue business suit, and he just responded with an arched eyebrow. I suddenly had a vision of him being pulled onstage with the dancers and stumbling his way through the number, all the while protesting that he needed to get back to his seat. He must have been thinking something similar, for we both burst out laughing.

I think we both received valuable lessons that day: Dad learned to pay more attention to the dress code, and I learned to not always be so skeptical of his wild stories.


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