Cinderella Goes to the Oscars

Glamorous gown? Check. Tickets to the ball? Check. Glass slippers? Do black satiny sparkly ones count?

Now let’s hope Prince Charming will sweep me off my feet and my carriage (in this case, taxi) doesn’t turn into a pumpkin after midnight.

On Sunday, I will be living my own Cinderella story of sorts. This girl from a small town in Pennsylvania is going to the Oscars.

Check out our new Oscars section!

Print out your own Oscar ballot (pdf)

Watch live streaming video of Grrr! guy Mike Straka on the red carpet at beginning Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST.

I will have my hair and makeup done. I will squeeze into the deep pink, size-too-small, $25,000 gown loaned to me for the occasion by designer Reem Acra, with the help of something I have become intimately acquainted with called shapewear.

I will walk down the red carpet, hopefully without tripping. I may even wave. My date will be my dad, and he’ll be wearing his freshly dry-cleaned tuxedo. We will be interviewed — not, thankfully, by Joan Rivers, but by’s Mike Straka (if we can find him in the crowd) for an online video segment.

And maybe, when I finally take my seat in the Kodak Theatre, I will turn to find Johnny Depp or Matt Damon or Reese Witherspoon or Gwyneth Paltrow sitting next to me. My dad is hoping to catch a glimpse of Naomi Watts. They are, after all, compatriots — they're both from Australia.

Then, for once in my life, I will watch the Academy Awards live instead of on a television screen in my apartment. And I will laugh wickedly to myself about the fact that I actually got here somehow, in spite of all those years of overly teased ‘80s hair and bad suburban fashion sense.

But I digress. Let’s back up and start where all good fairy tales start, from Once Upon a Time. Which in this case was in mid-December, when I called the Academy press office and asked how I could get tickets to the Oscars.

I was told to write a letter to the publicity department explaining why I wanted to go and what I intended to write about. I typed up my request that day, explaining that I did features about the Oscars every year, but this time I wanted to write about the experience of being there in person versus watching the ceremony on TV.

It was all very simple, really. And it was a total long shot that the answer would be yes.

A month later, I was tearing open an envelope from the Academy that had landed on my desk. Inside was my invitation to the telecast, with a photo of the golden statuette they call Oscar on the front. I’d only asked for one ticket, but I was granted two. I was speechless. And ecstatic. I can’t be sure, but I may have let out an audible whoop in the office.

Over the next few weeks, I set about preparing for the trip, which turned out to be almost as complicated as planning a wedding. There were the flight and hotel to reserve. The designers to call and beg for a dress. The shapewear to shop for. The hair and makeup people to track down and book ... (“On Sundays, dear, I don’t work on Sundays ever. But you sound like a charming person,” one Los Angeles hairstylist responded encouragingly on my voicemail).

About the shapewear. It has naughty names like "Spanx," comes in waist- and chest-high varieties and is the closest lingerie gets to high-tech.

Pulling it on can be murder, and finding the right one was like hunting for buried treasure. The process of trying it on meant I became unwantingly, uncomfortably chummy with intimate-apparel sales clerks at Bloomingdale’s, Saks and Lord & Taylor.

But when I finally found the winner (at Lord & Taylor) and wriggled into the dress for the umpteenth time, my stomach magically flattened and the wrinkles around the waist miraculously smoothed out. And I wasn’t even sucking in my middle.

The search for the dress was another adventure all its own. When I picked up the three Reem Acra gowns from the messenger center downstairs at my office building, my knees almost buckled when I saw the price of each written on the form: $25,000.

I couldn’t zip up the first two I slipped into. I did manage to get far enough into them to see that one looked like a number Teri Hatcher might wear to, say, the Grammys (yes, it was see-through). Both had more beading than I’d care to discuss, making them look better suited for the “mature” woman.

The third, thank heaven, was positively regal. It was a deep iridescent pink with thin straps and intricate beading around the chest that flowed down to the floor. It screamed Oscar dress and made me feel like a princess.

Unfortunately, the princess I felt like had to hold her breath so her stomach wouldn’t jut out because, alas, it was just a wee bit too small. So I continued the hunt, going to another designer named Heidi Weisel to try on more gowns. I took colleague Cassie Carothers with me as my photographer.

There was a satin aqua-blue number that showed a little too much of me. A low-cut lime green dress (Debra Messing wore it in a different color) showed even more than a little too much of me. An ivory gown with feathers at the bottom was a challenge to get into and made me look hippy. But a pretty blue-and-purple patterned dress with slits in the front and back was a strong contender for The One.

In the end, to quote Jack Black’s character in “King Kong”: “’Twas beauty killed the beast.” Beauty being shapewear, the beast being the bulge. And so it was that the deep pink snug-but-elegant Reem Acra won out.

A week before I was to leave, I called one of my favorite film and Hollywood sources, movie critic Anderson Jones, to tell him I’d be at the Academy Awards this year. The conversation went something like this:

Andy: Good for you, Catherine. You’re doing something I’ve never done before: watching the Oscars from inside the theater.

Me: Really? You’ve never gone in to the show?

Andy: No. There are people all over Los Angeles hanging themselves right now because they don’t have a ticket.

Me (incredulous): It’s that hard to get in?

Andy: Yes. And guess what? You’re going to be really, really bored. Tell me if they have an open bar in there, will you?

I will. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish scrubbing these floors before my evil stepsisters get home. It's almost time to leave for the ball.

Stay tuned Monday for Catherine's account of her night at the ball!