It’s the biggest night of the year — and the hardest to get invited to. For all us non-celebs, the Vanity Fair Oscar Party is as exciting as it is mysterious. And with the ultra-exclusive guest list and the star-studded Instagram posts, how could we not be curious? Here’s the behind-the-scenes scoop on the party’s production, history, and most iconic moments throughout the years.
The Big Night
Stars sit in groups of eight to 10, watching the awards ceremony on screens throughout the dining room. Over a four-course meal, they root for their friends, exes (maybe), and the producers that gave them their first big break. The biggest moments of the awards season play out in front of them: the shocking, the heartwarming, the inspiring. 2017’s LaLa Land–Moonlight mixup, the 2022 Will Smith-Chris Rock slap, the historical Best Picture win for Parasite in 2020. If there’s one place you want to be to witness these scenes, it’s here: the Vanity Fair Oscars Party.
Surprisingly, celebrities don’t seem to take their place on the Vanity Fair guest list for granted. In a deceptively intense industry, it’s the one night a year where the scorecards are put away. So are the bodyguards, the agents, and the handlers. Even the press is only relatively patrolled — reporters will scribble notes in the bathroom to avoid getting kicked out. Journalist and VF Oscar party veteran Frank Digiacomo wrote of the event, “Hollywood once again becomes high school with money, as the cliché goes, but in a fun, revealing, John Hughes kind of way.” And it seems that the insiders share a similar attitude about the night. Take stars like Rashida Jones and Kelly Lynch, for example. They’ve credited the party with bringing glamor back to Hollywood in a way the industry has “forgotten about”.
A Celebration of Community
Perhaps this feat — preserving such gilded glamor — can be credited to the event’s lack of hierarchy. Which, in this industry, is nothing short of a miracle. There are no clear A-, B-, and C-listers, no V.I.P. section, no paparazzi. Just a collection of Hollywood’s finest, fan-girling over each other. It’s safe to say that’s the theme of the night (Anjelica Huston told Vanity Fair, “Nobody likes a celebrity more than a celebrity”). And for fans of the stars, there’s no better place to be. The guest list has always been eclectic, with one main goal in mind: to bring together the worlds of sports, art, literature, music, fashion, society, and politics in one glamorous room. Throw in some cocktails and a few In-N-Out burgers, and you’re bound to get some pretty interesting encounters.
Where else will you spot Bill Maher and Tim Tebow having an earnest conversation about football? Or overhear Monica Lewinksy thanking a Ralph Lauren executive for creating a dress that would finally produce more media attention than her own? (Gwyneth Paltrow’s 1999 pink taffeta gown, of course). Guests have ranged from art collectors to socialites to hoteliers — even heroic pilots (Chesley Sullenberger was a particularly iconic guest in 2009). Graydon Carter, former host, aptly called the event a version of “Vanity Fair Live.” Even Elton John heads to the after-party once his own iconic Oscar-night dinner wraps up. He’s also one of the celebrities who auction off invitations to the magazine’s party, raising millions of dollars for charity in the process.
Where it All Began
Before VF stepped onto the after party scene, the hottest ticket of awards show season came from Swifty Lazar. It all started on April 13th, 1964. Powerhouse agent Irving Paul Lazar (dubbed ‘Swifty’ after landing Humphrey Bogart three deals in one day) threw his first Oscar bash. It was an intimate and less-than glamorous affair. Forty guests sat on folding chairs, dined on beef stew, and watched the awards ceremony on two television sets. When Lazar passed away after 30 years of his parties, which had gradually become iconic, Graydon Carter (Vanity Fair’s editor at the time) and Steven Tisch (producer of Forrest Gump) carried the torch. They created a new Oscar party, one for a younger generation.
The first Vanity Fair Oscar dinner was held in 1994, and hosted 100 guests at Morton’s, a favorite among Hollywood’s powerhouses. By the time the ceremony ended, the guest list climbed to around 200. It included names like Robert De Niro, Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, and Nancy Reagan. By 1998, Vanity Fair had taken total control over the event, which was now the ticket of the year. The party rotated through a few spaces since its birth in the 90s, from Morton’s to the Sunset Tower Hotel. Now, it’s held in Beverly Hills, at a newly designed space at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
Behind the Scenes:
You don’t create the hottest party of the year by accident. Each part of the event is meticulously planned, from traffic patterns to theatrical lighting to wall-to-wall branding. When the party was at a hotel, producers booked rooms surrounding the event space to prevent crashers. Security is imperative, with bomb-sniffing dogs and high-alert teams surrounding the premises. And while entry used to be guaranteed to anyone who arrived with an Oscar, that rule has since been changed. Security chief Keith Duval says people came with fake Oscars and bodyguards, or real ones that “they’d bought at a pawnshop”.
The Guest List: Everyone Who’s Anyone
As for those who are on the guest list, the annual invitation process begins on the day of Oscar nomination announcements. The major nominees receive invitations with handwritten notes from the magazine team. The rest of the guest list gets planned in the previous fall and winter. When building a guest list as important as this one, the magazine team gets to ask themselves one crucial question. “Who would I like to meet?”
The seating chart is just as much of an operation. Think about it — you have all of Hollywood in one room. That means one seating chart has to consider all of the industry’s famed romances, breakups, business partnerships, friendships, and conflicts. Sounds simple, right? Plus-one’s, or -two’s, or -five’s also present a tricky situation, though things are a bit more flexible for Oscar winners. One infamous story about Charlize Theron illustrates such a scenario. The rumor goes that when Theron wasnominated for the film Monster, her publicist asked the magazine for some wiggle room. “If she loses, she’s coming with a girlfriend. If she wins, she’s bringing a gaggle.” Theron took home the Academy Award, and her crew was happily accommodated.
The Oscars 2023
This year, Vanity Fair is back at the Wallis Annenberg Center, its home base since 2015. The event will be held on Sunday, March 13th. Dinner begins at 5 pm, with the after-party to follow the awards ceremony. Cornucopia Events is auctioning off tickets whose proceeds benefit the Film Foundation; learn more about that here.