Irena Medavoy: An Insider's Oscar Weekend Diary

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From left: Petra Nemcova, Medavoy and Toni Garrn at Elton John’s 2017 viewing party. The event raised a record $7 million, thanks in part to matching donations made by producer Eric Esrailian in honor of 'The Promise,' a film on which Mike Medavoy also served as producer.

Since Swifty's at Spago, the wife of Oscar-nominated producer Mike Medavoy has seen every surprise and scandal (including an unexpected appearance by Monica Lewinsky) the red carpet has to offer.

My first Oscar party was Irving “Swifty” Lazar’s at Spago with Wolfgang Puck. My husband at the time, Harris Katleman, ran Fox TV, and Irving liked him. We were TV and not film, but Irving didn’t care. If he and his wife, Mary, liked you, you were golden.

Swifty took the Academy Awards very seriously, the way everyone took the theater seriously in All About Eve. If you had to go to the bathroom during an acceptance speech, I don’t think you’d be back the next year. He loved everybody who was a movie star, and he was close to all the wives, too. I remember someone once came up to him and said, “Why is so-and-so here?” and he replied, “Why are you here?”

Spago was high on the Sunset Strip then. It was an intimate place. Sitting next to Gregory and Veronique Peck would be Sidney and Joanna Poitier, Warren Beatty and Andy Warhol. Wolfgang was more than a chef; he contributed to the atmosphere, the way he and his wife, Gelila, will do again this year at the Governors Ball. I remember when he first served his smoked salmon and caviar pizza. He would say, “It’s my Jewish pizza.” Nobody had seen anything like it. 

A divorce or two later, I married my endgame, movie producer Mike — 25 years together — and the party switched to Vanity Fair at Morton’s and later Jeff Klein’s Sunset Tower. That party mixed society and scandal all in one. When Monica Lewinsky came one year, everyone gasped and ran into the bathroom to gossip. The recipe was in the throwing together of what you don’t expect. Exploit it. Invite it. Seat it. And it worked. Whoever was in the news was at Graydon Carter’s Oscar parties. This year, though, I doubt President Trump would be invited. And I’m excited to meet the new editor, Radhika Jones. 

One of my favorite moments was in 2016 the night that Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Academy Award after five nominations. To see his mom, Irmelin DiCaprio, holding Leo’s Oscar with the biggest smile said everything. It was pure joy and love.

The funniest thing that happened to me on Oscar night was when I was wearing turquoise Monique Lhuillier on the red carpet and the paparazzi were screaming, “Irena! Irena!” like they were on speed. And Mike said, “Wow, you look amazing.” I said, “Keep walking. It can’t be for me.” And Mike said, “Who else can it be for?” I said, “If you stop, I will kill you.”

Five seconds later, the most gorgeous woman in the world, Irina Shayk, walks by in a black stop-your-heart see-through dress. We burst into laughter.

The one party I was looking forward to most this year is Diane von Furstenberg’s luncheon to honor female nominees. From Greta Gerwig to Rachel Morrison to Dee Rees, there are so many firsts to be celebrated. And I love Laura Dern’s involvement in the Academy. I am feeling The Dern! The Academy should be proud of all the change that has happened this year — it’s a historic moment for our town.

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.