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Why you can't buy a ticket to the Oscars - and more
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Film Critic
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Published: 2/22/2009 12:03 AM

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Five questions you didn't ask about the Academy Awards, so I did:

1. Do you trust that the Oscar ballots are in good hands?

Without question. L.A.-based Price Waterhouse accountants Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas tally the nominees and guard the ballots. I can't vouch for Rosas, but Oltmanns lived in Chicago's Lincoln Park from 1994 to 2002. He's also a U of I grad born and raised in Rockford where his mom still lives. Hey, it's good to know a Chicagoan is one of the only two people in the universe who know the winners at tonight's show. That makes Oltmanns untouchable.

2. How do you become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?

Like in Illinois politics, you gotta know somebody.

A candidate must be sponsored by at least two Academy members from the branch the candidate qualifies for. The Academy is now up to 15 branches, including actors, writers, publicists and hairstylists. So it pays to be nice.

Of course, as in politics, there are shortcuts.

It's called an Oscar nomination. If you receive one of these, or win an Oscar, it works like a magic "Bypass sponsorship; go straight to Executive Committee" card.

Each branch's Executive Committee must endorse the candidate before being submitted to the full Board.

That's what just happened to Diablo Cody, who was born in suburban Lemont and attended Benet Academy in Lisle before she went on to win an Oscar for her clever screenplay to 2007's smash hit "Juno."

She's one of 105 people being invited to join the Academy this year. No word yet from Cody on if she'll accept.

3. How can you get tickets to the Academy Awards show?

I went straight to the Academy press office for the short and not-so-sweet answer to this question, which I often receive from Northwest suburban readers who want to buy Oscar tickets as gifts.

"The Academy Awards ceremony is a closed, invitation-only event," the press office wrote in an e-mail. "Tickets are not available to the public."

What did I say? You gotta know somebody.

4. What's it like to be an Academy member?

To answer this one, I asked a real, live Academy voter: Michael Herbick. He grew up in Glen Ellyn, graduated from Glenbard West High School in 1967 and went to the College of Dupage before winding up in Hollywood as a sound technician called a "rerecording mixer" or "supervising rerecording mixer."

His long list of film credits includes "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile" and, more recently, "Valkyrie."

"I've been an Academy member since either 1991 or 1992," Herbick informed me by e-mail. "It's quite an honor and one I never thought I would get. The best part to me is the recognition by one's peers of your abilities. One has to be invited to join the Academy after a vote by your peers in your branch, mine being sound."

What about the voting responsibilities?

"I get to see all the newest films in the Academy Theater in Beverly Hills, which is a nice theater indeed," Herbick wrote. "As far as time required, it varies. We all should see all nominated films. However, it can be difficult. I do my best, sometimes watching on DVD at home instead of the theater. Even then, it's difficult to watch every movie all the way through."

5. Was there anyone after George C. Scott who refused an Academy Award for acting?

Yes. The awards-allergic Scott refused the Oscar in 1970 for "Patton." Two years later, an original maverick named Marlon Brando - frequently bounced into the principal's office as a student at Libertyville High School during the late 1930s - didn't show up to accept his best actor Oscar for "The Godfather."

Sacheen Littlefeather, an Indian activist and 1970's winner of the Miss American Vampire competition, accepted the Oscar with a highly truncated, rambling version of Brando's 15-page letter explaining why he rejected the award.

Bonus question: Does anyone know what happened to Brando's statuette?

No.

The Academy Awards

7 p.m. today on ABC 7

• Red carpet coverage begins at 5 p.m. on E! and the TV Guide channel

• Barbara Walters' pre-Oscar show with Anne Hathaway, Mickey Rourke, Hugh Jackman and the Jonas Brothers begins at 6 p.m. on ABC 7.