Warren Beatty and Fred Berger Could Be Any of Us

Laura Richards
4 min readFeb 28, 2017

By Laura Richards

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Ever since I saw Warren Beatty’s deer in the headlights Oscar moment on the world’s stage while holding the golden ticket (well, a red envelope in this case) as the audience waited with bated breath, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It has replayed in my head ever since learning about what really happened that night. That even the most elite celebrities are caught in a “What the h*** should I do here?” moment from time to time, just like the rest of us.

Sure, this was the Oscars, viewed by millions across the globe with every beautiful person in the industry sitting in front of him, staring at his every move. As Warren held that envelope, I couldn’t help but think, how many of us have faced a similar situation on a smaller scale and completely frozen? A moment that maybe we’ll look back upon wondering what could have been done differently?

Clearly Warren knew something was wrong the moment he opened the red envelope. He saw the name of an actress and a movie on the card. He knew something was amiss but he had the world watching, waiting, telepathically saying, “Don’t be a wise guy, don’t joke around, we’ve waited all night, heck, all year…read the damn card!!!!” You could almost see the wheels spinning in his head questioning, “What do I do?” The panic of being in front of people, knowing something was wrong weighed by the ensuing chaos if he stopped the proceedings.

Does he trudge ahead and read the card knowing it was wrong? Instead of calling foul, he showed it to Faye Dunaway in a possible attempt to get a second opinion, hoping that she too would see the mix-up but she was feeling her own heat wondering why Warren was hesitating. She clearly wanted it over, spied “La La Land” on the card and called it just to end the pain.

What happened next stunned me. Warren stood there. Instead of turning to someone, anyone, he stood there doing nothing, watching the cast of “La La Land” alight the stage handing the statue and erroneous red envelope to someone he knew didn’t win. It wasn’t until the entire cast, crew and miscellany were already up there holding their statues beaming, crying and giving speeches that the error was uncovered and people with headsets were on stage trying to fix this God-awful mess playing out on live television.

Fred Berger, producer of “La La Land,” knew something was amiss too but he took the microphone and started to give his speech anyway. It was a fascinating example of humanity and the choices we make when our selfish hopes, dreams and desires are slipping through our hands right before our eyes.

When given word that they had not in fact won Best Picture, Fred knew he’d miss his moment in the sun. He’d never won an Oscar before and may never be nominated again, but instead of doing the right thing and stopping a totally unaware Marc Platt, one of the “La La Land” producers, who called him over to speak, Fred grabbed the mic and started in on his acceptance speech anyway saying, “To the love of my life, Ali Loewy, I love you. I love you so much, to my family, Mama, Papa, Jeff, Matt Plouffe, you kicked this off and Damien Chazelle, we’re standing on your shoulders. We lost, by the way, but, you know…” and then he walked away.

It was a stunningly sad but wrong moment. A moment of a triumph snatched by no fault of his own but one he didn’t deserve. A moment of embarrassing and bald-faced human frailty under the hot light of Hollywood for all to see. Fred knew he didn’t win, but he grabbed the mic anyway. What does that say about the man and his character? Not much.

Meanwhile, “Moonlight” cast members were taking the stage as the “La La Land” folks slipped off and Warren Beatty expressed what happened and why he hesitated, that he wasn’t trying to be funny but that he was given the wrong envelope.

It’s a moment no one will ever forget, for obvious reasons, but it’s a moment I’ll never forget because it showcased the worst in people. What people do when faced with a dilemma, to do the right thing (or not in this case) even if it’s in front of millions of people.

A moment of choices. A moment of humanity.



Laura Richards

Bylines at The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe Magazine and more. Portfolio: www.LauraRichardsWriter.com