Partying with the fellowship of the fans

Forget the Vanity Fair soiree, the hottest bash in town last night was at
the Hollywood American Legion.

By Mary McNamara, Times Staff Writer

Fifteen hundred fans of “The Lord of the Rings,” Ringers as they call
themselves, swept down Highland Boulevard like the horsemen of Rohan
charging onto the Pelennor Fields during the climactic battle scene in “The
Return of the King.” From around the world they came, in fancy gowns and
Elvish cloaks, in hobbit feet and designer tuxedos, to watch director Peter
Jackson and his colleagues collect the gold on Oscar night.

Even the most ardent of them were unprepared for the army of statues that
ensued. “I prayed to God for a sweep,” said Katherine Eppich, who came from
Kansas for awards night. “We love this movie because we love heroes and we
need heroes right now.”

Forget the Vanity Fair soiree, or even the party for New Line Cinema (which
made the “Lord” trilogy), a more sedate affair in the belly of the Pacific
Design Center. The hottest bash in town last night was at the Hollywood
American Legion; the dress code was black tie, pointy ears optional, and the
last pair of available tickets was auctioned off on EBay days ago for

No other films have spanned the chasm between fan culture and critical
acclaim in quite the way “The Lord of the Rings” did, and this will never be
as clear as at the party thrown by, a website
created five years ago to chronicle and discuss the creation of Jackson’s
epic from the moment filming began. If the epic was a masterwork of new
technology, so was its fan base

All those years of fantasy-geek-hood finally paid off.

The cheering from the overwhelmingly female crowd began at 5:29 when Elijah
Wood and Jackson were corralled on the red carpet during the pre-show, which
was broadcast on screens throughout the building – cheering as if Elvis had

Women in evening gowns by way of the Renaissance Faire screamed and clapped,
hoisted Hobgoblin ale and stamped their high-heeled feet. Metallic streamers
burst from canons when Jackson won best director. And, when the film grabbed
its 11th Oscar at 9:05 p.m., the shrieks grew operatic.

In the basement bar renamed the Green Dragon, half a dozen women in formal
dress ate roast beef and talked about author J.R.R. Tolkien. Amanda Ebright
from Rochester, Minn., made her husband read the trilogy on their honeymoon;
Charlotte Marks from Springfield, Mass., was the one who mischievously
started a rumor two years ago that the actor who played Faramir had quit;
Moira Fracassa from Detroit had never joined a fan club or message board in
her life until “the Fellowship of the Ring” came out. “But then I loved it
so much I had to talk to someone, anyone,” she said.

Delwyn Masters flew in from New Zealand, Anne Giffels came from Chicago and
Geoff Dellimore from outside London. Though they have rarely met on the
website, they greeted one another as if they were very old friends. “For so
many years, our love of this book has been a solitary thing,” said Ebright.
“Now we have a community. In the last four years I’ve met some of the
brightest, funniest people on the planet.”

The Web group has held Oscar parties for the last two years at the Hollywood
Athletic Club – the first with 300 guests, the second with 1,100 – and the
founders knew that this would be a blowout. Still, when they put the $125
tickets on sale Dec.10, they were shocked.

Within 10 minutes, they had sold all 1,200 and pretty much blown out their
server. “It was unreal,” said Chris Pirrotta, the co-webmaster, a Web
designer who lives in Valencia. “We watched the numbers go up so fast it was
a blur.”

Neither he nor any of the website founders was invited to the official
party, but Pirotta, who says that New Line has been very supportive –
supplying merchandise for a silent auction and assuring that Jackson and the
cast would show up at some point during the evening – says they prefer to
celebrate with their peers. “This is the ultimate night for people who have
lived so long in the shadows,” he said.

So many devotees found themselves with plane tickets and no party that fans
organized a second smaller gala. About 400 attended the “Into the West”
event at the Hollywood Athletic Club, which, by now, is used to being
over-run by the creatures of Middle-earth at Oscar time. Pre-event confusion
over which party was where led to some testiness, but as “Into the West”
organizer Diane Rooney said: “It’s about celebrating the books and the
community, not about which party you’re going to.”

The American Legion was transformed for the evening from the outside
entrance where a bronzed soldier was draped in an Elvish cloak and a beacon
of Gondor glowed from atop the roof. (The silken flames were so realistic
they drew questions from the fire marshal.) Inside signs pointed to the
Green Dragon; to Mordor, where the food was served; and to the Great Hall,
where guests were entertained by One Ring Circus, a costume troupe that
spoofed last year’s winner, “Chicago,” and wound up in a kick line, all in
full “Lord of the Rings” regalia.

The costumes were echoed in the audience. Paul Mullins, Jeanette
Christiansen and Teresa Seffel, all from Los Angeles, were dressed as a
hobbit and two elves, respectively. Seffel is a longtime “Star Wars” fan,
but when “The Fellowship” premiered, she said, Frodo replaced Luke Skywalker
in her heart forever. “Now I’m involved in medieval costuming and
Renaissance festivals,” she said.

That sentiment was repeated over and over on a large placard in the foyer.
Addressed as a thank you to Jackson and his crew, it was signed by hundreds
of fans. “Thank you for bringing our dreams to life … for making the best
movie of all time … for changing my life….”

From the moment New Line announced that Jackson would be making not one but
three movies, Ringers were caught in a whirl of elation and anxiety over the
liberties that would have to be taken with the text. The website began with
photographs taken on location in New Zealand during shooting by Erica
Challis, a musician with the Auckland Philharmonia. But with these photos
came rumor and fear: What was Liv Tyler, who played Arwen, doing on
horseback? Was it true that Tom Bombadil did not make the final script?
(Yes.) That Merry and Pippin had be excised from the Fellowship?(No.)

When “The Fellowship” opened, the only sound louder than the beeping of box
office cash registers – the three movies broke the billion-dollar mark last
week in international sales – was the collective sigh of relief from Tolkien
fans.So what will happen to the fans and their innumerable clubs now that
it’s all over?

“It’s so bittersweet,” said Christiansen. “We have nothing to look forward
to now.”

“There were die-hard fans before the movies were ever made,” said Rooney.
“There may be some falloff, but there will always be interest in the books
and the movies.”

And besides, it’s not over until the DVD sings. (It’s due in December.)

c. 2004 The LA Times