At Glamour magazine's Women of the Year Awards, paparazzi are jostling on the red carpet outside Carnegie Hall for a shot of Catherine Zeta-Jones. Teens in the rafters are screaming Queen Latifah's name. And who's standing on the podium holding a trophy? Larry David.
No, Larry didn't get a sex change--he was presenting an award to his wife, Laurie David, for her environmental activism. But the biggest star of the night was behind the scenes: Jennifer Peters, Glamour's director of special events, who made sure the whole shebang ran like clockwork.
Practice, Practice . . .
As the old joke asks, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Long story short, Peters' event outgrew the American Museum of Natural History, where it was held two years ago before moving to Lincoln Center, and a date conflict this year moved it yet again. Peters says she loves Carnegie Hall, but like any historic landmark, it has challenges: "For instance, you can't build too big a stage, because then you can't fit it in through the elevator" (originally built in 1891).
Peters partners with Planet Grande Pictures, which films the awards for a later TV broadcast ("We were number one in our time slot last year!"), and Overland Entertainment, which "calls" the show (directs the stage crew, lighting, and sound). "They're also the voice of God," adds Peters. Not in a Joan of Arc sense--she's referring to the disembodied announcements that some shows use as a substitute for a live host onstage.
The night of the soiree, while guests are enjoying a pre-show cocktail or two, Peters races around, walkie-talkie at the ready, conferring with her dozen or so "captains" (people in charge of different areas of the event, from red carpet to lobby to backstage). Is the coat check running smoothly? Are there people stationed both inside and outside to direct arrivals? Are the lighting people in place? Is the still photographer poised to snap winners' pictures as they walk offstage? Are the seat fillers ready for when guests get up to take a break?
Not that Peters doesn't enjoy herself too. "It's a very inspirational night," she says. The true VIPs aren't the celebrity winners, like Katie Couric or Billie Jean King, but the unsung heroines: women like 21-year-old Rachael Scdoris, who finished the Iditarod despite being legally blind, or Somaly Mam, a Cambodian activist and former prostitute who has rescued over 3,000 girls from sexual slavery. "The moment I heard Somaly's story I was riveted," says Peters. "I sent a check to her organization."
She wasn't alone. After Mam accepted her trophy, Queen Latifah was up next, and on the spot she pledged $150,000 to AFESIP, Mam's organization--followed by Barbara Walters (presenting Sandra Bullock's award), who matched the amount. "You can't script that," says Peters. "Those moments are why I do what I do."