- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007


They’ve held more Oscars than Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson combined, but they never give a speech or take the golden guy home.

They aren’t nominees; they’re trophy presenters. The statuesque beauties who accompany Oscar and his winners on- and offstage are models for hire.

These trophy handlers enjoy a privileged perspective on the Academy Awards (airing live at 8 tonight on ABC), watching from a backstage seat when they aren’t facing the star-studded crowd. The show’s global exposure plus its audience full of Hollywood heavyweights make working as a trophy girl the modeling gig of a lifetime.

“It’s one of the coolest jobs I ever had,” says Danielle Yu, 22, who presented Oscars at last year’s Academy Awards. “It was such a surreal experience.”

Seeing Mr. Nicholson and Nicole Kidman up close was a pinch-me moment for Miss Yu, a fashion-design student who brought her books to rehearsals and studied during downtime.

Carol Scott, vice president of CESD talent agency, has been helping find Oscar’s trophy models for decades.

She usually gets a request for models’ photographs from Academy Awards director Louis J. Horvitz about six weeks before the show. Mr. Horvitz finds his models from the dozens of pictures she sends.

One year, he even found a wife.

“I said, very jokingly, I’ll send you one you’ll marry,” Miss Scott says, recalling a telephone conversation with the veteran director 12 years ago.

She sent Steffanee Leaming, whom Mr. Horvitz hired and later married.

“They always send a Christmas card every year,” Miss Scott says with a smile.

Trophy models typically change from show to show, but some are repeat presenters. Renee Gentry carried Oscars at five Academy Awards ceremonies in the late 1990s.

“It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” she says. “I’ve met everyone I ever wanted to meet.”

Miss Gentry went on to present trophies at the Emmys, Golden Globes, People’s Choice Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, BET Awards and NAACP Image Awards. She works as a stand-in during rehearsals for the Academy Awards.

“The Oscars led to it all,” she says.

The Oscars also led to more work for model Marisa Petroro, an aspiring actress who handed out trophies at last year’s ceremony. The brunette beauty has become a regular on the NBC game show “Deal or No Deal” and has a role in the new movie “Reno 911!: Miami.”

“I’m an actor to begin with, so my dream was always to be on that stage receiving an award,” she says. “I hope it was foreshadowing.”

Presenting trophies is easy work for models accustomed to walking the runway, Miss Petroro says, and the perks are pretty good. Besides sporting custom-made clothes and sharing the stage with superstars, some models have gotten to wear million-dollar (borrowed) diamonds on the show, and others have been invited to the Governors Ball, the academy’s swanky dinner following the awards.

But Sandra Plazinic, who presented Oscars at the 2003 ceremony, recalled a different experience.

“It’s not as glamorous as it may seem,” says Miss Plazinic, 28. “It didn’t do much for your career. And it’s a [union] job, so it’s not paid that well.”

Miss Plazinic said she earned about $350 a day.

Most modeling jobs pay more, Miss Petroro says, but to her, it hardly mattered.

“I would have done it for free because the experience was just priceless,” she says.

This year’s trophy models — Eric Weldon, Katarina Vargas and the one-named Liselotte — are excited about tonight’s assignment.

“I’m still kind of in shell shock,” says Miss Vargas, 22.

She and Liselotte are represented by L.A. Models, another agency that has provided Oscar presenters through the years. The Academy Awards experience spreads past the model, to the agency and beyond, says runway division director Crista Klayman.

“It incorporates much more than [the model] and her family and friends,” Miss Klayman says. “It validates the clients that they have good taste, and it makes us look good, like we’re the cool agency because every girl in the city would love to do it.”

Maybe every guy, too — although Mr. Weldon will be the first male trophy presenter since 2001.

“I’m very stoked,” says the 30-year-old aspiring actor and freelance storyboard artist. “The best is that my father is a huge Oscars fan.”

Liselotte plans to share the Oscar excitement with her family in her native Sweden and Miss Vargas with her family in Texas.

“My mom still talks about it to this day,” says Miss Yu, who adds that working at the Academy Awards last year was a transformative experience.

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