The Rise and Fall of a Goddess

Op Art

The Egyptians deified cats expertly, but they could have taken a cue from the Hasty Pudding Club. The Pudding does it with style. Michelle Pfeiffer's coronation as 1995 "Woman of the Year" Monday exemplifies the clever, tongue-in-cheek adulation that greets one unfortunate woman every year.

She is blown up to the status of a demi-goddess as she is paraded down Massachusetts Avenue, only to be knocked off her over-blown pedestal, cut down to size, and made personal and palatable for the exclusive consumption of Pudding guests. How delightful!

Let's take a ride with Michelle down this venerable roller coaster ride, from set-up to roast to press conference.

The Crimson team--a news reporter, a photographer, and myself (the editorialist)--join forces at the corner of Harvard and Quincy Streets, right outside the Inn at Harvard. We arrive on the scene, and immediately I think that the O.J. Simpson trial has been transferred to the Cambridge district.

What a circus! Press from across the country--The Globe, Associated Press, Reuters, People magazine--have set up camp on the sidewalk and in the middle of the street, with cameras, notebooks, videorecorders, and even a portable satellite dish strapped on one radio DJ's belt. The press corps looks as if an entire photographic enthusiasts' convention has taken the wrong turn on its way to the Hynes Convention Center.

As if the mob of standing press members is not enough, a huge press truck carrying an expansive, coarse-looking wooden platform and frame cage is full to the brim with photographers and videographers, milling about on the platform like cattle being taken to the slaughter.

Twenty minutes before Ms. Pfeiffer arrives a flock of four-foot tall girls from the Gymnastic Academy of Boston Team--each sporting cute black jumpsuits with the Team logo--appear from nowhere and begin to do somersaults and backflips on the cold, rough pavement.

Half a dozen dancers in brightly mottled Mexican-looking garb prance upon the scene, offering contrast to the sea of tiny black jumpsuits. A disc jockey from a local station, his instantaneous live transmission equipment strapped onto his waist, starts to harass the kids with questions about why they are here to see Michelle Pfeiffer. The cattle truck suddenly starts to back up, almost crushing the little girls. They are rounded up by their teacher, who flails her arms wildly in an attempt to rein in the class.

The Harvard Band emerges from the Freshman Union and takes up formation on one side of the street, just as the real cast, fourteen men in drag--one in a scuba suit, another in an exquisite white wedding gown--pirouette down Mass. Ave. and into the den of reporters. These remarkable beauties are photographed like zoo animals and interviewed sarcastically. The little gymnasts become so excited that they start to jump up and down in tandem, forming a huge black wave on Harvard Street. Two juniors dressed as cows, complete with rubber udders, saunter onto the scene.

The stage is set, and the divine vehicle arrives--a shiny red Saab convertible. The deity's muses, those fourteen drag queens, surround the Saab like the presidential Secret Service. We await for Catwoman's descent from the heavens.

A big black limousine pulls alongside the convertible. The anticipation reaches a feverish pitch. People stand on the balconies at the Inn at Harvard hoping to catch a glimpse of the deity. About eight television cameras in the cattle truck are powered up.

Ms. Michelle Pfeiffer, 1995 Woman of the Year, now steps out of the limousine to the thunder clap of one thousand camera shutters. Sporting a black beret and black sunglasses to set off her shiny blonde locks, the goddess is hoisted into the back seat by a jealous drag queen. She looks stunned. One reporter yells, "Michelle--give us a wave!" and she obliges, as another thunder clap of shutters captures the divine moment for posterity. Her devotees, the clowns of this star-gazing circus, go crazy.

She is now snugly in place, flanked by the president and vice-president of the Pudding (both in drag, and both willing to take a bullet for her). The police chief feigns true annoyance as he warns people to clear away. No one budges. The cattle truck is the first to go, and pulls away toward Mass. Ave. The cattle start to yell, because the Pfeiffer-bearing Saab has yet to move and they're being dragged away from her against their will. Finally, the Saab lurches forward.

As we follow the slow-moving Saab down the street, the feathers of one drag queen's dress brush us in the face. We're that close.

Hundreds of people line the streets with cameras and video cameras, smiling and screaming compliments at the deity. People are waving from their balconies above. It reminds one of Queen Elizabeth's royal visits to Commonwealth countries and the receptions she gets. But whereas ERII is merely dei gratia regina--Queen by the grace of God--Michelle is dea, Goddess, and will not stop (stoop?) to receive the bouquets of flowers from little girls. Not even from the eight year-old acrobats.