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Notes from the Citizen McCaw Red Carpet

I’ve been on red carpets before.

When I was eight months pregnant, my mom scored VIP tickets to the Emmys, where I waddled down the plush crimson carpet between Kelsey Grammer and Courtney Cox. Another time, I skittered up the red carpet alongside Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, who let me interview him as we walked.

Once, I fell — sprawled out in a faux leopard coat and heels — onto the red carpet after being shoved through the velvet ropes by a shrieking mass of teenage girls waiting to see Leonardo DiCaprio. No sooner had I picked up my reporter notebook and Bic than a GINORMOUS security guard scooped me up and ungently escorted me to the curb like a common star-stalker.

But hands down the most fun I’ve ever had at a big-screen shindig was Friday night’s world premiere of Citizen McCaw. The new documentary about the high-stakes, low-blow battles between Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw and her former newsroom employees, including myself, screened at the Arlington Theatre.

What it lacked in red carpet roll-out it made up for in thrills.

Out front, at least one couple — a lawyer and a retired professor — were seen buying tickets from scalpers. Inside, carefully chosen ditties played on a loop: “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.” “Wendy.” “Sympathy for the Devil.”

A corner of the theater was packed with former reporters looking far nicer than we ever did at work. Former travel editor Al Bonowitz rented a tux for the occasion.

The filmmakers offered paper bags as disguises for audience members who feared retribution from McCaw; a few wore them proudly. One guy made his own out of newspaper and wrote on the back, “Please Don’t Sue Me Wendy.” Another sported Groucho Marx glasses.

But judging by the flashy outfits and conspicuous aisle-parading, more people seemed to want to be seen.

Mayor Marty Blum was there, up front, and Councildude Das Williams. I’m told another trio of politicos watched from the balcony. I saw high-powered attorneys and stay-at-home moms, small business owners and journalism students. There were lots of kids, including my own, who seemed super-bored before the thing was over.

A hush fell over the audience as the film began — but the silence didn’t last. This crowd hissed when a certain crankypants editor with a poor sense of direction hulked across the screen. They laughed raucously at Nick Welsh’s candid and spot-on analysis of McCaw.

At one point, someone sitting near me bellowed “bulls#%t!” at the screen. In fact, on reflection, I think it was me.

People cried at different scenes. I cried watching the duct tape protest. I even cried in the film, when I was describing the protest. I remember choking up during the interview, and apologizing to the director.

“Are you kidding me?” he chuckled. “Never apologize to a documentarian for crying while the cameras roll. I could go home now!”

At the VIP reception after the film, cinematographer Brent Sumner described a run-in with McCaw’s bodyguard while filming the gates of her home.

The evening’s big shock came when McCaw’s estranged sister, Susan Petrak, introduced herself to the filmmakers and said she loved the movie. News of her presence spread fast, until she was literally surrounded by people whispering, “She’s the spitting image — only with better hair!”

My “I could go home now” moment came when a big-name musician — someone whose music I adore — came up and called me his hero. The honest truth is I don’t warrant the label because I’ve only been doing all along what comes easiest to me: bellowing “bulls#%t!” So I was stunned by this artist’s words, and responded by pointing stupidly at him and barking, “No! WAY! Shut! UP!”

At least I’m fairly sure I nipped that whole “hero” thing in the bud.

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