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Star treatment

By Menaka Fernando

March 6, 2005 9:00 p.m.

She pulled up to the exclusive Henri’s Salon de
Beauté in a black Excursion ““ the same one that drove
Leonardo DiCaprio around Los Angeles during his stay in the city
for the Oscar’s last week.

With an entourage of people behind her, camera flashes in her
face and passersby peeking in the tinted windows of the SUV asking
who was inside, she was a celebrity.

For one day, Sunday, 11-year-old Janet Ortiz forgot about the
kidney disease she has that puts her on dialysis four times a week,
the kidney transplant for which she’s on a waiting list and
the numerous medications she takes on a daily basis.

As a beneficiary of the Red Carpet Foundation, a nonprofit
organization founded by a UCLA alumnus last year, Ortiz and her
mother, Myra, were uprooted from their difficult lives and
transformed into Hollywood celebrities.

The day started with a chauffeur driving them out of their home
in East Los Angeles and ended with a walk on the red carpet for the
“Robots” premiere in Westwood.

Ortiz is one out of about a dozen people dealing with a
life-threatening challenge to be benefitted by the Red Carpet
Foundation since its creation, said founder Jason Bow, who
graduated from UCLA in 2003.

Bow, Ortiz, Myra and several UCLA-affiliated volunteers for the
foundation walked the decorated Broxton Avenue leading up to the
Fox Theater to the beats of the Blue Man Group, on the trail of the
likes of Halle Berry and Robin Williams. The blue confetti blowing
in Ortiz’s face and the hula hoop dancers didn’t
distract Ortiz from mingling with the stars.

While getting her hair styled in Henri’s salon earlier in
the day, Myra said she prefers this trip to Westwood to all the
other frequent trips she makes to the pediatric dialysis center in
the UCLA Medical Center.

“The reasons we come are not good,” she said. But,
she added, “it’s a nice area.”

The foundation is relatively new, but its founders have
aspirations to help beneficiaries from all over the nation, and
even establish international branches in the future, Bow said.

Bow’s unusual passion for premieres ““ he has
attended over 100 in the last five years ““ and his desire to
help people have merged into a blend of charity and celebrity that
provides an escape for several challenged individuals in the campus
community.

An escape on screen

Bow realized he could turn his love for movie premieres into a
charitable act when he took close friend and UCLA student Chris
Jackson to the “Daredevil” premiere in 2003.

Jackson, an orphan from the age of three, watched television and
movies as an escape from a broken childhood as he “bounced
around” from foster home to foster home throughout Southern
California.

“This is what I always wanted to do. All I did when I was
a kid was watch movies,” Jackson said as he was describing
his meeting with Colin Farrell.

“When it happened, it was just so overwhelming to me. …
It didn’t change my life, but it did give me a perspective;
it definitely changed my viewpoint on life, about what I’m
doing to help others,” he said.

Bow said he was amazed that a movie premiere ““ an event to
which he had been numerous times ““ could have such impact on
another person.

Jackson, now a fifth-year theater student, said he was so
inspired that he started a red carpet student organization to help
raise funds for the foundation. Club members say they hope to
become as big and raise as much money as Dance Marathon, the
student group that raised close to $200,000 for pediatric AIDS last
weekend. Rapidly growing in membership, the club is planning a
celebrity basketball tournament for the spring to raise funds for
future beneficiaries.

Never having a traditional family, Jackson depended on support
from friends to help him survive his hardships and now, he says he
wants to give back.

As he watched Ortiz shriek as teen celebrity Amanda Bynes walked
by while the Blue Man Group performed on stage, Jackson said he had
flashbacks of his first premiere.

“Being on the red carpet is ageless,” he said.

A Hollywood outsider

As his animated expressions and hand gestures do half the
storytelling, Bow relates experience after experience he’s
had at movie premieres, and his passion for the red carpet
flows.

He tells the story of his first movie premiere, “Three to
Tango,” when he and his friends ““ dressed in jeans and
shorts ““ accidently stood next to the movie’s stars as
the cameras flashed in their faces.

Bow is a wealth of historical facts about the red carpet. He
mixes dates and places with stories of encounters with celebrities:
He goes from a story about an awkward moment sitting next to Monica
Lewinsky during a premiere of a movie consisting of several oral
sex jokes to describing the first red carpet event at the Egyptian
Theater in 1922. Though his knowledge of Hollywood’s history
is fitting, as Bow graduated with a degree in history, he admits
much of his education came outside of the classroom.

“I’ve been going to red carpet events since I
started UCLA. … I honestly became addicted to it; I didn’t
go to class. I focused my studies on the red carpet,” he
said.

He said he hopes to one day open a museum in Westwood dedicated
to the red carpet ““ an icon that came “before the
Oscars, before the Hollywood sign, even before movies had
words,” he said.

As he attended premieres in Westwood and Hollywood, Bow said he
realized that tickets were often given away to people on the street
“like me, who just ask for it.

“Why can’t we put these tickets to better use and
give them to people who might be able to use this to overcome
whatever illnesses and challenges that they face?” Bow said
he thought at the time.

Bow funds most of his foundation’s work out of his pocket
and through donations from the community.

He added that he sees his foundation as an opportunity to have
something positive result from the negativity that is often seen in
the money-driven Hollywood industry. He believes he is
“manipulating for good.”

Bow’s love for the theater may only be matched with his
love for Westwood.

He once climbed to the top of the tower of the Fox Theater to
see how one of his favorite cities looks from one of his favorite
landmarks.

“I know the Fox Theater like the back of my hand,”
he said.

“She’s happy”

The Fox Theater became a carnival on Sunday as balloons, robots,
men covered in blue paint and a frenzy of paparazzi took over a
freshly carpeted street that is typically filled with students
smoking hookah or eating ice-cream sandwiches.

And in the middle of the secured festivities was Ortiz ““
armed with a small digital camera and a determination to meet all
the celebrities.

Myra cherished the day because her family doesn’t usually
get a chance to go out for fun, she said, while the group stopped
for lunch in Santa Monica in between hair and nail
appointments.

Ortiz has two younger sisters and a brother on the way. Her
sisters would be jealous of her today, she said.

Though 11, her illness has made her small in stature, and she
becomes tired easily. On the previous day, after undergoing a
dialysis session, she said she was too exhausted to walk across the
street to the cafeteria.

Though Myra said Ortiz took care of herself Saturday in
preparation for her busy day as a celebrity, she still became tired
after her walk on the red carpet.

After the premiere, she opted to go home instead of to the
after-party.

But, posing shoulder-to-shoulder with Ewan McGregor, answering
Greg Kinnear’s questions to her, and walking the red carpet
with her made-over mom, Ortiz couldn’t wipe the smile off her
face.

Volunteer Wesley Flanagan, also a fourth-year psychology
student, whispered to Jackson: “I think she’s
happy.”

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