Fred Karger, the openly gay former presidential candidate, has crashed everything from Republican conventions to the Oscars. Here are his secrets.
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina -- I ran into Fred Karger in Tampa, at a lavish Republican convention party co-hosted by Google and the Young Guns Republican super PAC. In his usual horn-rimmed glasses and a seersucker jacket, Karger, an openly gay former GOP consultant who mounted a novelty presidential campaign last year, looked like a retro parody of a Republican delegate. But he had not, it transpired, been invited.
"Oh, this is nothing," grinned Karger. "I can get into anything. I crashed the Oscars twice -- and got onstage both times."
Karger, 62, considers himself one of the world's foremost party-crashers. He almost wrote a book about it, before he decided to write a memoir and run for president instead. It's a skill that comes in especially handy at political conventions, which are as much about the party circuit as the speeches or the platform; Karger has been to 10 GOP conventions, spending all but two of them on the convention floor without a floor pass.
"I always like to be where the action is, and I like the challenge," he said. "I'm determined to get in. And I'm pretty good at it."
As Democrats gather in Charlotte for the last of this year's political convening, I asked Karger to share his stories -- and his secrets.
Karger's Oscars adventure began in 1972, when he was a senior at the University of Denver trying to put together the entertainment for a dance marathon fundraiser for a new center for the deaf. He went to Los Angeles to track down celebrities, dropped some names and worked some contacts, and got himself a badge for the rehearsals for the ceremony.
The rehearsal badges worked on Oscar night, too. "We ended up backstage at the Academy Awards, talking to all the actors," Karger recalled. "Suddenly the call came for all the award winners and presenters to go on stage. Charlie Chaplin was being honored -- it was his big return after being exiled to Switzerland -- my friend Todd and I were up on the risers, and at the end Ann-Margaret grabbed my arm and the two of us walked down together, singing 'Smile,' and I shook Chaplin's hand."
The following year, having moved to California, Karger used the same badge to pull off the same trick, and ended up -- unidentified -- in a photo in the L.A. Times with Liza Minnelli, who had just won Best Actress, and Dian Cannon. Thus began a career of party-crashing that has taken Karger inside some of the most exclusive parties in Hollywood and around the globe.
How does he do it? "It's all about looking appropriate and having that attitude," he said. "Never hesitate. Walk in with great authority." And one more thing: "Go through the kitchen. Especially at political dinners, just walk briskly through the kitchen in your tux or your suit, and no one will question you."
A prop can be helpful, too. "I had never crashed the famous Vanity Fair Oscar party, so I did that in 2007," Karger said. "I brought a fake Oscar and said I'd won for visual effects. I took four people in with me. At one point, I dropped the Oscar trying to take a picture with Catherine Keener. Everybody screamed! But it didn't break, luckily. It was a good fake."
A onetime Lee Atwater colleague who had a hand in the 1988 "Willie Horton" attacks on Democrat Michael Dukakis, but is now an outspoken critic of the GOP on gay rights, Karger these days gets invited to plenty of things. But he often likes to try to sneak in anyway, just for the challenge. (If you're thinking "crashing the party" would also be a good metaphor for his quixotic presidential campaign, you're not the first -- it was the headline on a Washington Post profile of Karger last year.) There is, however, one particularly exclusive ticket even he couldn't finagle.
"I have gotten into a lot of places," he said, "but I didn't get into the [GOP] debates."