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Variety - May 19, 1982

Cary Grant Gets His

by Joe Cohen
(submitted by Barry Martin - Thanks Barry!)


Friars' Testimonial Airs Vanish As 
Burns, Callas, Buttons Baste Grant's Roast With Laughs

It has been the subject of universal concern that the Friars Club, long a stronghold of show biz, has been veering in new directions.  Via its annual "man of the year" and "entertainer of the year" dinners the club had been reaching into the more stratospheric areas of the body politic and the economy.  It seemed it was losing its common touch.

The roasts of yore have been turned into testimonials, and it was readily believed by many that Sunday night's soiree to honor Cary Grant at the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria, where a capacity crowd of 1,200 congregated at prices ranging from $250 to $1,000, would be in the testimonial class - dignified and perhaps with a touch or so of genteel humor.

However, those with that belief didn't recon with the likes of Grant, who got the entertainer of the year award, and toastmaster Frank Sinatra.  Tried and true vaudevillians, concentrated toward the close of the program, turned this affair into one of the more laugh-laden Friars shindigs of recent years.  The turnaround started with George Burns, accelerated with Charlie Callas and reached an apex with Red Buttons.  Many, including Sinatra, had tears of laughter running down their collective faces by the time Buttons wound up with a combination tirade and tribute to the guest of honor.

For many, being close to such a distinguished dais seemed reward enough for attending.  However, for the veterans of these affairs the bonus came with the unrestrained laughter brought on by the vet troupers.

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Burns hadn't expected such a fine introduction from a competitive singer.  But, that being the case, he harkened back to the era of Fatty Arbuckle and Adolph Zukor, and through convoluted thinking brought himself up to the contemporary era and explained why his style is so much like Sinatra's.

Callas emulated George Jessel, wearing what could have been Jessel's USO uniform or that of a toastmaster-general.  Copying the vocal style of the late comedian.  Callas opened with direct addresses to  Pia Zadora, Cohen the Barbarian and Brother Friars.  He said he had cut short a clubdate in Falkland Islands with Alvino Rey just to be at the affair.  He also spent considerable time commiserating about what would happen if Sinatra were alive today.  The outrageousness of his statements, coupled with his ridiculous uniform and an irreverent zaniness, brought the dais to its collective feet.

Red Buttons got immediate attention when he recalled a conversation between couture manufacturer Jerry Zipkin and Nancy Reagan, who asked what one wears to a recession.  He said Cary Grant was there when they took Ray Charles to a program by pantomimist Marcel Marceau, and he was also there when they went back to Stevie Wonder's house to rearrange the furniture.  Buttons pointed out that no dinner was given to Amelia Earhart when she ured that they stop looking for her and find her luggage, and also that , "If the Pope was Italian, he would have shot back."  When Israeli bellhops refused to handle pigskin luggage, Grant was there.  When Bella Abzug had a showing of her designer jeans, he was there.  No dinner was given to Moshe Dayan when he donated on of his eyes to CBS.  Helen of Troy was a hooker from upstate New York.  These one liners created an incessant flow of laughter.  

New York Gov. Hugh Carey started the parade of tributes to Grant with touches of humor.  Grant, ne Archie Leach in England, was a gymnast who for a time made a living as a stilt walker at Coney Island.  It was a recurring theme from time to time during the proceedings.

A major gaffe was having Jack Valenti back to back with Rich Little.  Valenti made a pleasant speech in which he strung titles from many of Grant's pics into a brief spiel.  It was the plan of Rich Little, who followed Valenti, to do that also.  In the old vaude days this was known as a "confliction."

Gregory Peck gave a classy spiel on his friendship with Grant, and Howard Cosell had  spontaneous ideas on how badly the dinner had been going up to that point, and his barbs didn't lift it out of the doldrums.  Tom Brokaw was more effective in pointing out that Cosell's comment was akin to inviting an Argentine general to Buckingham Palace.

There were some moments of cleverness, such as Sammy Cahn's parodies on the affair.  One of them was sung by Sinatra in his windup.  There were also songs by Peggy Lee and Joe Williams.  After Williams' recital, Sinatra in mock contemptuousness said, "Show Off."  Cy Coleman also chimed in with song, doing an English music hall song, appropriate for a tribute to British-born Grant.  Tony Bennett also moved the crowd to great applause.

Sinatra's major concern as toastmaster seemed to be to keep the proceedings moving and to get as many speakers and entertainers on within a time limit, and that he did very well.  His concern with the affair sometimes overshadowed his own lines and other contributions.

Grant started to do some recollections and provide comment.  He seemed to have cut off his prepared remarks when it seemed that very little could be done to follow Buttons, Callas and Burns.  He ended gracefully and accepted the gifts and plaudits the Friars had to offer.

Appropriately enough, Metro-media topper John Kluge, a guest on the dais, had his WNEW-TV carry the Grant-Sinatra epic "The Pride and the Passion" on the 2:30 a.m. show.  The evening was over by then and both principals of the evening could enjoy their 1957 cinematic effort. 

Friars' dean William B. Williams was gracious in his introductions.  Per usual, the club's executive secretary Walter Goldstein, his able assistant Jean-Pierre Tebot, and dinner chairman David Tebet handled details excellently.


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