Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Seeing Stars: Part Six

Things are beyond crazy down here in The Underworld, what with an ongoing plumbing issue, home internet problems and the virtual loss of my laptop for anything beyond a game of solitaire. Thus, I cannot access anything from that for use on the blog at this time. To build a bridge in the meantime, I give you this sixth installment in a series of posts on televised tributes to movie stars who've been deemed worthy of a hospital wing or floor named in their honor by Variety Clubs International. Recent posts featured Ingrid Bergman and Burt Reynolds and today's is all about La Liz, Miss Elizabeth Taylor. This originally aired on CBS December 1st, 1977 when Taylor was 45 years of age. 

Those of us used to the typical setting of foliage greater than The Garden of Eden are in for a surprise here. There is a set reminiscent of Taylor's home country of England as well as a sizeable chunk of Egypt, she having inhabited the role of Cleopatra in 1963.

These events typically kick off with the prior year's honoree and this one is no different. John Wayne emerges to present Taylor to the glittering array of attendees.

Apart from Wayne, the first star Liz will lay eyes on will be... Florence Henderson?! Okay Carol Brady, you go!

Out she comes, accompanied by her then-husband Senator John Warner of Virginia. Her dress reads purple here, but most of the time it looks more like a deep sapphire blue.

At this point, Warner and Taylor had been married not quite one full year. She had limited the amount of acting she was doing on screen in order to live a simpler life on his Virginia farm (when not out and about helping to campaign for him or attending Washington D.C functions.) This was not exactly one of the decidedly-beautiful Taylor's peak periods, though worse was to come when her weight ballooned and she became the go-to for countless "fat jokes" by Joan Rivers and other comics. 

First up is Taylor's costar from Giant (1956) and a lifelong friend, Rock Hudson.

Following Hudson's death from AIDS a scant 8 years after this, Taylor would emerge as an outspoken fundraiser for and warrior against the deadly disease.

Hudson leads into introductions of those seated at the honoree's table. Behind Taylor can be seen famed director George Cukor along with her mother, Sara Taylor.

Taylor's daughter Liza Todd was in attendance and was a strikingly apt combination of her two famous parents, looks-wise.

The very eclectic collection of guests at the table include baseball great Jackie Robinson and Spencer Segura, a not exactly amazing tennis player whose father Pancho was a force to be reckoned with on the courts from the 1940s to the 1960s.

John Warner has a pretty good reputation as far as senators go, but he was super-annoying on this occasion. He was forever standing up to take a bow or running interference on people approaching his famous wife. It may have been a version of southern chivalry, but in time it worked my nerves. Sara Taylor was 82 at this point and would live to be 99!

I really don't know if her other three children were there, perhaps at a different table, or, if not, why they wouldn't be. Liza was the only one introduced.

Bob Hope delivered some pretty good jokes on that night. True, many of the attendees had enjoyed a belt or two of booze, but he had them chortling pretty well as he went on.

All good things must come to an end, though... His task was to introduce a surprise guest to the festivities.

We're treated to the delightful presence of Billy Carter, then-President Jimmy Carter's brother - at the time launching a brew called "Billy Beer." (The product was discontinued within a year's time.)

Few things wore as thin as Carter's awkward, flash-in-the-pan notoriety as the Podunk younger brother of the Commander-in-Chief.

During his endless glances at cue cards, the audience was lucky he could say "Hello" without prompting.

But I guess on some level even Billy Carter is a better guest than a (future) murderer! Robert Blake, then starring on the undercover detective hit Baretta, stands up to declare how he had a childhood crush on Taylor when they were both child stars at MGM.

Always hell-bent on appearing hip and cool, he stumbles through his piece with various incomplete sentences. It fell to him to reference several young stars who were in attendance that night...

We see John Travolta, then at the dawn of his film career, having scored a TV success with Welcome Back, Kotter. Saturday Night Fever (1977) had come out and Grease (1978) was on the horizon.

Next we find sibling teen stars James Vincent (Jimmy) McNichol and Kristy McNichol. Jimmy was then on a short-lived show called The Fitzpatricks (which I did watch and enjoy as a kid myself) and Kristy was ensconced on the hit drama Family.

The next bright young star to be introduced is one Debby Boone, then at the pinnacle of her brief career as a pop singer. (She would later achieve success in inspirational music as well.)

"You Light Up My Life" was Boone's cover of a song used in a 1977 movie of the same name (sung therein by another vocalist and lip-synced by the star of the movie, Didi Conn.) Such a staggering hit was this that the song is considered the biggest hit single of the 1970s. For comparison's sake, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" was a #1 Billboard hit for two weeks (albeit with incessant radio airplay.) "You Light Up My Life" topped the chart for ten weeks! The record wasn't matched until Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" came out in 1985.

Proud parents Shirley and Pat Boone were on hand to witness their 21 year-old daughter slay the crowd with her rendition of the song.

Where it gets a little awkward is that the song was chosen to honor Elizabeth Taylor, who lit up movie screens and fans' lives for decades. But Boone had made it clear to all that whenever she sang this song, she was singing it about GOD... So she only looked heavenward and never so much as glanced at Taylor until it was all over! LOL

Carroll O' Connor, a TV legend thanks to All in the Family, steps up (with cigarette in hand) to recall his time (and there was surely plenty of it!) on the set of Cleopatra and how he longed to make a play for Liz, but she was otherwise occupied...!

Then come the comic stylings of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, who'd previously enjoyed success on Laugh-In. Amid their verbal shenanigans came a welcome event, a cast reunion. This is something I am always interested in.

The gents proceed to introduce three former MGM actresses...

Yes, it's June Allyson, Janet Leigh and Margaret O'Brien, three of the four Little Women who costarred with Taylor in that 1949 version!

Taylor enthusiastically runs up the aisle to greet and hug each one, but then the gals are shooed off to their individual tables without even a proper pose together. A great photo opportunity missed...

Now this was something of a rarity indeed, for Paul Newman, Taylor's costar from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) was never much of an attendee at events like this.

At this time, Newman had just starred in a hockey flick called Slap Shot (1977), which was noted for its proliferation of four-letter words. Newman had a bit in which a prerecorded message to Taylor was filled with bleeps.

They're all smiles here while listening to it, but it took Joanne Woodward a while to break a frown she'd been sporting beforehand. I recently read a downright scandalous (and also not particularly reliable) bio of Newman which, among many other outrageous things, claims that he and Taylor made love in her bed right after Mike Todd had perished in a plane crash. You know... she needed "comforting," according to the tome. I dunno...

It took Paul turning around and looking directly at her for his wife to break a smile.

Next on the list of performances comes actor and impersonator Frank Gorshin. He pops up in several guises. First he does his best Broderick Crawford.

Then (a very good) George C. Scott.

Next Burt Lancaster (which tickled Christopher George no end!)

He closed with a spot-on Anthony Newley, singing "The Windmills of Your Mind" from Taylor's movie The Sandpiper (1965.)

As was the tradition, Monty Hall appears in order to announce the dedication of the honoree's hospital locale. In a strange departure from the norm, he is never shown mentioning what or where it is! (In a later broadcast, it is described as "The Elizabeth Taylor Retardation Floor at the Flower 5th Avenue Hospital in New York City." (We can all bet that that name was changed along the way...!)

As last year's honoree and this year's were eagerly awaiting the announcement, no specifics were ever revealed during this broadcast. Considering that her adopted daughter Maria underwent 20 hip surgeries for a genetic defect, it's surprising that her hospital wing wasn't more closely associated with that type of challenge.

The festivities aren't quite over yet. In later instances, the dedication would come at the very end, but this time the party winds up with Henry Fonda, Taylor's costar in Ash Wednesday (1973), providing some flattering remarks.

As part of his presentation, Fonda declares that he has another surprise in store for Taylor.

He escorts her to a cocktail table where several glasses of champagne are present.

Then one by one she is confronted with three of her past costars.

Lifelong friend Roddy McDowall (of Lassie Come Home, 1943), Jimmy Lydon (of Life with Father, 1947) and Tom Drake (of Raintree County, 1957) proceed to "sing" a song called "Elizabeth" to her as complimentary photos from a couple of years before flash on screen. Only the fact that he wasn't as famous as Howard Cosell could explain why no one ever picked on his horrible wig...!

It was now time for Miss Taylor to take the floor and she was introduced by a surprisingly amusing John Wayne, who managed some well-handled jabs at himself in the process.

Somehow, for reasons unknown, her husband was by now nowhere in sight! By this time I was completely over his endless interference and helicoptering, so I don't know if a pressing political matter happened or what, but it was fine by me.

In her remarks, Elizabeth mentioned how Roddy & Co.'s sing brought a tear to her eye... but that sour notes do that! She did thank them for trying, though. (And she should've been careful. She wasn't exactly Gogi Grant herself!!)

While this was one of Taylor's most memorable nights to that point (in a group setting, as she declared), happy days were not ahead. In time, she missed her career, was bored of politics and the accompanying rituals and wound up with serious addiction to booze and pills, also gaining significant weight along the way.

Her union with (sixth) husband Warner was kaput by 1983. A final five-year marriage occurred in the early-1990s.

This widely-circulated photo (with Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell) was probably around the nadir of her downward spiral.

However, after a highly-publicized stint at The Betty Ford Clinic, she stunned the world by reemerging as an impossibly tan, slim, bejeweled movie goddess, just as the glitzy designs of Nolan Miller were being embraced all over. The greater part of her acting career was behind her, but, as mentioned earlier, she had bigger things on her mind now. Taylor passed away in 2011 at the age of 79, having survived, literally, countless illnesses and ailments with heart failure ultimately deciding her fate.

We end, as always, with some candid shots of the stars in attendance. After all, this is an "All-Star" tribute which we've dubbed "Seeing Stars," so you never know who is going to be nestled in the various tables on set.

Miss Angie Dickinson offering up applause. Police Woman was then still on the air.

Jean Stapleton, welcoming the chance to leave her Edith Bunker from All in the Family persona at home.

Hal Linden of the hit police sitcom Barney Miller.

LeVar Burton, who'd recently made a huge splash in the groundbreaking miniseries Roots.

Harvey Korman, recently departed from The Carol Burnett Show in order to headline a sitcom (The Harvey Korman Show), which only lasted five episodes before being axed.

Monty Hall, Jayne Meadows and Jimmy McNichol enjoying Bob Hope's antics. Meadows' wig isn't much better than Tom Drake's.

A rather rare chance to see Fernando Lamas and his wife Esther Williams. Lamas was a Taylor costar, too, in 1953's The Girl Who Had Everything.

Johnny Carson's sidekick on The Tonight Show, Ed McMahon.

One of our favorite people ever to walk the planet, Miss Betty White. In the wake of the cancellation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she headlined The Betty White Show in the '77-'78 season, but it only lasted that long.

I don't know if she was that rapt with attention or bored out of her skull, but this was Cheryl Ladd's expression for several moments...!

Veteran actor Dick Van Patten (seen here with his wife Pat. Yes, Pat) was just beginning a successful run with Eight Is Enough.

Former costar on The Andy Griffith Show, then a regular on Hee Haw, George Lindsey.

I don't know the man on the left, but there in the center is handsome John Gavin, reacting to some remarks of Rowan & Martin.

The late John Ritter of Three's Company with Roscoe Lee Browne behind him.

Joanne Woodward.

Mr. Bob Hope.

June Allyson and her pageboy.

Here's another rather rare one. Martha Hyer, onetime movie actress who retired in 1974 at age 50 and was the wife of producer Hal Wallis for twenty years prior to his death.

I try to end with something hooty whenever I can and this seemed to fit the bill. It's Mary Ann Mobley, Chad Everett and Gary Collins as they listen to "You Light Up My Life" for what was probably the fiftieth time. The way they were situated and all looking in different directions reminded me of those 1960s TV publicity shots for moody shows.

Say, for example, The Mod Squad...

See what I mean? The End!


Dan said...

Considering her stellar cast of former costars, whoever had the moronic idea to waste time with Robert Blake and Billy Carter?
My friend Joey was so excited. He had met a handsome sugar daddy who drove a Jaguar and knew Liz and John! And he was invited to a do at their Middleburg farm and Joey was to be his guest! Even took Joey shopping for a new outfit. Then Joey looked out the window as the Jag was being towed off, and the truth came out - sugar daddy worked the towel stand at one of the bathhouses! Well, a boy can dream, can’t he?

WizzyWig said...

I am shocked that I don’t remember this! Thank you for the recap. I love the expression on JoAnne Woodwards face.

hsc said...

This one's a real hoot for me, because the next year after this, Liz was living just down the street from me! John Warner was campaigning for Senator in 1978, and he and Liz took an apartment in Richmond to do the campaign.

Ironically, they were originally looking to move into *my* building-- as I found out from my landlady later-- but they turned her down, because she wanted to knock a wall out in the penthouse or something. So they went to the next high-rise down the street instead.

They didn't stay very long, anyway-- just several months-- and I never actually saw her or Warner, though they were on local news constantly at that time.

I'm sorry to hear that you're having such a wave of bad things happening, Poseidon! I hope things clear up and get under control soon!

And thanks for continuing to post fun items like this one! I cracked up because I was able to spot Liz's former LITTLE WOMEN co-stars from their entrance shots, even though the camera was too far back to really capture their faces in the framegrabs.

It was, "Okay, that hair *has* to be June Allyson... and those tits look like Janet Leigh... so that must be Margaret O'Brien... *LITTLE WOMEN!*"

Thanks for all you do, Poseidon! Love to all, and be safe and well, everyone!

SkippyDevereaux said...

In the Rock Hudson picture, is that Miss Rona Barrett behind him in the black dress?

joel65913 said...

Marvelous as always Poseidon!!

What a coincidence that I was just thinking of this tribute the other day in a roundabout way that I didn't realize until I started reading.

I happened up the 1949 version of Little Women just beginning over the weekend and decided to watch it again. In one of the scenes that all four of the girls (well girls might be stretching it in June's case-she was 32 to Janet's 22, Liz 17 & Margaret 12 when it was made!) and I for whatever reason summoned up the memory of the four of them gathered together at this affair all gussied up with Janet (who hadn't dipped too far into the plastic surgery pool....yet) looking far younger than any of them including the decidedly matronly Margaret O'Brien.

Funny how that one moment wormed itself into my consciousness to pop back up all these years later but not the rest, reading through the entire article didn't bring the affair back into sharp focus but that one image burns bright.

A said...

Hi Poseidon,

Hang in there! It'll get better!

I'm pretty sure I remember watching this.

OMG,to be in the same room with Rock Hudson, Hal Lyndon, Chad Everett and John Gavin, all at the same time! It makes me light-headed. So to speak.

Thanks for the great (as always) post, Poseidon!

Gingerguy said...

I'm late to the party for Liz, but love this. This is around the last time she looked like old Liz. New face 80s Liz a whole different person but she got comfy looking again in her old age. Margaret O'Brien looks like she's dressed to play Regina in "The Little Foxes", Janet Leigh was super sexy, and June Allyson was an instant granny in middle age. Such a random crew here. You know..I never thought "you light up my life" was directed at God, it works, just didn't get that. That song, writer and movie director are a story unto themselves. Very sordid. But not with Debbie at the wheel, bless her. I was watching a clip of Charles Pierce recently making jokes about Angie Dickinson never combing her hair. As dated as a Frank Gorshim impression but I love all this stuff. Thanks for the memories!

Shawny said...

I thought the pic of Robert Blake, who I'm not familiar with, was Eric Estrada.

Poseidon3 said...

Dan, I agree, especially about Billy Carter. At least Blake was a then-hot TV persona and did know her in their childhood. Poor Joey... so close and yet SO far....!

WizzyWig, I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I often have trouble truly figuring Joanne out...

hsc, my God! So many people here almost brushing up against Elizabeth Taylor...! Sounds like she was into open-concept living before it caught on the way it has now. Ha! I was going to pair each "Little Women" entrance with a (semi) closeup, but laid off on the reveal. Fun that you were able to figure it out in "long shot." Thanks!

Skippy, that is indeed Miss Barrett, with a bird's eye view of the proceeding! I meant to point out the famous Miss Frost 'n Tip, but neglected to! Thank you!

joel65913, that is such a weird coincidence that you were remembering a situation and then I brought it to the site! Margaret seemed stuck in a sort of squatty matronly phase for many of her adult years. Strange...

A, I love all the seemingly random combinations of stars found at events like this one. All of the showbiz strata sprinkled around the room from newbies to TV stars to movie royalty! Thanks!

Gingerguy, you're so right. She went from this to a whole new exterior and then over time began to come back to a sort of version seen here! I definitely felt the "Little Foxes" vibe with Margaret O'Brien, too, and she seemed oddly overdressed for the occasion. Maybe it was the gloves. There's literally no comparison between them, but her getup is also akin to the famous red dress and white gloves that Julie Roberts wore to the opera in "Pretty Woman!" I have read up on - mostly thanks to you after you sent me his later movie with Shelley Hack (!) - that guy and he seemed like quite the cretin! BTW, my mother never failed to complain about Angie's hair every. time. she. came. on. TV.

Shawny, I know them both too well individually to mistake them, but each did have a certain dark-haired bravado. Erik always smiled much, much more, though! Thanks.

Dan said...

Speaking of “Little Foxes” - and how could I have forgotten? In 1980 or 81, saw Liz as Regina, with Maureen Stapleton as Birdie here at the KenCen Opera house. When Liz made her initial entrance, there was a gasp of pleasure from the audience.