Army Archerd, the entertainment industry’s most respected and widely read columnist, was the center of attention Friday evening as more than 1,000 of Hollywood’s biggest stars and industry exex packed the Beverly Hilton’s Intl. Ballroom to pay tribute to Archerd and his 40 years as Daily Variety’s “Just for Variety” columnist.
The black-tie, sold-out gala, which raised more than $ 700,000 for three of Archerd’s special charities — Concern Foundation for Cancer Research, ERAS Center and Victoria Village — was attended by a virtual who’s who of Hollywood, including Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, James Stewart, Faye Dunaway, Shirley MacLaine, James Earl Jones, Robert Stack, Dick Van Dyke, Anthony Hopkins, Jay Leno, Roseanne Arnold, Sidney Poitier, Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Lou Gossett Jr. and Raymond Burr.
Industry leaders in attendance included Michael Ovitz, Aaron Spelling, Marvin Davis, Sidney Sheinberg, Sherry Lansing, Jack Valenti, Jeff Sagansky, Brandon Tartikoff, Jerry Katzman, Norman Brokaw, Irwin Winkler, Alan Ladd Jr., Mace Neufeld, Robert Rehme, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Harry Thomason and Leonard Goldberg.
“This is the most amazing event that I’ve ever seen,” said Sherry Lansing, Paramount’s motion picture group chair. “This is an event that everyone wanted to come to because Army is so good at what he does and so respected and so loved.”
Asked about Archerd’s staying power, James Stewart said, “He’s so much a part of the picture business and always has been.”
And MPAA prez Jack Valenti, who flew in from Washington for the event, added: “I think basically he’s an honest man. People trust him and therefore he has survived. He’s a totally honest guy and in this town that’s not a common trait.”
The event was chaired by Marty Golden and co-chaired by Selma Archerd, Rebecca Golden and Dr. Wilbur Schwartz.
Also attending were Variety VP and editorial director Peter Bart and VP and director of publishing operations Gerard A. Byrne, in addition to Reed Publishing (USA) Inc. chairman/CEO Robert L. Krakoff, Cahners Publishing’s Walter Cahners, Cahners Consumer/Entertainment Publishing Division senior VP/general manager John J. Beni and Cahners Entertainment Group’s senior VP/group publisher Neil Perlman.
When asked about Archerd, the word “honest” seemed to be used by almost everyone.
“He’s straightforward and honest,” Dick Van Dyke said. “He’s one of those people who loves what he’s doing.”
“He’s easygoing, very straight and honest,” Anthony Hopkins said. “He doesn’t twist anything. He’s got a nice easy way of doing it.”
“I think it’s empathy,” said Variety’s Bart. “He’s pulling for the people in the business. He doesn’t want to hurt people.”
“Trust is a big word, too,” added Variety’s Gerry Byrne. “People trust him. There are many who like to have blood dripping off the pen and he doesn’t do that.”
“The fact that he has been able to handle his column with all the personalities and egos involved in this town and make very few enemies is incredible,” producer Richard Zanuck said.
The evening’s entertainment was produced by Pierre Cossette, executive produced by Tim Swift, directed by Bob Finkel and written by Ray Charles, Marty Farrell, Finkel, Buz Kohan, Saul Turtletaub and Bruce Vilanch.
It kicked off with a taped appearance by Candice Bergen and her “Murphy Brown” co-stars, who told Bergen, when she announced that she wasn’t going to the benefit, “If you don’t go, Army will rip you to shreds in his column.”
Keeping things on the humorous side, Sidney Poitier took the stage and told the audience, “Tonight we want to honor someone who has made a great contribution to our industry, someone who is totally committed to bringing us news about the people most talked about in our industry.
“Unfortunately, Louella Parsons wasn’t available.”
On a more serious note, Poitier added, “Army Archerd has proven you can be around for 40 years, not just because of what you accomplish, but how you accomplish it. Variety may be the spice of life, but Army Archerd is definitely the spice of Variety.”
Robert Stack, parodying his “Unsolved Mysteries” TV show, asked, “Why give a dinner for a man who the head waiter doesn’t recognize?”
And one of the biggest laughs of the evening came when Stack joked, “Army is a man who knows where all the bodies are buried, except Jimmy Hoffa … and after this year, who cares?”
A highlight of the evening was James Earl Jones narrating a parody of A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters,” performed by Ben Gazarra and Faye Dunaway as Army and his wife, Selma.
“Tell me, why do you put three dots after every sentence in your letters?” Dunaway, as Selma, asked, referring to Archerd’s famous three-dot style.
Gregory Peck presented a Medal of Commendation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to Archerd, “in appreciation of outstanding service and dedication and upholding the high standards of the Academy.”
Selma Archerd then took the stage and sang a crowd-pleasing version of “You Are My Lucky Star,” backed by singing group Forever Plaid and their musical director-arranger Steve Freeman.
In what was one of the evening’s high points, President Clinton appeared via videotape, and after thanking the Hollywood community for their help during his campaign, said, “Army, of all the times I tried to play my saxophone, I was trying to force my way into your column. Maybe now that I’ve had time to practice, I’ll do it.
“What you’ve done here tonight is very beautiful. Congratulations on this wonderful night. Thank you for letting me be with you and help me to get one good column in Variety before I check out of this business.”
Kirk Douglas introduced Archerd, saying, “He is far from a pollyanna drum beater for our community or a conduit for press releases from stars and studios. He’s a skilled and eloquent writer and the best friend this town could have. This tribute is like no other. Tonight, we salute integrity.”
With those words, Archerd took the stage to a thunderous standing ovation and announced that the benefit had raised over $ 700,000.
“Your lives have been my life,” an emotional Archerd told the audience. “We are all family here. I have written about you and your wives and husbands–in fact, several of each in some cases. I love knowing that my column is in so many baby books, records of confirmations, Bar Mitvahs and weddings…. You are the heart of showbiz.”
Archerd, proving he could be as funny as many of the evening’s performers, joked, “I have spent more time in this room than any of the waiters. I was here to help Adolph Zukor celebrate his 100th birthday –actually, he was older, but Paramount took 35% for distribution.”
The columnist paid tribute to his family, his children and grandchildren, who were present, and added, “the most important part of my life, my wife, Selma, without whom there’d be no tonight–and no me, and surely no column.”
Archerd ended the evening by saying, “I have loved saying ‘good morning’ to you in the best tradition of the bible of show business, Variety, for these 40 years and now to answer those of you who have asked, am I retiring? The answer is–I’ll write it as long as you’ll read it. Thank you.”
Archerd, who received another standing ovation when he left the stage, admitted he was overwhelmed by the industry’s response.
“It will take me a long time to recover,” Archerd said. “It was so emotional. I couldn’t believe the tape from the president. With all that was going on today in Washington, he taped that. I can’t believe it.”