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Packed house hails power of Sturges

Fans gather, kick off two-week tribute

“Remember the Night” was one of Preston Sturges’ many movies, and fans did a little remembering of their own Wednesday when they gathered at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for the launch of a two-week tribute to the late master.

A packed house — including Sturges family members, plus James L. Brooks, Paul Mazursky, Fay Kanin, George Kirgo, A.C. Lyles and Arthur Hiller — applauded clips of a dozen of his works, and reveled in stories of his penchant for puncturing pomposity and his love of satire.

Prodded by biographer Ken Bowser, they also laughed at tales from actors Eddie Bracken, who worked in “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” and “Hail the Conquering Hero”; Frances Dee McCrea (“If I Were King”); and Frances Ramsden (“Mad Wednesday”).

His widow, Sandy, confessed that when Sturges introduced himself to her — complete with a dramatic pause for effect — she didn’t know who he was. His longtime assistant Jean La Vell Nugent told of being plucked out of a studio secretarial pool and invited to watch Sturges direct a scene and later have dinner, only to be fired by the studio for fraternizing with directors; Sturges hired her right back.

The Sturges tribute continues at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until Sept. 5 with screenings of such gems as “The Power and the Glory,” “Unfaithfully Yours,” “The Palm Beach Story” and “Easy Living.” On Aug. 29, a screening of the Emmy-winning docu “Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer,” written by Daily Variety chief film critic Todd McCarthy, will be followed by a panel discussion with Leslie Dixon, Phil Alden Robinson, Hal Kanter and Ron Shelton.

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