Army marches again

It’s a GOOD MORNING as I’m back at work, after a slight interruption in my 50 years writing this column — so doctors could “edit out” an unforeseen intrusion into my well-being. I am happy to report that at a checkup on Friday, my surgeon said, “I’ll see you in 20 years!” That’s a warning for you to expect this ink-stained wretch to be around for a long while. Thanks to all who have inquired about me. Your phone calls, letters, cards, good wishes, flowers, cookies, etc. no doubt hastened my recovery. Please bear with me if I do not thank you individually, but, believe me, you all have my thanks. (And of course thanks to surgeon Dr. Clark Fuller, doctors Charles Kivowitz and Robert Wolfe, and the doctors, nurses and personnel at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where for many years I have visited so many members of the showbiz community.) I’m grateful to longtime friends Arthur Hiller, Larry Gelbart, Warren Cowan and Chuck Fries who helped my gradual return to the office by taking me to lunch last week. And special thanks to rabbi David Baron for his prayers. And to my fellow Daily Variety staffers and interns who continued to cheer me with their attention. But enough of this stuff and now back to work!

IT’S HARD TO GET THIS MANY progressives in one room,” Norman Lear laughed. But the Beverly Hilton was packed to the rafters as the People for the American Way helped Norman celebrate his 80th birthday Saturday. (The actual date of his birthday was July 27, but who counts?) The very special night raised $2.2 million toward the $15 million annual budget for the patriotic group originated by the always progressive and philanthropic Lear. Lyn (Mrs. Norman) Lear chaired the evening, which was emceed by Rob Reiner (“Meathead” of Lear’s multi-award-winning series “All in the Family”). Rob inherited the m.c. mantle worn so magnificently over the years by his dad Carl, who had warned him, “If you don’t do well, they won’t bother you again next year (to m.c.).” P.S. he’ll be bothered! Reiner, fils, was excellent and followed the instructions given him before they show by Carl: “If you don’t have anything funny to say, remember you’re an actor!” So Rob opened his remarks with ” Norman Lear, I love you — and that’s the last nice thing I’ll say about you tonight.” Of course, it wasn’t. He then admitted, “The two most important men in my life are my father and Norman Lear.” Reiner spoke from the hotel stage that was backed by huge bio-stills of Lear, from his childhood to his uniformed days in WWII to his fully-maned start in TV soon followed by his shiny pate covered by his traditional, funny hat for the past four of his eight decades. Of the mostly Democrat (liberal) speakers, Ben Stein was the exception, admitting he is a Republican, but asked, “How can a man in a funny hat stand up for the First Amendment?” Holland Taylor (of Lear’s “Power That Be”) and Rue McClanahan (“Maude”) had the house roaring with their remarks revealing (?) Norman as a lady killer … Al Franken was brilliant, doing imitations of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and GOP leaders, from Henry Kissinger to VP Cheney. Amazing! One of the most touching speeches was by Norman & Lyn Lear’s 14-year-old son Benjamin, who got a huge laugh admitting, “My father has been a senior citizen ever since I was born.” But he reminded of the multi-decaded family, “Everyone comes together because of him.” Norman admitted, “I am the sum of all of you who have played parts in my life.” And he reminded, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It is the most precious gift in the world.” Others who participated included Marcos Barron, Sharon Lettman-Pacheco and Ralph Neas, prez of People for the American Way. Also there: a taped tribute from President Bill Clinton, a comedic one from Martin Mull and Fred Willard, a live tribute from Charlie Hauck, and live perfs by House Jacks and poet Beau Sia. The latter will “be the core” of a “Red White and Blue” revue to tour with Lear’s original Declaration of Independence, starting Nov. 6 in Nashville. Film clips from Lear’s unmatched accomplishments brought down the house.

NEWS ALSO GLEANED from the Norman Lear birthday dinner: Carl Reiner will reunite Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke in a half-hour sitcom –with their characters from the Reiner-created “Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-66, CBS) to be shown as they are today. Meanwhile, Reiner reprises his role in a cartoon version of “Dick Van Dyke” taping Oct. 3, with Van Dyke, Rose Marie guesting on the pilot. With the “West Wing’s” Emmy win Sunday night comes news that Rob Lowe, who departs the show no later than March 15, took a meeting last week with Phil Rosenthal, exec producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Yes, Rob definitely would like to do another series. And as “Hollywood Squares” is celeb-guesting its center squares this week, Peter Marshall the host with the most on the show, will tape a guestint Nov. 2. And we’re back!

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