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Berle tribute gets emotional

GOOD MORNING: It was a different Milton Berle who closed his bawdy, hilarious, emotion-packed 90th birthday party at the BevHills Hotel Sunday night. “There’ll be no one-liners (from me) tonight,” he said. “I’m the happiest man in this room.” He said he felt like “the elder statesman of comedy– the next 90 years will be a breeze, and I hope you’ll all be there.” He made sentimental references to his family, especially to his (late) mother Sandra (nee Sarah), “who made Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother seem like Mary Poppins.” And, as he has at other birthday bashes, Berle emotionally thanked his beautiful wife Lorna “for making me happier than I’ve ever been in my life.” It was extra emotional at the evening’s outset when a very frail Bob Hope, 95, arrived for a photo op with Berle — then left. Red Buttons, the next-to-closing act (pre-Berle) opened with, “What a turnout to see Milton for the last time!” Berle laughed loudest at this. But Red, who will be 80 on Feb. 5, reminded, “It hurts every time one of our guys goes — and they will be going.” Then with quick shift, Buttons said “90 isn’t old. You’re old when your doctor doesn’t X-ray you any more — he just holds you up to the light!” It was a night reminiscent of the old Friars roasts, when there were two or more daises. This time there were two m.c.’s: first Steve Allen, then Monty Hall. Allen noted the audience consisted of three groups: “those who do not want to be introduced, those willing to be introduced and those determined to be introduced.” The list simply taking bows included Bea Arthur, Gene Barry, John Byner, Dom DeLuise, Angie Dickinson, Richard Dreyfuss, Eddie Fisher, Martin Landau, Jayne Meadows Allen, Charles Durning, Ann Miller, Phyllis Diller, Kirk Douglas, Kelly LeBrock, Frank Sinatra Jr., Gary Morton, Dick Van Patten, Ruta Lee, Gloria Stuart, Cyd Charisse, Connie Stevens, Sen. John McCain, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Bisset and Burt Reynolds. Film clips of Berle’s life included a special seg by Billy Crystal unveiling “his” private part, which even outdid the legendary Berle’s. Live performances were by: Norm Crosby, who said “Berle has been in insulation to us”; Hal Kanter, “Berle has done something very few people have accomplished: he has finally outlived his career”; Irving Brecher, “Milton doesn’t have a single enemy — they all died” … Tony Martin first rocked the house with “Tenement Symphony,” which he sang on the “Texaco Star Theater,” plus a parodied “Thank Heaven for Milton Berle,” then, with Jerry Vale, another standing ovation as they two’d on “There’s No Tomorrow” (O Sole Mio). Sid Caesar did his “multilingual” tribute to Berle, and Larry Gelbart recalled being 11 and seeing Berle for the first time. “He was lightning in a single-breasted suit. He vacuumed the laughter out of his audiences.” Another touching tribute was given by Berle’s son-in-law Richard Moll on behalf of the children and grandchildren. (Berle’s son Billy, al-though rumored at the hotel, did not make an appearance at the joyous festivities). The evening was produced by Buddy Arnold and Aaron Tonkin, coordinated by Norby Walters, and underwritten by Cynthia Gershman. The evening was also a fundraiser for the G&P Foundation of Denise Rich, who was on hand to remind of the next event honoring Berle: Oct. 5 at N.Y.’s Plaza, also to benefit the G&P Foundation for cancer research. Berle and wife Lorna were also presented with spectacular gifts from Seidlers Jewelers (also underwriters of the evening). They included a Chaumet platinum watch for Milton (lost in transit to L.A. for three days!), diamond cigar-shaped cufflinks and studs and, for Lorna, diamond and gold bracelet. The BevHills Hotel did a magnificent job in presenting the party, the dinner and the birthday cake — in the shape of a TV set, with “Mr. Television” on screen. Berle’s family, including 97-year-old brother Phil, here from Florida, joined in singing “Happy Birthday,”

FIRST WEDDING PRESENT to newlywed Bob and Catherine (Oxenberg) Evans: from Sumner Redstone, a hefty, new three-year pact for Bob at Par … Another spectacular event over the weekend was the preem of “The Mask of Zorro,” whose grandeur and spectacle reminded me of my favorite movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Coincidentally, director Martin Campbell told me David Lean is his idol and he’d studied all of his films — as well as those of Michael Curtiz, like “Captain Blood” (1935), Errol Flynn’s earliest swashbuckler. Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins did Flynn (and Basil Rathbone) proud! Banderas told me they added the finale — a happy family sequence — three months after the pic wound. At the beautifully themed party at the Hacienda de Zorro (the Ebell of L.A.), CBS’s Les Moonves was seated at the table with Banderas and wife Melanie Griffith. Moonves said of progress on Melanie’s series “Me & Henry” for his web, “I am guardedly optimistic. She has valid concerns.” Moonves wants ’em corrected. “I adore her,” he added. The spectacularly beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones, discovered for her role of Elena in “Zorro” by Steven Spielberg, will reteam with producer David Foster on “Windsong,” being scripted by Lou Comici. Zeta-Jones winged in for the preem from London, where she is costarring with Sean Connery in “Entrapment.” Hopkins revealed he’s recuped from a torn Achilles tendon and will now return to work in “Instinct.”

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