GOOD MORNING: Stop the presses! Would you believe it — a Roast at the Friars and not one four-letter word. Well, it was Sunday, mixed company and the evening was a tribute to Hal Kanter, a man who never needed to get dirty to get funny. Neither did any of those for whom he wrote comedy material for screen, stage or the Friars’ dais. At the BevHills Theatre Guild’s annual Spotlight Awards, Kanter was funnier than all who preceded to roast him. But that’s nothing new: Kanter’s always the star, even when one of a parade of roasters (toasters). I speak from experience and quote from Daily Variety Dec. 9, 1963(!): “There were a lot of comics on the bill but it remained for a writer-producer, Hal Kanter, to prove toughest to top.” That bill included Jack Benny, Phil Silvers, George Burns, Art Linkletter, plus Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis and Nat “King” Cole. It was at the Masquers, Johnny Grant was toastmaster and the honoree was yours truly. I’ve heard Kanter’s bon mots performed anywhere a star needed to sound brilliant. But Sunday, it was Kanter by Kanter. He thanked all for the evening and admitted, “I prepared a few paragraphs that cost me two sleepless nights: last night and tonight.” Kanter (81) related that he asked Milton Berle (in the audience taking a bow), how old he was. “Berle said, ‘How soon do you have to know?’ I said, ‘You don’t know how old you are?’ Berle responded, ‘Nobody does, I lost my birth certificate.’ I asked, ‘How can anybody lose a stone tablet?’ That made Berle laugh, proving once again that we don’t stop laughing when we get old, we get old when we stop laughing.” The always-generous Monty Hall emceed. Kanter noted, “It was Monty who once gave me the invaluable advice that I live by even now — when he told me to be careful of what I say in this town because the toes you step on today may be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.” Anyone wanting to learn comedy can do so thanks to the philanthropy of Judy and Milton Stark who endow a scholarship at UCLA in his name, the Hal Kanter Comedy Writing Award, which Hal noted, is “an honor I hope to win myself someday.”
ONE OF THE HAL KANTERS’ oldest friends, Sherwood Schwartz, admitted “When Hal first heard my name, he thought I was Robin Hood’s rabbi!” … Karl Malden admitted it was Kanter who had written jokes at the Oscars for him when he was president of the Academy. Dave Barry delivered celeb imitations of Kanter lines. Stan Freberg claimed Hal had created a little yellow character he named “Pokemon.” But since it didn’t seem so funny he gave it to his Japanese gardener. “Hal has put all his hilarious experiences into a great book I really enjoyed, called ‘So Far, So Funny.’ So far? That implies that Hal, at 81, plans many more decades of books, screenplays and stressful live Oscar shows. Hal, I got news for you: 81 is not exactly the midway point in life. How many 162-year-old gag writers do you know?” Sid Caesar did his inimitable multi-nationality tribute to Kanter. Ray Evans & Jay Livingston duetted on a clever parody to their hit “Que Sera, Sera” … Steve Allen said he just arrived from a new Hollywood eatery, the Tempura House, “a restaurant for lightly battered women.” Of course Red Buttons was the closing act. Buttons said “I felt close to Hal — my grandfather was a Cantor!” Buttons segued into revealing all the famous people who never got a Spotlight Award from the BevHills Theatre Guild — like “Elizabeth Dole who told her husband Bob to stop using Viagra or ‘You’ll go blind’!” The Guild’s Playwriting Prizes were handed out by Fay Kanin and Charles Champlin.
WHILE POKEMANIA WAS GOING ON at Mann’s Chinese, a happy troupe of youngsters, their parents and grandparents were enjoying the start of the BevHills Museum of TV & Radio’s eighth Intl. Children’s TV Festival, which continues on weekends through Nov. 28 (and in N.Y., Nov. 13-Dec. 5). Don’t miss it, no matter how old you or your small fry are. It was a kick seeing TV giants like Bud Yorkin and Don Mischer and their kids enjoying the multi-functional exhibs — and hot dogs, pretzels, cookies and milk, too! … Diahann Carroll was a most generous star at the United Hostesses’ Charities tribute to Cedars-Sinai’s Medical Center’s Larry Baum at the BevWilshire. Carroll concluded her concert by volunteering to perform anytime C-S calls. Also lending talents to the night was comedienne Mo’nique, costar of UPN’s “The Parkers.” Larry, a friend to this industry and community at large, was also toasted by a celeb reel expressing appreciation of his years at Cedars-Sinai … Andy Williams winged into L.A. to get a second opinion on the prognosis of the node on his vocal chords. There is no sign of cancer but the possibility of surgery exists. Medics expect him to regain his beautiful voice completely … Harry Belafonte will speak at today’s noon memorial for blacklisted writer Abe Polonsky at USC’s United University Church. Polonsky wrote the 1959 Belafonte starrer, “Odds Against Tomorrow” under an assumed name, “John O. Killens.” Harry told director Bob Wise it was written by a black writer. “When I opened the door to meet him,” Wise recalls, “there was Polonsky,” who years later got his recognition from the Guild … .Jerry Lewis (72) returns to work Jan. 13, four nights at the Orleans Showroom in that hotel. Lewis, has recuped from the virus he caught in Australia forcing him to KO that tour. The Showroom theater seats 950, ducats $54.95-$64.95.