Just for Army

<I>Daily Variety</I> columnist celebrates 50 years

Bernie Brillstein offered a clue to the reason behind the strong turnout at Friday’s black-tie, BevHilton dinner celebrating the start of Army Archerd’s 50th year at Daily Variety.

“Army was nice to me when I was no one,” said the veteran manager. “He was nice to me when I was someone. And he’ll be nice to me when I’m no one again.”

With a half-century of that evenhanded conduct behind him, it was no wonder Archerd’s dinner filled the ballroom with a crowd one young agent described as “people I’ve read books about.”

Among those milling at the reception were Frank Mancuso, John Frankenheimer, Stacey Snider, Robert Stack, Tom Rothman, Sherry Lansing and Billy Friedkin, David Brown, Dick Zanuck, Walter Mirisch, Dick Cook, Les Moonves, Robert Evans and Sidney Poitier.

As guests chatted, Archerd’s persistence in confirming a story was mentioned repeatedly. Jack Valenti said, “He’s one of the few journalists who actually checks his facts.” Norman Brokaw echoed that, saying, “If Army wrote it, you know it’s the truth because he checks it out.”

George Schlatter looked back at the days when “you had Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, Walter Winchell and 20 others. Now you’ve just got Army. He’s either the last of the great columnists, or the first of a new breed that checks their facts.”

Archerd took over the Daily Variety column in 1953 from Sheilah Graham (whom history will probably best remember as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s girlfriend — in 1940 the novelist died in her apartment).

Red Buttons suggested a different timeline. “Before it was Army,” he quipped, “the column was written by either Lot or Cain.”

On the social side, Aaron Spelling said the best advice he got from Army “was to marry Candy.” And Quincy Jones said they had “a relationship that kind of accumulated organically. It evolved. Now it’s gotten to the point where I forget I’m talking to a reporter.”

The dinner itself began with remarks from Variety publisher Charlie Koones, who called the honoree “quite simply, an entertainment icon,” and editor-in-chief Peter Bart, who said Archerd was “Variety’s tentpole. Our ‘Harry Potter,’ our ‘Spider-Man’ and, now and again, our ‘Lord of the Zings.’ ”

Together, Tom Sherak and Jeffrey Katzenberg made the announcement that the dinner had raised just over $1 million for the Kayne-Eras Center; and that a Variety Children’s Charity Sunshine Coach was being donated to the center in the name of Archerd and his wife, Selma.

Selma Archerd then made a gracious speech centering on the Kayne-Eras Center’s work with children and adults who have a wide range of special educational needs (“We thank them for the measure of peace they’ve given thousands of people”) and ended by mentioning that she was wearing a Harry Winston necklace “that has to be returned at midnight. But I’m not going to feel like Cinderella, because my Prince Charming found me.”

As dinner was served, black-and-white photos from Archerd’s career were projected on screens flanking the stage. Though the selection ranged from the honoree alongside a camel to Louis Armstrong, what was most impressive was the sheer quantity of images. How many journalists could sustain a 45-minute slide show with that many stars? And has anyone in Hollywood not been photographed with him?

After dinner, the Gary Smith-produced show kicked into gear with remarks from Steve Edwards, Peter Falk (“Army is the Chick Hearn of the entertainment business”), Bob Thomas, Tom Selleck, Garth Brooks, Jon Voight, Larry Gelbart and Ed Begley Jr.

The first of four exceptionally clever adapted song lyrics written by Buz Kohan for the occasion was perf’d by Tom Wopat to the tune of “76 Trombones” (“There are moguls and their trophy wives … Oscar winners, PR spinners”) before being joined on stage by the marching band from UCLA, Archerd’s alma mater.

Regis Philbin acted as host (“50 years! I thought 15 years with Kathie Lee was a long time”) and intro’d video tributes from Liz Smith; the cast of “Will & Grace” (“You’re the only Army we can get into” was the evening’s sole gay joke); stars from “The West Wing”; Robert Osborne; and Cindy Adams, who got a laugh when she began by saying, “Army, I’m thrilled to do this video for you — or as thrilled as I can get without being paid.”

Live perfs also came from Tony Danza (who deftly handled the complex patter in one Kohan song); 11-year-old Jonathan Lipnicki, who humorously chronicled Army’s life history; Buttons; and Reba McEntire, who sang “I Got Lost in His Arms.”

Two pre-recorded comedic segments came from Carl Reiner who acted the part of Edward R. Murrow doing a “Person to Person” interview with the Archerds as they’re locked out of their house; and Jay Leno, who did his man-on-the-street routine where he asked passers-by if they could ID the columnist from a photo.

The responses included: “Is he the KFC guy?”; “the guy from the Enron scandal”; “Orville Redenbacher”; and “some kind of businessman, or a Hugh Hefner-type dude.”

As the evening came toward conclusion, Bart and Koones made the presentation of a Mercedes E320 to Archerd, and Julie Andrews sang “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Space” (“His who, his what, his dot dot dot.”)

When Archerd came onstage, he joked that over the years he’d “spent more time in this room than the waiters,” then became emotional as he recalled the tribute: “What do I say after what you all said tonight?”

He solved the problem by singing the last of the Kohan lyrics to the tune of “Thanks for the Memories” (“Starting out in boxer shorts and ending in Depends”), joined by Merv Griffin and Selma Archerd.

Among those applauding were Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Jean Firstenberg, Jim Gianopulos, Russell Schwartz, Jeffrey Godsick, Suzanne de Passe, Marvin and Barbara Davis, Walter Parkes, Barbara Cull, Bill Haber, Jill Martinette, Nancy Livingston, Phyllis Diller, Barbara Brogliatti, Jacqueline Bisset, Bob Dowling, Larry Gordon, Terry Press, Colin Callender, Rob Friedman, Terry Curtin, Lilly Tartikoff, Ken Scherer and Esther Williams.