Matinee Spirit Gives a Spin to Movie Ball

Times Staff Writer

The ho-hum of charity benefits became ho-ho, ha-ha Friday night at the first Moving Picture Ball.

The ball--supporting American Cinematheque--had the feel of a rowdy Saturday matinee as Hollywood partied, chowing down on candy bars and howling as Robin Williams, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Pryor and Stevie Wonder mildly roasted Eddie Murphy.

All those brand names were actually at the party, table-hopping and enjoying dinner. Everybody gets excited by celebrities--witness American Cinematheque board co-chair Ken Kleinberg, who urged the 1,100-plus crowd at the Century Plaza to "Take your cameras and take pictures of each other."

Celeb Couples Cutouts

Both famous and just plain folks posed beside the life-size cutouts of America's First Couple and Britain's favorite twosome, Charles and Diana. But attorney Mark Steinberg, armed with the Polaroid given to every couple, went for the real thing--photos of himself with Morgan Fairchild, and his wife, attorney Margie Steinberg, with Eddie Murphy, and lots more.

Actor George Segal opened the evening with a jazzy "The Moving Picture Ball" on the banjo. "Gee," one cynic opined, "a star at a benefit who actually is working hard." TV producer George Schlatter (he produced "Laugh-In") wrote the show, including a film retrospective on Murphy bringing together some of the comedian's best film and TV bits. Joe Piscopo did the TV-interviewer shtick.

Off-stage activity was funny, too, like the oft-repeated sight gag of famous faces being stuffed with Milky Ways and Butterfingers from centerpieces created by florist David Jones--creations that followed benefit co-chair Lynne Wasserman's decree that costs be kept down. (Those kind of calls meant the the Motion Picture Ball netted at least $200,000 for American Cinematheque, L.A.'s first cultural center dedicated to the moving picture and planned for the site of the Pan Pacific.)

It was a heavy-hitter crowd--social types like Harold and Diane Keith, Mary and Brad Jones, Joanne and Roger Kozberg with Lois and Reginald Howard; political heavy-hitters, like Coastal Commissioner Mark Nathanson, Mayor Tom Bradley and Assemblywoman Maxine Waters. And movie types--a slimmed-down Gary Busey, or a just-right Jamie Lee Curtis with Motion Picture Assn. President Jack Valenti (he ate all the centerpiece popcorn at the table hosted by MCA's Lew and Edie Wasserman). The feeling was raucous--kidding cries of "no, no" were heard when the raffle's big prize--$5,000 in Tallarico jewelry--was won by Dominic Frontiere. His wife, Rams' owner Georgia, looked very happy.

Down With the Flu

The flu felled a few expected folks, like benefit co-chair Jackie Applebaum's date, real estate magnate Howard Ruby. But she had promised, she said, to bring him chicken soup the next day.

Murphy's star buddies did short and funny routines, with Murphy's signature laugh punctuating the crowd's roars. Talk-show host Dick Cavett said his friendship with Murphy was like "Spiro Agnew hanging out with Sarah Vaughan." His lengthy bit was interrupted by bodyguard types sent by Murphy to carry Cavett off the stage.

Aykroyd praised Murphy's "Saturday Night Live" stint, saying he accomplished "what no other star did successfully--he resurrected Gumby and anointed him with a Judaic heritage."

Pryor said that Murphy's performance in "48HRS" left him with a feeling--"Have you ever been somewhere and somebody was funnier than you wanted him to be?"

Williams praised Murphy, too, and brought down the house with his rapid-fire impersonations of Barry Manilow, John Gielgud and George Jessel. He finished by suggesting he'd retrieve Cavett--noticeably out of his league in this comic line-up--to "whip you back to a frenzy."

Honoree Murphy, saying he had "almost cried," thanked the group for its award, and as people gathered up their Butterfingers and Snickers, the night ended.

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