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Executive Sets Tempo for Library’s Book Telethon

Times Staff Writer

Just what was Atlantic Richfield’s distinguished grey-haired chairman Lodwrick M. Cook doing up there anyway, swaying seductively and demurely shrugging out of his tweed sports jacket to the tune of “Gigolo”?

While the dance was far from literary, it was certainly “novel” and thus in keeping with the theme of the Save the Books telethon held Friday and Saturday to benefit the fire-ravaged Los Angeles Central Library. And during the half hour after Cook’s performance, telephone calls poured into the television studio from as far away as Arkansas and Connecticut, generating $100,000 worth of pledges.

“My mother called me and told me he was dancing . . . and I said, ‘oh, my God,’ ” his wife Carole said later, her eyes rolling up toward the ceiling. “The rerun I’ve got to see.” Wyman Jones, director of the library, who went on to wow the audience with a mean jazz piano number, added, “I’d call it inspirational.”

The telethon raised $1 million in pledges in 24 hours. And a taped replay which will run until noon today is expected to bring in another $1 million, organizers said.

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Television preacher Gene Scott, who is on the high-powered fund-raising committee, donated his Glendale studios and his University TV Network for the event and was master of ceremonies. (The program can be seen here on Channels 30 and 56.) Cook is co-chairman of the Save the Books effort with Mayor Tom Bradley. Arco pitched in $300,000 to cover the campaign’s costs, and donated $5,000 for every $10,000 pledged.

The telethon is one of several events planned this year to raise $10 million to replace books, magazines and valuable documents destroyed in two arson fires that hit the library last year. About $5.6 million has been raised, not counting the telethon pledges.

Celebrities, ranging from former secretary of state Henry Kissinger to Los Angeles Raiders football player Todd Christensen, author Sidney Sheldon, singer Dinah Shore and actors Charlton Heston and Eddie Albert, appeared on the program, performing and talking about what effect libraries and books have had on their lives.

Hundreds of volunteers, including some of the library staff, manned the 200 phones. Dressed in wine-colored Save the Books sweat shirts, the studio audience cheered, stomped and whistled as the money tally inched upward, fed by donations as small as 40 cents from children to thousands of dollars from corporations.

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During the last live hour of the telethon, with the tally hovering around $900,000, Cook, now offstage, said that most of his reading lately has been business books. The first book he ever borrowed from a library was “Tom Swift”; now he’s reading Will and Ariel Durant’s “The Story of Civilization.”

Former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, 81, took the stage, calling for the state to spend more money on libraries.

Brown said that right now he’s reading Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, but one of his all time favorites is “Ivanhoe.” Libraries have a special place in his heart, he added, because, “When I was a young fella in San Francisco I used to go to the library to see this particular girl who was studying there . . . well, we’ve been married 56 years, and have four children and 12 grandchildren.”

As the telethon wound down to the last 15 minutes, still $57,000 short of the $1 million goal, Scott (who says his favorite book is Reinhold Niebuhr’s “The Nature and Destiny of Man”) urged the audience on in his gravelly voice. A chilling tape of the disastrous fire was rerun, showing smoke and flames erupting from the library building.

John Fischer, a library executive who likes science fiction, especially Philip Farmer’s “River World” series and Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series, manned one of the long distance phones for the entire 24 hours. He had just taken a $10,000 pledge from someone in Tennessee, who says they watch Scott’s religious shows all the time. “We’re going like the devil,” Fischer told the caller enthusiastically.

“Wrong thing to say,” another volunteer laughed.

Cook’s dance number was so popular they decided to show a tape of it for the telethon finale.

“He can move, can’t he?” Scott said to the audience.

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A runner brought him a fistful of pledges. “That’s the million!” Scott yelled.

“This is sensational, this is the first time there’s ever been a national telethon for a library,” said Library Director Jones (who’s favorite book is “War and Peace”).

Cook and Scott hugged each other.

“I hope the next million is easier to come by,” said Scott, eyes red-rimmed from 24 hours on stage.

“It’s been heartwarming to see the response,” said a beaming Cook, who is by now getting used to being called “Legs.”

“It shows what underlying importance the library and books are to the city,” he added. “But I think I’ve ruined my reputation as a dancer.”


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