Autry Museum Gala Opening Rounds Up Best of the West

Gene Autry truly became King of the Cowboys Monday night and Los Angeles tipped its ten-gallon hat to say "thank you."

Inaugurating the $54 million Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Griffith Park,more than 900 black-tie guests were rounded up to follow the path of exhibits tracing the history of the Old West.

Former President Gerald and Betty Ford; Security Pacific's George and Mary Jane Moody; the driving force of the museum's creation, Jackie Autry; Western stars like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans; Willie Nelson; and a great bunch of Reagan regulars showed up--and all showed themselves as eager as kids to play cowboy.

"Where are the cowboys? I want to see the guns," Wallis Annenberg announced. "I love cowboys." She had cleverly combined the required "black-tie or dressy Western" dress code by sporting a large brash sheriff's badge.

Milling among the tri-level museum's exhibits, the guests were supposed to be fortified by large buffet tables with Mexican-cum-Western food. But the wrangler who convinced the party organizers that the museum's contracted food producer, Marriott, knew how to do parties--well, that person has spent too much time at the chuck wagon and not enough time with the caterer.

The grub, and a slight chill from the night air, produced the only growls from the crowd. Everyone "loved" everything else.

"I loved it," Betty Wilson announced, after a lengthy tour with her husband, former ambassador to the Vatican William Wilson, and a retinue of Reagan regulars (many straight from the ground reaking for the Reagan Library), which included Giney Milner, Harriet and Armand Deutsch, and Erlenne and Norman Sprague (he just finished an eight-year stint as president of the board of the Southwest Museum).

The crowd was probably the most eclectic since the Olympics: Dick and Dee Sherwood; Victoria and Ed McMahon; Assemblyman Mike Roos and his new bride, Laura; Jane and Marc Nathanson; Fred and Joan Nicholas; Joan (in an "it's not an endangered species" lynx cape) and John Hotchkis; Los Angeles County Protocol Chief Sandra Ausman with her exec husband, Shel; and Mayor Tom Bradley.

Bradley told the story of the museum and, after go-rounds about the site, how one was settled on, adding with a kidding touch: "Gene said OK--and then Jackie went to work."

Autry's friends and cronies showed up for the celebration. For years, it's been known that Pat Buttram, Autry's long-time film and TV sidekick, is one of the top irreverent speakers on the after-dinner circuit. "You can put millions and millions into this museum--and have it successful. . . . Why the heck can't you find nine guys who can play a simple game of baseball?" he asked his old pardner.

'Spirit of Community'

George Moody, co-host of the evening with his wife, Mary Jane, stressed that the "spirit of community" of the Old West on view in the gallery was shown "by all of you who came tonight to view this museum and to say 'thank you' to Gene and Jackie Autry."

Willie Nelson sang. Glen Campbell sang. Almost no one in the large tent left except for Nancy and Tim Vreeland, who made an early exit, Tim with his souvenir Indian blanket tucked under his arm.

Ellen and Bernie Byrens with good friends Sid and Frances Klein sat singing along with "Sioux City Sue," as Charlton Heston did an oral Autry biog, supplemented by taped pieces of history. One was a little disconcerting as the voice of the late John Wayne kidded Autry about his success as a cowboy star.

How good was it? Well, King of Valet Parkers Chuck Pick, who stands outside of most major events in Los Angeles and never bothers to come inside, sat in the back row of the tent, smiling:

"I love it."

TUTTO ITALIANO--For those of you who love Italy, but miss the Tinseltown talk while there, the Hollywood Reporter's George Christy debuts in Italian Vogue in the December issue. "Qui Hollywood" promises to tell all every month--in Italian, natch, for the cognoscenti. Bravo, George!

TUTTO FLACKDOM--He's very young--31, and getting younger all the time--and it's a big jump in the world of publicists. Kudos to Alan Nierob, a real home-town boy made good, since he's become exec veep at Rogers & Cowan. Nierob represents stars like Victoria Principal, Georgio Armani and racer Danny Sullivan.

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