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‘Understudies’ Get Rave Reviews

Times Staff Writer

In 12 years of lining up authors for Round Table West luncheons in Los Angeles, Margaret Burk and Marylin Hudson have had only a half-dozen authors make last-minute cancellations. That’s not bad considering that Round Table West--which opened an Orange County branch in March--has had about 500 speakers at its monthly literary gabfests over the years.

But when two scheduled celebrity authors--singer Peggy Lee and actor Macdonald Carey, who were to share the bill with Laguna Beach author T. Jefferson Parker--notified the public relations duo that they couldn’t make it to the Balboa Bay Club Tuesday, Burk and Hudson came thisclose to canceling the entire luncheon.

Instead, they called on a couple of their “buddies” to fill the celebrity breach.

And, as it turned out, the nearly canceled luncheon was one of the best in Round Table West history.

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The two “buddies” who agreed to help out were 81-year-old ex-hoofer and former Beverly Hillbilly Buddy Ebsen and 85-year-old former actor and bandleader Charles (Buddy) Rogers (“America’s boyfriend” opposite his late wife Mary Pickford, “America’s sweetheart”).

After talks by last-minute fill-in Doris Lee McCoy (author of “Mega Traits,” a compilation of interviews with successful people) and “Little Saigon” author Parker, the white-haired and dapperly dressed Rogers stepped up to the microphone.

The always-charming Rogers proceeded to regale the audience with story after story of his early days in Hollywood--of making the Academy Award-winning silent movie “Wings” with Richard Arlen and Clara Bow, his worry when “talkies” arrived over whether he had a “voice,” sailing on Errol Flynn’s yacht and having dinner with Al Capone.

Rogers, a newlywed whose wife, Beverly, accompanied him to the luncheon, takes both his age and his well-seasoned celebrity in stride.

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Talking about his recent drive to Lake Arrowhead with Bob Hope for the opening of a new hotel, he said he was grabbed by “a little old lady” who said, ‘I don’t mean to insult you, but aren’t you Buddy Rogers?’

“I said, ‘Yes, ma’am--for a long, long time.’

“She said, ‘Oh, gee, I used to love to hear you sing in those silent movies.’ ”

Rogers, who also sang a song at the piano, was a tough act to follow.

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Taking his turn at the microphone, Ebsen said: “To borrow a line from Milton Berle, I wouldn’t give this spot to a leopard.”

” . . . Anyway, is that all there is, " Ebsen said, breaking into the first line of the absent Peggy Lee’s hit song: “In case some of you felt cheated.”

Ebsen presented Rogers, who had just celebrated his birthday, with a hand-painted T-shirt featuring a picture of Ebsen as Beverly Hillbilly Jed Clampett with his hunting dog and inscribed with “Uncle Jed and Old Duke hunting for some food.”

After the presentation of a surprise birthday cake to Rogers, Ebsen told the audience “you’ve had everything else on the show here, but you haven’t had much dancing.”

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So with Rogers accompanying him on the piano, the veteran hoofer finished with a loose-limbed demonstration of what he called the “Shim Sham Shimmy.”

“It was a lot of fun,” Margaret Burk said afterward. “Everybody said, ‘Gee, whiz, we’re almost glad there were cancellations.’ I think we had a million-dollar show from two great professionals who love to entertain and who totally enjoyed the Orange County audience.”

The lineup for the August Round Table West luncheon won’t be announced for another few weeks. For more information about Round Table West, call (714) 548-1447.

HOT ROMANCE: Rita Golden Medallion nominee Suzanne Forster received unexpectedly good news during the Romance Writers of America’s three-day conference in Boston last weekend.

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The Newport Beach author, who recently signed a four-book contract with Bantam, was informed by her editor that her first book under the new contract will be released by Doubleday in hard cover. That’s in addition to being released under Bantam’s soft-cover romance line, Loveswept.

The new romance novel, “Wild Child,” is due out in March. Forster, whose first romance novel was published by Silhouette Books in 1985, has had seven romances published.

“Wild Child” will be her first book in hard cover.

“I’m incredibly excited,” she said this week. “I couldn’t believe it. They’re choosing some of the Loveswepts to publish as Doubleday hard covers, but I was truly surprised to learn that my first book (for Bantam) was going to be included.”

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When not writing romances, Forester collaborates with her husband, Allan, on screenplays. She says they’ve currently got one under consideration at Pathe, David Ladd’s new production company.

STORY TIMES: A story time for children ages 5 to 7 will be held from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Little Professor Book Center, 27696 Santa Margarita Parkway, Mission Viejo. Another story time, for ages 7 to 9, will be held at the same location on Aug. 15. Both are free. For information call (714) 472-9200. . . . Quinby’s for the Curious Child also offers a children’s story and craft hour every Tuesday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at 3800 Barranca Parkway, Suite M, Irvine. Cost: a minimal materials fee. For information call (714) 559-0423.

BOOK SIGNING: Young adult author Theodore Taylor of Laguna Beach will talk and sign books from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Quinby’s for the Curious Child, 3800 Barranca Parkway, Suite M, Irvine.

PHOTO EXHIBIT: Rizzoli International Bookstore in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa is exhibiting the work of Irvine photographer Robert Tracy through Aug. 30. Tracy’s salon prints have been shown in group exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally.

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ROMANCE WRITERS: Dorothy Baca will discuss 19th-Century historical costuming at the pre-meeting workshop of the Orange County chapter of Romance Writers of America at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 5 at the Fullerton Public Library, 353 W. Commonwealth Ave. Ellen Dodge will discuss “Using Names, Birthdates and Numerology in Your Characterization” during the general meeting at 1 p.m.


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