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Fred de Cordova: Ageless Honors

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Anyone who’s had a career that includes directing Ronald Reagan in “Bedtime for Bonzo,” Elvis Presley in “Frankie and Johnny” and executive-producing the “Tonight” show for 22 years certainly deserves an award.

And to do all that, to be 81 years old and still be working probably deserves to be called a miracle.

“It’s been a great roll of the dice,” said Fred de Cordova, whose career was honored Saturday at the Beverly Hilton with the Center for the Partially Sighted’s Vision Award. The black-tie fund-raiser, produced by Gary Smith, brought in more than $220,000.

“That he’s still around--in a town of non-survivors--that’s the ultimate tribute,” said Bob Newhart. “Fred learned a long time ago that you can’t stand still--you get lost.”

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It wasn’t easy to lose de Cordova in the pre-party cocktail party. He was almost the only guest smoking. “I’m down to four packs a day and a bottle of vodka,” he said. About the alcohol he was joking. About the cigarettes, it was hard to be sure.

Robert Stack watched him and said he thought de Cordova “was made of wax.”

“Here’s a guy who looks great, who never stopped smoking and who usually has a martini in his hand,” said Stack. “You’ve got to believe in a God with a really wild sense of humor.”

Since comedy has played such a big part in de Cordova’s career (he also worked with Jack Benny, George Burns and Bob Hope), the evening’s tribute was heavily slanted toward comedians. Unfortunately, the two who play the biggest part in his career--Johnny Carson and Jay Leno--were in Europe and Salt Lake City, respectively.

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The evening, emceed by Steve Edwards, included performances from Richard Lewis (who wasn’t having one of his better nights) and Newhart and Don Rickles, who were in top form. Singers Ed Ames and Randy Crawford both had strong performances, while videotaped tributes came from Ed McMahon and Reagan, who described himself as “a guy who agreed to spend four months talking to a chimp.” He said he had heard “Bonzo wanted to be there, but he’s doing a guest appearance on ‘The Dennis Miller Show.’ ”

Among the 500 guests were co-chairs Marvin and Barbara Davis and Irving and Mary Lazar; the center’s executive director, LaDonna Ringering; founder Sam Genensky and board chairman William Elliott; Betty White; Max Factor III; Barbara Lazaroff, and George and Jolene Schlatter.

Although de Cordova is no longer executive producer on “Tonight,” he said he’d continue to consult on the show for “a while.” He added that 82 “would probably be a good time to quit.”

Or maybe go onto another job.


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