Gene Autry Is in the Saddle, as Always


A sell-out happy crowd of 1,250 was “Back in the Saddle Again” with its favorite singing cowboy Monday night when Gene Autry celebrated his 90th birthday at the Museum of Western Heritage he built.

Nostalgia reigned. In the birthday tributes, emceed by Dick Clark, Rosemary Clooney sang, “If You Loved Me Half as Much as I Love You,” then (“for Jackie and sweet Gene”) “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Glen Campbell, who on guitar during dinner had the audience clapping, cheering and stomping with fiddler Ron Rutowski and Campbell’s Good Time Band in the “Orangeblossom Special,” mesmerized the crowd with “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” Autry’s song.

Not to be outdone, Roy Clark took to his guitar with “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Arizona cowboy Eddy Arnold sang his “Lonesome Cattle Call” to a standing ovation. That was before Willie Nelson marched on with sons Micha and Lucas, the other entertainers and audience joining for “Back in the Saddle Again” and “On the Road Again.” Then Johnny Grant delivered accolades, and cowboy Monte Hale (who visits Gene three times a week), led the audience in “Happy Birthday” twice.

What a night--$900,000 worth for the museum, according to co-chairmen Sheldon I. Ausman, Edwin K. Marzec and James W. McElvany. Gala sponsors of $25,000 were the Automobile Club of Southern California, Avery Dennison, Occidental Petroleum and the Walt Disney Co.


Gene’s wife, Jackie, was by his side as Bob Hope, Dale Evans, Christina Paine, Richard Farnsworth, Buddy Ebsen, Billy Bob Thornton and Dwight Yoakam stopped by to touch Gene’s shoulder and wish him well.

It was the night to flaunt squash blossom necklaces and bolo ties, and a night to praise Joanne Hale, president and CEO of the museum, and Lois Rice, president of the museum’s National Advisory Council. Said Carolyn Ludwig of Hale, “Joanne’s the goddess of this city.”

Highlights were the Western Heritage Award, presented to the Philip K. Wrigley family, and the auction in which Pat Sajak and Fausto Yturria Jr. of Brownsville, Texas, battled for the Colt single-action silver Army revolver detailing the career of Autry. It’s engraved by Alvin White and Andrew Bourbon. With a $42,500 bid, Yturria gloated: “I beat the ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ ”


Weather Fine: When Eileen White Read, chairwoman of the Childrens Chain Dinner Dance for Childrens Hospital, became inundated with concerned phone calls, she left a recorded message: “Good morning. This is Eileen Read with the weather. It’s raining. It’s going to rain all day today and part of tomorrow. By Saturday, however, in Pasadena, it will be sunny and beautiful for the Childrens Chain Dinner Dance. This has been Eileen Read reporting with the weather.”

Hire her. She was right. Nearly 350 guests took over the gardens at the home of Dr. Vaughn and Jan Starnes. He’s the famous cardio thoracic surgeon at Childrens Hospital.

Rarely has a tennis court looked so beautiful. Pam Clyne hired Manisse Newell of Hillsborough to design the flowers and tables--pink striped and plaid cloths, centered with silver candelabra topiaries dripping with roses.

Melinda Wells, Childrens Chain chairwoman, and her husband, Dr. Win Wells, greeted with Eileen and Charles Read. Christy Bakaly hired the Kitchen for Exploring Foods and executive chef Wendy Madison for yummy cuisine.

Among guests: Cheryl and Peter Ziegler, Carlotta and Rusty Keely, Steve and Sue Ralph, Mike and Rebecca Kubacki, Peggy and James Galbraith, Tom and Margaret Larkin, Edie Frere, Katie and Gary Darnell and Chris and Lois Madison.


Only: “Only” was the key word twice recently. The Los Angeles Country Club celebrated its 100th anniversary Sept. 27 with members and spouses only--about 1,000 folks. A luncheon for major donors only--about 100--followed the downtown groundbreaking for the new Catholic cathedral downtown.


Irish Heritage: The American Ireland Fund will honor Thomas S. Murphy, chairman emeritus, Capital Cities / ABC Inc., with its 1997 Heritage Award on Oct. 28 at the Beverly Hilton. With Roy and Patty Disney as dinner chairs, Bob Daly as honorary chairman and Merv Griffin as emcee, the black-tie affair is sure to be a frolic.


Today’s Agenda: The California Mart’s California Designer Awards at the Beverly Hilton will name fashion leaders today at a dinner / fashion show to benefit Covenant House . . . The Rape Foundation, with the cast of “NYPD Blue,” hosts a fund-raising brunch at the home of Ron Burkle . . . The Crown Guild of the Crippled Children’s Society is staging its 23rd annual Gourmet Festival with jazz, food and wine at the home of Gary Thompson in Pasadena . . . The Junior League of Los Angeles will wrap up the final day of its 12th annual rummage sale at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.


Midas Touch: Rodeo Drive’s Tribute to Style on Sept. 21 raised $1 million for the Entertainment Industry Foundation / Permanent Charities . . . Campaign UCLA has reached 40% of its $1.2-billion goal.


Plaudits: The Champions of Scouting saluted “Top Gun” John H. Semcken III at its “A Night on the Edge” party Sept. 25 at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica . . . Janetha Corey, Los Angeles Philharmonic board member and former chairwoman of the Philharmonic Affiliates, has received the “Most Valuable Player” Volunteer Award presented by the Assn. of California Symphony Orchestras . . . The Advocate for Children Award will go to Charles Rinehart, chairman and CEO of H.F. Ahmanson & Co., on Oct. 15 at the Ritz-Carlton, Huntington. The Ettie Lee Homes for Youth will bestow the honor.

Elsewhere on the Social Circuit

* Kudos to Wallace Steiner, vice president-Southwest region, Tiffany & Co., who hosted “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” on Sept. 21 to salute the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.