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A Farewell to ‘Pure Butter’ Fleischmann

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The summer season at the Hollywood Bowl opened with a splendid goodbye.

A gala concert Wednesday evening honoring Ernest Fleischmann, who recently retired after almost 30 years as managing director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl, had all that might be expected of a tribute to a man whose passion for his work has led to many a controversy and spawned decades of “importance of being Ernest” jokes. There were tradition and innovation; a real diva; classical, pop and jazz; gossip and memories; food and wine; expensive and cheap seats; waiters in white gloves and ushers in T-shirts; table napkins printed with a “The Stars Come Out” logo; Hollywood stars who did come out; and, of course, fireworks.

“He needs to sit down to eat his dinner,” said Jessica Fleischmann as she watched her father dashing through rows of pool, garden and box seats to shake hands with patrons who had paid up to $500 each to benefit an endowment chair in his name and to continue support of the Bowl’s community and education programs.

Those tucking into picnics of cold salmon were, as ever, charmed by the atmosphere of the Hollywood Bowl, even if, like Angela Lansbury, they suggested, “I should have worn my long underwear.” What to wear at the Bowl, where it can indeed be chilly after dark, sparked considerable bantering. “Are you underdressed, or am I overdressed?” a tuxedoed Richard Dreyfuss queried Ed Begley Jr., who was wearing a flannel lumberjack shirt.

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Dreyfuss was dressed for the stage as, following dinner with his fiancee, Janell Lacey, he stepped up to act as master of ceremonies and to conduct “Stars and Stripes Forever” as catherine wheels swirled, sparklers spurted and rockets boomed over the arena. Despite “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” Dreyfuss admits that when it comes to conducting, “I don’t really know how to do it,” and that once when he was performing at the podium in Phoenix, “One of the musicians came up to me on the third night and said, ‘Man, you were so good, we almost followed you once or twice.’ ”

The performers with real music skills paid tribute to Fleischmann. “Nothing about him is margarine. He’s pure butter,” said violinist Itzhak Perlman.

“I thank him for believing in me and believing in music,” said soprano Kathleen Battle, whose early career Fleischmann had championed.

The crowd--including Priscilla and Curtis Tamkin, Vidal Sassoon, Mitzi Gaynor, Swoosie Kurtz, Shari Belafonte, Melissa Manchester, Burt Sugarman and Mary Hart, and Philharmonic board president Barry Sanders--was also a tribute to Fleischmann’s achievement in making the Bowl the place to be on a summer night.

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