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After All These Years, Love Is Still All Around Mary

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Dick Van Dyke took the stage at the Century Plaza Hotel after watching film clips from more than 35 years ago that depicted a man in a smart suit and a skinny tie trading quips with his television wife, a twentysomething stunner with the enviable flip hairdo and the guts to wear pants.

He spoke to a crowd of his peers, comedic performers whose films and television shows have largely been relegated to the studio archives. However, on this Saturday night in Beverly Hills, these actors and actresses came together to trade one-liners, some off-color jokes and revive some of the glamour they shared in their youth.

“Looking at those old clips . . . They reminded me that inside every old person is a young person saying: ‘What the hell happened?’ ” Van Dyke said.

The black-tie crowd of about 1,000, gathered to honor Mary Tyler Moore and raise funds for one of Hollywood’s original celebrity charities, the Thalians, named after the Greek goddess of comedy, Thalia. The event featured some of Moore’s favorite performers, including the 1960s pop group the Turtles and comic Paula Poundstone.

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As his peers get older, Van Dyke said, events such as these where “they pull us out of the mothballs” to honor a lifetime of work become more frequent. Next month, he said, the gang is headed to Washington, D.C., to honor their pal Carl Reiner, who was in attendance Saturday.

Saturday’s party was a reunion for some of the comedic legends of Hollywood, including Phyllis Diller, Buddy Hackett, Rip Taylor, Steve Allen and Red Buttons. Comedians Ruth Buzzi and Joanne Worley arrived together and hammed it up for the cameras in the exaggerated style reminiscent of their days on the television show “Laugh In.” Former glamour puss Marsha Hunt, who was touted the best dressed actress at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1930s and blacklisted in the 1950s, joked about her aging celebrity with astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s wife.

“You’re not old enough to know my films,” Hunt said. ‘We’re older than you think,” the astronaut said.

When the flashbulbs lit up for a woman draped in a shimmering gold and orange gown, one longtime Thalian turned to his companion to whisper the woman’s claim to fame. “It’s Kathleen Hughes,” he said, star of the 1950s 3-D thriller “It Came From Outer Space.”

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A few guests overheard him and stopped to stare. In a flashy off-the-shoulder number, Thalians chair Ruta Lee, who once starred opposite Tyrone Power and is best known for her role as the youngest of the brides in the film “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” made a grand entrance, twirling and turning for the photographers who shouted her name.

“You’re going to see a lot of that tonight,” said one photographer to another. “Divas.”

Lee and Debbie Reynolds have been the self-described “mommas” of the Thalians since the late 1960s. Reynolds was performing in Las Vegas Saturday, but Lee played the hostess with saucy flair.

The highlight of the event came just after 11 p.m., when Moore and Van Dyke shared the stage to sing a medley of songs, including one bit that poked fun at their old sitcom.

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“Network heads made us sleep in adjoining beds,” Moore sang. “Today we’d roll in the hay.”

The couple on stage had the crowd’s attention, and they laughed along with Moore even when she flubbed her lines and had to start over while Van Dyke giggled.

After she left the stage, Moore appeared overwhelmed by the 3-hour tribute to her career.

“In truth, I can’t believe they were talking about me or that the woman performing (in the old film clip) was me,” she said. “It’s a very out-of-body kind of experience.”

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