For McKuen, it’s older and better

Times Staff Writer

The war had not yet begun at 6 p.m. Wednesday, as party guests arrived to honor 70-year-old people’s poet Rod McKuen. Paparazzi lined the entrance to the Argyle Hotel’s candlelit cafe on Sunset Boulevard, pushing and shoving to get shots of the silver-haired bard and a slew of others whose names are still magic to much of the public, although some have been out of the limelight for years.

Few had lost their glamour, their hair or their sense of humor.

Phyllis Diller, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Dom DeLuise and Jo Anne Worley were some of the more than 150 who packed the restaurant to have some fun, show friendship for the poet and offer support in his new campaign to prove that those who are over 65 are not over the hill.

Best example of that among the revelers was broadcaster George Putnam, 88, still going strong on local radio.


McKuen will launch a nationwide concert tour for seniors April 30 at Carnegie Hall as part of a program to convince young bloods in the corporate world that “seasoned citizens should be highly valued and remain integrated in all areas of society ... instead of being tossed out too soon, as so many are.”

McKuen, who’s been out of the limelight himself for years, is ready to leap back in because “I’ve had a charmed life; I’ve been given a lot; I want to give back.” Hewlett-Packard, eager to get its technology into the hands of older citizens, will sponsor McKuen’s cross-country tour and offer computer demonstrations for seniors who, McKuen told his guests, “account for 11% of the population and control 52% of the wealth.”

Of course, few celebrators were telling their age.

Most said they’d known McKuen for years, decades or, in the case of Diller, “half a century.” The still-blond comic said she’d helped get him his first club job, at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, when they both worked in the same office building.


Betty Garrett, the adorable actress who chased Frank Sinatra in the 1949 film “On the Town,” sipped her bloody mary and said she’s still working and still loves it. “I was on ‘Becker’ last Sunday, and I got to grab Ted Danson’s buns.”

Carol Connors, the songwriter who co-wrote the theme from “Rocky” and “all music and lyrics for Walt Disney’s film ‘The Rescuers,’ ” said she grew up and honed her craft “on Rod’s poetry.”

Everyone there seemed to have been famous for something, including Susan Stafford, who introduced herself to a guest as “the original ‘Wheel of Fortune’ girl, before Vanna White, and the only woman ever to be nominated for an Emmy on a game show.”

Garrett and others at the bash said they met McKuen through participation in STAGE, the annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event, a production that raises money to help those with AIDS.

Hackett said he and his wife, Sherry, have “known McKuen for ages” and were there to support his new cause. DeLuise, between bites of broiled baby lamb chops and chocolate-covered strawberries, echoed the thought: “McKuen’s a great guy. When he sings a song, he touches your heart.”

Lois Aldrin, wife of former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, said it “was a difficult evening for going out. But I think it’s so important to get together like this, to show support for America and for each other. It’s comforting to be with other people in a time like this.”

The dramatic undercurrent became visible as McKuen came to the podium, lifted his champagne and toasted a victory of America’s cause and the safety of our troops.