As Burbank Chamber of Commerce officials marked the chamber’s 91st year of service to the local business community, they used the occasion of their annual gala to also tip their hats to the city of Burbank, which with nine years on them, is currently in the throes of its centennial celebration.
Presented under the theme, “Oh, Burbank! The First 100 Years,” last week’s gala, produced by Burbank Chamber of Commerce President Gary Olson, saw more than 300 of the city’s movers and shakers welcomed to the Sheraton Universal Hotel for an event that will not be soon forgotten.
The evening commenced with a cast of talented singers and dancers taking guests through a musical history of the past century accompanied by a video presentation that concluded with Gary Owens, of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” fame. Owens, the man who coined the phrase “Beautiful Downtown Burbank,” then introduced Chamber Board Chairman Tom Smith of NBC.
“While much hard work, vision and fortitude will be needed to overcome the financial challenges we’ve faced these past several years, we remain hopeful that a community like ours will not just persevere, but prosper,” said Smith in welcoming the assemblage. “Working hand in hand with our business owners, city officials and neighbors, the chamber will continue its role as an advocate for business to bring about this needed and renewed prosperity.”
Following a performance by Jo Anne Worley, another “Laugh-In” alumna, who sang of lamenting senior moments along with a song honoring downtown Burbank she originally performed on the classic 1960s comedy show, the gathering raised a champagne toast to the 100-year-old city with commemorative flutes.
The highlight of the evening came when Miss Burbank 1948 — Mary Frances Reynolds — took the stage. Better known as Debbie Reynolds, the legendary actress and singer reminisced on growing up in Burbank and living at 1934 Evergreen St. in a home her parents bought with an FHA loan. Reynolds was accompanied by her childhood friend, Leon Sperl, who like her, attended John Burroughs High. After graduating from Burroughs, Reynolds took a job as a clerk in the women’s clothing section of Burbank’s J.C. Penney’s, a position she retained even after signing a contract with Warner Bros.
As she regaled the audience with memories of growing up in Burbank, she her reign as Miss Burbank was the start of her career.
“I’ll never forget that night. I had a hole in the back of my bathing suit and tried everything I could to conceal it,” Reynolds recalled. “Ultimately, I think the hole may have been why I won,” she deadpanned to thunderous laughter.
Before leaving the stage, Reynolds, the consummate performer, left the room wanting more by singing “Tammy,” from her film “Tammy and the Bachelor.” The song earned her a gold record and was the best-selling single by a female vocalist in 1957.
Special guests who enjoyed the evening included Burbank centenarian twins Inez Harries and Venice Shaw, who were born the same year the city was incorporated, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, Mayor Anja Reinke, Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes and Councilmen Gary Bric and David Gordon, school board members Larry Applebaum and Roberta Reynolds, Police Chief Scott LaChasse, Fire Chief Ray Krakowski, Superintendent of Schools Stan Carrizosa and chamber executive members Charles Rosen, Don St. Clair, Marcia Amoroso, Barry Burnett, Lee Wochner, Whit Prouty and Tom Whelan.
Also in attendance were chamber board members Charles “Bud” Alleman, Jr. Ernie Burger, Joan McCarthy, Rich Roche, Keith Sanneman and Tony Tartaglia along with chamber staff members Kimberly Thompson, Melinda Martin and Shari Rang.
Other notables on hand included Sharon and Kyle Olson, Burbank Leader and Glendale News-Press Editor Dan Evans and his wife, Donna, former-Mayor Michael Hastings and his wife, Kathy, Ron and Cheryl Davis, Jim and Merle Woodburn, Sandy Talamantes, Barry Gussow and Karen Volpei, Susan Sebastian, Bob and Sydney Heins, Cooper Neal, and Woodbury University President Ken Nielsen accompanied by his wife, Rose.