NEW YORK — "Night of 100 Stars II," the Actors Fund of America benefit held here Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall, was extravagant even by Hollywood standards: Not 100, but more than 300 stars from all facets of entertainment participated in the $5.5-million production that lasted more than six hours.
The $1-million goal of the event, which was to complete an extended care facility at the Actors Fund retirement home in Englewood, N.J., was reached, but at a cost that was high in both financial and physical terms. The capacity audience of 5,800 witnessed what seemed more like an interminable dress rehearsal than a polished production. And, in fact, the evening was a rehearsal for a three-hour taped version of the show that will be telecast at 8 p.m. March 10 on ABC-TV.
"This will make one hell of a television show," producer Alexander Cohen was heard to say through a microphone as he staged the evening's finale in front of a dwindling audience. Cohen, who has gained a reputation over 40 years as a Broadway showman of grand scale, and his wife, Hildy Park, produced the show, as they did in a more abbreviated form in 1982. For several years now, the couple have also produced the annual Tony Awards telecast for ABC.
Sunday's show consisted of more than a dozen segments devoted to various aspects of the entertainment industry, including a sports segment introduced by ABC's Howard Cosell.
But they were performed out of sequence, often with long pauses for set changes, and frequently they were repeated "to get it right" for a massive television crew under the direction of Clark Jones. For the formally attired audience that had paid from $50 to $1,000 each for their tickets, there was virtually no continuity to the live show.
There were, however, some grand moments when the audience seemed to come alive and responded enthusiastically just at the right time for the cameras to scan the Music Hall.
Most notable was a film segment, featuring on screen and live on the huge Radio City stage: Lillian Gish, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Preston, Olivia De Havilland, Sidney Poitier, Lana Turner and Sir Laurence Olivier, who received a tumultuous standing ovation. As Turner left the stage, a woman shouted from far off in one of the Music Hall's several balconies, "That's a real star . . . bring back the stars !"
The only other spontaneous ovation came with a show-stopping, tap-dance sequence featuring some of the best known stars from the dance world, including Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Juliet Prowse, Gregory Hines, Charles (Honi) Coles, Alexander Godonuv and Ginger Rogers. To everyone's surprise, the entire number had to be performed a second time for the TV cameras.
A television segment introduced by Lucille Ball featured some of the most familiar faces seen on prime-time television, with virtually every major network situation comedy and dramatic series represented.
"Dynasty's" John Forsythe, Linda Evans, Diahann Carroll and Joan Collins received the highest rating on the applause scale during this segment.
Very late into the evening there was a fashion show featuring some of the stars wearing garments from major designers such as Fabrice, Halston and Mary McFadden.
The evening wrapped up with an inexplicable but inspiring tribute by Barbara Walters and Walter Cronkite to "humanistic achievers." The dozen or so who were honored on stage included Dr. Christiaan Barnard, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Cesar E. Chavez, Henry Steele Commager, Martha Graham, Rosa Parks, Dr. Linus Pauling and Gloria Steinem.
Throughout it all, the audience sat amazingly still, as if committed to the evening. The stars, most of whom spent nine hours behind the scenes waiting for their momentary appearances, were noticeably weary when they joined the 2,000 ticket holders at a champagne supper dance at the nearby New York Hilton that got under way around 2 a.m. But everyone seemed to carry the evening off like troupers.
After watching what the stars were put through, the lavish treatment poured upon them over the weekend seemed understandable. Many had flown here from California for just two days' break from their television productions.
According to Cohen, about $1 million of the evening's budget was earmarked for "goods and services" for the stars that ranged from travel and weekend hotel accommodations to limousine service while in New York to gifts of champagne, flowers, fruits--even theater tickets. Most of their needs and wants were anticipated as early as last December on a computer master list compiled by Cohen's staff. An around-the-clock staff handled any last-minute requests.
"I know people must wonder why it takes $5.5 million to make $1 million," said Cohen, who insisted this was the second and final version of "Night of 100 Stars." "But this is not a popular cause, such as one that can be promoted by a national telethon. It's a parochial cause, so we have to show ourselves off and go public."
"We've got to put on a good show for the Actors Fund and a good show for ABC," he added. The show obviously paid off for charity. But, as many among those who drifted out of the Hilton between 4 and 5 a.m. Monday morning noted, it seemed that the event was more tailored to ABC's needs--the network reportedly paid $3 million for the television rights--than to the live audience that had turned out in person to see it.