Ken Kragen, the personal manager and producer, stopped short in front of the barrage of cameras waiting for him as he entered the VIP reception area at the Beverly Hilton. His clients--among them Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie--are used to the kind of attention Kragen has been getting since he organized the USA for Africa project.
For him it seems surprising and perhaps a little overwhelming. After all, he explained later on the stage of the International Ballroom, he hadn't done it to get awards or acclaim. It was a humanitarian gesture from the heart to alleviate the hunger in Africa.
How did he feel about receiving Wednesday night's tribute, the Greater Los Angeles Citizen of the Year Award, from the combined Boys' Clubs of Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Santa Monica? "I have to slow down and take it all in," he said as he put his arm around his wife Cathy's waist, and faced the cameras and the mikes.
In a Rush
Then turning back to finish his answer he added that he rushed "from Denver where we were at the Carousel Ball and from there I went with Kenny (Rogers) to Nashville for the Country Music Awards. And Tuesday I go to New York to make the announcement of a super event. This, if it comes off, will be the biggest event ever." Bigger than his USA for Africa project? "Yes."
But that's as much as he would say. "Wait for Tuesday," he said. But one man who seemed to know whispered, "It's about 25 million people joining together to hold hands all across this nation." We'll have to wait for Tuesday for confirmation.
Joe Smith, the evening's master of ceremonies, talked about Kragen and some of the celebrities in the audience as if this evening was a roast instead of a tribute. But he was funny and he warmed them up. Tom Johnson, the tribute dinner chairman who is publisher and chief executive officer of The Times, turned to more serious affairs.
Feelings of Compassion
USA for Africa had raised $34 million, he reported. "But what is more important are the feelings it has raised of compassion and caring. It's about some of us who have, helping those who have not. I think the same spirit is here tonight among you who are helping young people (the money raised Wednesday goes to help support the Boys' Club programs)."
Smith promised to have everyone home "in time to watch the 11 o'clock news," so speeches from Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, ("This is a fine thing for the Boys' Clubs," Hahn summed up as he exited the party), state Sen. John Garamendi (he and his wife served two years with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia), former Lakers' star Gail Goodrich (he spoke about the Boys' Clubs' services to the young--counseling, education, recreation, crafts, day care) and the presentation by political cartoonist Paul Conrad to Kragen of the framed original of the program's cover caricature were all kept short. And indeed people were home for the 11 o'clock news.
Before dinner Smith took time to introduce some of the celebrities from an audience that was "half civilian, half entertainment."
The easy ones included Morgan Fairchild with Cartier President Ralph Destino, Mary Ann Mobley and Gary Collins, KIIS disc jockey Rick Dees and his wife Julie, quite a few of the Jackson Brothers, CBS' Bud Grant, "Knots Landing's" Michele Lee, Laker's Coach and Mrs. Pat Riley, Claire Rothman who manages the Forum (her date was Dr. Ed Hill), Steve Wynn (he's president of the Golden Nugget), Danny DeVito, Henry Winkler, Cheryl Ladd.
More filling the ballroom's tiers were Marianne Rogers, Geary's Ruth Meyer with her son Bruce, Marie (Windsor) and Jack Hupp, Sybil Brand, Father Maurice Chase, Helen Harris; Bob Monk, Tony Chaffins, Nick Lucero and Allan Young, all executive directors of the Boys' Clubs; the Henry Mancinis; Juli and Herbert Hutner; the William Tilleys; Judy Hilsinger; Mrs. Joe Smith; Sheryl Lee Ralph, the Kragen organization's newest client (she starred on Broadway in "Dream Girls" and will soon be seen in the ABC series "Pros and Cons"), ABC's Gary Pudney (does that man ever have a night off?), Tom Johnson's son Wyatt Johnson III, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Steiner, Frank Mariani with Linda Sugita, Lou and Marilyn Baumeister.
Looking glorious in a grass green beaded two-piece dress, Dionne Warwick was in fine voice as she sang some of her big hits--"Do You Know the Way to San Jose" and "I'll Never Love This Way Again," among them. It was Warwick who finally called Kragen to the stage. "Just sit on the stool and shut up," she told him.
Then she called up Kenny Rogers ("He's been my personal manager for 19 years and they haven't all been good ones." Countered Kragen quickly, "It wasn't my fault.") and Michael Jackson's brother Marlon Jackson (he had traveled to Ethiopia with Kragen) to make the presentation--an engraved silver tray referred to as "the silver pizza award" by Rogers.
Accepting the award, Kragen remarked, "I had doubts about accepting awards . . . but if it helps bring attention to these problems. . . ." He said what he had said to himself was, "You must remain committed to the ideals that got you this award."
The finale was a fitting one--Warwick, Rogers and Jackson singing "We Are the World," the single Kragen recorded with 45 top recording stars at the suggestion of Harry Belafonte, who accompanied Kragen on the trip to Africa.