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Marylouise Oates

MCA's Wasserman in the Spotlight at Universal Gala

December 15, 1986|Marylouise Oates

"When I show up at work Monday, and begin the first day of the next 50 years, I'll have the same eager anticipation of the future. . . ."

That's how Lew Wasserman wrapped up Friday night's lavish gala celebrating his 50 years with MCA Inc., the entertainment giant and parent of Universal Studios. For the MCA chairman and chief executive officer, it was a rare venture into the spotlight and out of the private world he inhabits as Hollywood's most powerful persona.

The evening left no plaudit unsaid. MCA President Sid Sheinberg reportedly had insisted that Wasserman leave reticence behind, and celebrate the extraordinary golden anniversary. The party had all the elements of an epic movie--action (politicians and producers), romance (major stars and millionaires) and musicians (Frank Sinatra appeared on tape and Gladys Knight and the Pips performed live). There was even a special film put together by Olympics-and-Liberty Weekend wizard David Wolper, that featured Charlton Heston, Danny Kaye, Jimmy Stewart, a moving segment with the late Cary Grant and a warm greeting from the White House. (Former actor Ronald Reagan as well as the former actress Nancy Davis both had been represented by MCA).

Johnny Carson did the emceeing honors before the 1,300-plus black-tie audience packed into Stage 12 on the Universal lot. Chasen's, which had fed the 700 guests who celebrated Lew and Edie Wasserman's 50th wedding anniversary last July, had been booked to do the Huntington Library Party. Nonetheless, Maude Chasen lent the commissary-fed party her wonderful maitre d' Tommy Gallagher who supplied a touch of traditional Tinseltown dining.

A celebratory Tony Thomopoulous, United Artists' chief executive officer, announced that indeed his new baby "was a girl," to Lynda Bird Robb, she repeating to husband Charles Robb, "a girl. The best kind." Former Gov. Robb said he was avoiding trips to New Hampshire and Iowa, and thus any indications that he was reconsidering his decision not to run for President.

"I'm supporting Barbara for President," insisted Marvin Davis, new owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel, his wife shaking her head. "She's not good at balancing the budget, but she has a lot of personality."

Not all conversation was political. Leaving soon for Robb's home state of Virginia was party guest Shirley MacLaine, who said she kicks off her spiritual seminars at a hotel in Virginia Beach on Jan. 25. The weekend seminars, she said, would cost $300--with all money earmarked to build centers for healing--"psychic healing, color healing, sound healing."

The extraordinary crowd, Carson jokingly maintained, was attending because of one motivation: "a common emotion--fear. I'm talking fear." Regarding Wasserman's well-known avoidance of publicity, Carson said, "Don't confuse shyness. Lew's tough. He's an agent."

Carson said he was happy that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was on hand: "I'm glad you are here. . . . What the hell is going on in Washington?" And, a final seasonal reminder, "There are just 13 arms-shipping days until Christmas."

Crowding the tables were close friends like Mickey and Paul Ziffren with Mayor Tom and Ethel Bradley, Dr. Rex Kennamer, David and Dee May, George Burns with Gloria and Jimmy Stewart, Wasserman's daughter Lynne with Richard Swann and Shelli and Irving Azoff, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Lawrence and Isabelle Bigley Barnett, Motion Picture Assn. of America President Jack Valenti and Suzanne Pleshette with her Tommy Gallagher.

In from Washington--Sens. Alan Cranston and Pete Wilson, U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick with wife Mary Jane, and, back from the Kennedy Center Honors, Lucille Ball and Gary Morton (sitting with Aaron and Candy Spelling), Gordon and Judi Davidson, Walter and Carol Matthau, Michele Lee and fiance Fred Rappaport, a CBS executive.

Other movers and shakers included Ambassador Bob Strauss, Felix and Liz Rohatyn, former U.S. Atty. Gen. William and Jean Smith, independent producer Jerry and Jane Weintraub, Atty. Gen. John and Andrea Van de Kamp, the Dodgers' Peter and Annette O'Malley, former Gov. Pat and Bernice Brown, a goodly representation of elected officials including Rep. Mel Levine (chatting with high-school buddy Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Inc., and Rep. Howard Berman (talking with Stacey Winkler and Nancy Daly as Henry Winkler and Warner Bros. studio's Bob Daly waited for their cars).

Good one-liners abounded: "Am I the only Republican here?" asked Tom Evans of his law partner Chuck Manatt.

Wasserman's granddaughter Carol Leif asked "Capitol" star Constance Towers, "What's going to happen to you?" with the Octopus hot on her TV trail.

A graceful man sauntered up to a check-in table and announced, "I'm Kelly," as if anyone didn't know what Gene Kelly looks like.

Throughout the evening, Wasserman's life and the history of MCA were threads interweaving --the moves into television, into producing the 175-plus made-for-TV films, series like "McHale's Navy" and "Leave It to Beaver," feature films like "The Sting" and "Back to the Future," and the creation of the Universal Studios Tour.

And, if you want to know the secret of such success, just listen to Wasserman's advice: "Show up for work every day on time for 50 years and you will be rewarded."

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