Bernie Brillstein is probably still smoking this morning, since the L.A. Free Clinic roast of the agent-producer Friday night was one of the hottest burns in benefit history.
The crowd in the ballroom at the Beverly Wilshire almost reached Wilshire Boulevard, as a celebrity-laden record-size crowd (Yes, that room can hold almost 900 people) got together to raise almost $400,000 and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the L.A. Free Clinic.
Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci set the stage, announcing that "a toast is a blessing with alcohol" and that "O Lord God Almighty, here's to you and to Bernie Brillstein, who is made in your image."
It didn't stop there.
From emcee and NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff, looking at the backdrop of Brillstein pictures: "Fatty Arbuckle--this is your life."
Richard Dreyfuss (who has been with Brillstein three years and during that time has done "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "The Tin Men," "Stand by Me," "Stakeout" and now "Nuts") first did a little tough kidding, but ended with: "He taught me everything, to be a loved, crazy, neurotic . . . and I thank him from the bottom of our hearts."
Norm Crosby: "I was just talking to Jerry Weintraub--through an interpreter." Weintraub, a former partner of Brillstein, and Tartikoff came in for their share of the good-natured kidding.
Crosby insisted that Brillstein had a "charisma bypass." He said that he went to Brillstein in 1974 and asked him what the greatest problem is in America today--ignorance or apathy--and that Brillstein replied, "I don't know and I don't care."
"Don't care" sure wasn't the message at this event. In the audience, Wallis Annenberg said, "I've never seen a room so filled with love and affection." Of course, included were Barbara and Garry Marshall (he might be one of Hollywood's top producers, but she works weekly at the clinic as a volunteer nurse). Brillstein capped off the evening by telling the crowd that his commitment to the clinic went far beyond the roast and that he and his family would be involved in the efforts from now on.
Around the room, it was names galore. CBS exec Fred Rappaport and his wife, Michele Lee (she enthusing to Dreyfuss over his performance in "Nuts"), and Tartikoff and his wife, Lili, were with John and Joanne Agoglia, Ken and Helen Kleinberg, Laurie Ostrow (her family are longtime supporters of the clinic), Councilman Zev and Barbara Yaroslavsky, ABC's Gary Pudney (he said Brillstein's greatest achievement was that "he didn't act like an animal" when Pudney introduced him to Debbie, now Brillstein's wife, in Las Vegas years ago), personal manager Arthur Gregory, and Allan Carr with Cornelia Guest.
The audience and the stage were filled with Brillstein's clients and associates, including his first client, the Muppets' Jim Henson. He introduced a series of clips from Muppet shows and movies that mentioned Brillstein, including Dom DeLuise in "The Muppet Movie" urging Kermit to "call me, Bernie the agent." Henson then pulled a "Bernie Brillstein" Muppet from beneath the podium.
Tartikoff took some kidding from comic Gary Shandling, who said that the NBC exec had decided that "Tom Brokaw not talk to the camera. News is more effective if people thought that they were just listening in. . . ." Then Shandling said that Brillstein's 75-pound weight loss this year was in "direct proportion" to that of stock from Lorimar, where Brillstein is now chairman and CEO of Lorimar Films.
Nobody stole the show like Dabney Coleman. He pointed out that before signing with Brillstein he had done films like "On Golden Pond" and "War Games." Since Brillstein, he said, he'd done "Cloak and Dagger," "Fresno" and five regional commercials for 7-Eleven.
Brillstein's old friend, comic Jackie Gale, said, "When I saw Jerry Weintraub, I thought they were honoring Armand Hammer." Gale broke up the audience, but announced that "tomorrow I'll work for money and I'll bomb."
This evening was anything but a bomb. So how is the Free Clinic going to duplicate the success next year, the clinic's longtime supporter Mimi West was asked? She got the answer from her husband, writer Bernie West. He said simply: "Honor Brillstein again."