Bill Manclark had stars in his eyes when he sat down to dinner at the Irvine Marriott on Saturday night.
"I just shook hands with Glenn Ford," he said incredulously. "I told him he'd been my hero forever."
Manclark, a veterinarian who lives in Newport Beach, was among 240 guests who attended "A Dinner With the Stars," the inaugural benefit for the Newport Beach/Orange County chapter of the American Cinema Awards Foundation.
Proceeds estimated at $28,000 will be used to sponsor arts scholarships and free film screenings for senior citizens and the handicapped.
Arriving for a 7:30 p.m. cocktail reception, guests--many toting cameras--rubbed elbows with show biz legends such as Milton Berle, Buddy Ebsen, Martha Scott, Maureen O'Sullivan, Cesar Romero, Ruby Keeler and Spanky McFarland (of "Little Rascals" fame), before they dined on breast of chicken and bid on movie memorabilia.
"Somebody said they were thrilled to meet me ," said McFarland, 59, who flew in from Texas for the affair. "But, I'm as thrilled to meet the stars as anyone else. I loved meeting Ruth Hussey, and I can't wait to say hello to Richard Moll of 'Night Court.' "
And so it went Saturday night: Fans gushing over stars, and stars gushing over stars.
"I'm a big movie fan," said Ruth Berle, Milton Berle's wife of nearly 35 years. "A big old movie fan. I can tell you who made a picture in 1939, and I can't tell you who a star is today.
"I believe in film preservation (another of the foundation's causes) and respecting all of those actors and actresses. Plus, it's great fun to come to these parties and see people we haven't seen in a long time."
Ford agreed. "I can look around the room and see about five dear friends. It would have been worthwhile to come and see just one."
Asked to highlight his career, Ford said: "How can I? I've made 230 films. There was 'Blackboard Jungle,' 'Teahouse of the August Moon'. . . . I never like to look back. There's just too much happening right now and tomorrow."
Jane Withers--"Josephine the Plumber"--has made a hobby out of looking back. To prove it, she brought along part of her movie poster collection. One poster portrayed actress Evelyn Keyes as the zaftig love interest of a bare-chested Jeff Chandler.
"When the studios were making bonfires of this stuff," said Keyes, admiring the illustration, "Jane told them they were out of their minds and bought it all."
Also on the scene: Mission Viejo's Joyce Rose (the showgirl ex of Billy Rose and Berle) attending with husband, Don Beddoe, who played in 250 films, including "The Best Years of Our Lives"; Robert Cummings, who recalled starring in "King's Row" with Ronald Reagan; Natalie Schafer, "Mrs. Howell" of TV's "Gilligan's Island" ("I won't watch that show anymore," she said, eyes blazing. "We don't get any more residuals."); Gale Storm of Laguna Beach, attending with her fiance, Paul Masterson; Ginny Sims, who came from Palm Springs, and Frances Dee and Joel McCrea, the husband-and-wife team who founded the Awards Foundation five years ago.
Newport Beach's Donna Crean--who along with her husband, John, were chairmen for the affair, with Jade and Ron Higgins of Anaheim and Gwen and Harlan Williams of Corona del Mar--said: "I love movie stars. The older stars, the ones from the '20s, '30s and '40s.
"And I love these parties. People get to come, and see the stars and the stars get to find out they are loved."