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ANN CONWAY

Stars Twinkled on Man of the Year

August 17, 1989|ANN CONWAY

So many superstars, so little time.

"This is tall cotton, isn't it?" said John Crean on Saturday night, ogling the galaxy of luminaries crammed into the ballroom of the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

On view at the bash, which raised more than $1 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis: Danny Thomas, Bob Hope, George Burns, Milton Berle, Steve Allen, Buddy Ebsen, Red Buttons, Carol Channing, Bea Arthur, Cyd Charisse, Tony Martin, Virginia Mayo, Cesar Romero and more. So many more.

But--are you ready for this?--the stars were there to ogle Crean, the second Orange County resident in as many years to receive the St. Jude Man of the Year Award from Danny Thomas, who founded the hospital in 1962. (Car dealer Roger Miller received the prestigious nod last year.)

Crean's coup had its beginnings in 1981, the year he and his wife, Donna, became aware of the hospital and began to support it.

Then last year, Crean, who lives in Newport Beach, was invited by L.A. Rams owner Georgia Frontiere to watch a football game in her Jacuzzi-appointed suite at Anaheim Stadium. Danny Thomas, a buddy of Frontiere's, was also there. "Danny came up to me and asked me if I wanted to be St. Jude's Man of the Year," Crean said. "And I told him I certainly did. So here we are!"

The award has a hefty price tag--a $100,000 donation to the hospital. "John sent me his check one week after I asked him," said Thomas, beaming a megawatt smile at Crean during the star-studded VIP pre-event party (where George Burns sat in a corner smiling impishly at guests while he puffed a cigar). "Do you know how many people do that? Few. The money has been collecting interest for the hospital ever since. Crean is a wonderful guy."

Among guests who came from Orange County to the affair (some of them in luxury motor coaches provided by the Creans)--former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, home from his whirlwind tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first walk on the moon. "John is a very kind man, generous with those of all statures," Aldrin said. "He is most helpful to those in need."

After settling down to a feast that included Chateaubriand and chocolate squares crammed with whipped cream and fresh berries, Bob Hope welcomed guests.

"If he can't get your attention, no one can," said Danny Thomas' daughter, Terre, who followed Hope to the podium. (Indeed. One of the most dreaded challenges for gala hosts is hushing guests.)

Tony Thomas, the comedian's son, did the presenting honors. He said of Crean: "His company, Fleetwood Enterprises, a Fortune 500 company, employs 10,000 people in 17 states and Canada."

"I accept this honor gratefully," said Crean as 1,700 guests listened in silence. "It is wonderful the way Rose Marie (Thomas) and Danny Thomas inspire others to keep their special dream alive."

Show time. Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Danny Thomas came on stage to crack guests up with a show dubbed "The Living Legends of Comedy." (Sid Caesar was supposed to have performed, but got hung up in New York. Allen volunteered to replace him.)

A sampling of the madness that had guests rolling in the aisles:

Berle to Allen: "I love your suit. You never throw anything away, do you?"

Allen to Berle: "If I did, you'd put it in your act."

Berle to audience: "This hotel opened in 1967 with my act!"

Allen to Berle: "Who was doing it at the time?"

Thomas to audience: "They say I'm religious. Bob Hope once said I was so religious that the California Highway Patrol stopped me for having stained glass windows in my car."

Also on the scene: Jolene and Tom Fuentes, Pilar Wayne (in scarlet silk and a twinkling tiara), Buck and Colleen Johns (who are busy-busy cleaning their Santa Ana Heights house to prepare for Vice President Dan Quayle's visit there Aug. 24), Carl and Margaret Karcher, Barbara and Alexander Bowie, Mardy and Art Svendsen, Virginia and Paul Bender, Marion and Tony Montupert, Arvella and the Rev. Robert Schuller, Lois and Ted Lundberg, and Vikki Vargas and Mike Nason.

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