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A Fever for Travolta on Saturday Night

September 15, 1997

One lesson to be learned from Saturday's Moving Picture Ball is that it's a lot less painful to endure hotel ballroom food and tribute speeches if guests actually like the honoree. And John Travolta's colleagues like him. Yes, they like him. They really, really like him. Really.

They like him enough for Gene Siskel, who owns the white suit from "Saturday Night Fever," to praise Travolta's disco mega-hit and read dialogue from it. (And for host Jay Leno to quip: "Boy, it must be painful for an actor to hear a critic doing his lines. Kind of like Lenny Bruce hearing the cop who arrested him do his act in court.")

Siskel was just the first in a long line (maybe too long, since the evening came close to ending on Sunday) of admirers and co-stars, including Travolta's wife Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley, Olivia Newton-John, "Pulp Fiction" producer Lawrence Bender, Rene Russo, Sean Penn and Billy Bob Thornton. There was a charming, one-song acoustic performance by Garth Brooks, a plethora of film clips, a letter read from President Clinton (whom Travolta plays in "Primary Colors") and video tributes.

The tape from Marlon Brando might be a classic of the genre. In his own droll, foppish thespian style, he described the honoree as "a man who has dedicated himself to doing everything that Shakespeare indicated we should do." Of Travolta's initial career, he said: "I don't believe he's even begun to touch his talent. Early on we saw his dancing stuff."

The evening, a benefit for American Cinematheque co-chaired by Mike Medavoy and Peter Dekom, ended with the award presentation by Dustin Hoffman, who said, "John is living proof you can't kill talent." From the fervor of the applause, it seemed the 900 guests at the Beverly Hilton want that talent to survive forever.

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