Until an hour before the 1979 Tony telecast began, I actually thought I might win one.

And why not? I had been nominated, as co-author of "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas," for Best Book of a Musical. All Peter Masterson and I had to do was beat Neil Simon and two other guys. That gave us at least a 25 percent shot at it from scratch, right? And should Neil Simon and only one of the two otherguys happen to die, our chances would immediately double. Any fool could see that.

My main hope was that Neil Simon had won so many, many Tonys everybody was bored with voting for him. Then I learned that although he had been nominated for 11 Tonys - yes, 11! - he never had won one. This gave me new hope: I now rationalized that obviously God did not want Neil Simon to have Tony. Maybe He was on my side.

They told all the Nominees to be at the Shubert Theater 90 minutes before telecast time, so they could light our faces for the cameras and teach us to bow or curtsy. Hundreds of fans stood in the rain, behind police barricades, squealing and jumping and waving when such people as Angela Lansbury, Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon leapt, grinning, from their limousines into the stammer and stutter of strobe lights. I had a limousine, too. When I leapt out, that action had a curiously calming eeffect on the crowd.

Inside the Shubert I left my wife, Barbara Blaine, on the excuse of grabbing a last smoke. Seeking a private corner, I walked up on a bunch of well-dressed winos mumbling to themselves and making broad gestures. All were smiling, though some had tears in their eyes. As I recognized the faces - Vincent Gardenia, Tommy Tune, Dorothy Loudon - I realized it was my fellow Nominees practicing their Acceptance Speeches. Not wanting anyone to hear mine until the nation did, I repaired to a booth in the Gent's room.

Nervous, yes. But I felt good. "Whorehouse" had been nominated for seven Tnoys - three acting awards, direction, choreography, Best Musical, and, of course, its wonderful writing - and so hope lived in my heart for more people than myself. Along about my sixth pre-Tony Cutty-and-water, I had even begun to dream of a "Whorehose" sweep. There I was, in a tuxedo for only the third time in my life and imagining myself just short of lean, rubbing shoulders with the Big Boys of Broadway my first time out. If you ain't gonna dream then, you ain't gonna ever.

And then I saw my seat in the Shubert theater.

See, they had sent all Nominees a friendly letter saying we would be placed in aisle seats so that when they sang out our winning names we could reach the stage quickly. Naturally, I assumed the ticket that came along with these instructions was for an aisle seat. Wouldn't you?

"You don't have an aisle seat," my wife hissed. Barbara is a lawyer and straight away she began to threaten to sue. About the time I got her marginally shushed the Tony show's producer, one Mr. Alexander Cohen, said my name over a microphone from center stage in a tone usually reserved for errant children. Whereupon he added, "You somehow have managed to get in the wrong seat. Will you please correct yourself?" I tried to shout that my location, by God, exactly matched the ticket he'd sent me. But I don't think he could hear me over the scornful laughter.

They found me an aisle seat, all right. Lemme tell you about that booger:

It was in the third row, extreme stage right, very near the prop-department broom closet. And in front - somehow - of the first four of five steps leading up to the stage where the winners would go. It became apparent that should I win, I might reach the stage by(A) climbing on the shoulders of the TV people so that (B) I might boost myself to the top of the camera and then (C) leap from there down to the stage. R I could turn hard left and dash to the back of the theater, shoot only two more hard lefts, ahd thence race 200 yards down the center aisle to the steps leading up to the winner's cirlce.

My wife turned to me and said, "If you want to belch that Acceptance Speech tonight, you'd better whisper it in my ear."

I said, "What?" Smiling in case the cameras were on us.

She said, "Those effing TV people are lighting only the Nominees on the two inner aisles."

I said she should quit making trouble.

"No! They're not even pretending to light the two outer aisles. And you, Chum, you're on an outer aisle."

"Excuse me," I said to a TV Technician who at that exact moment stepped on my rented tuxedo-shoes. He said, "Sure, Bub, but try to keep your dogs off them coils and cables. We got work to do here."

Barbara issued a word her mother surely never taught her and added, "I thought the winners were supposed to be kept such a big dark secret!"

"It was a secret to me." I said, "until just a moment ago."

Mr. Alexander Cohen was by now scolding everybody not to make acceptance speehes longer than 30-seconds, though he added we should be witty. He called attention to a huge, blood-red clock which would tick off time in the speaker's faces, and hinted that long-winded violators might get the gong. Once the telecast started he, himself, divested many long speeches despite not winning anything. Perhaps he was merely doing his job, just reading off the cue-cards. It makes me suspicious, however, to know that his wife wrote the Tony show.

I am not kidding you about that. Nor am I kidding you that the longest musical number shown on that national telecast was not from "Whorehouse" of the other three nominated Best Musicals. No, it was from "I Remember Mama." Mr. Alexander Cohen not only produced the Tony Awards, see, he also is the producer of . . . three guesses. Right: "I Remember Mama." I'd put him up against Don Rickles, Shylock and Hitler any old days.

Those censors laboring for good ol' CBS-TV butchered our "Whorehouse" song on the telecast by bleeping - with a xylophone band, now - such horribly offensive words as "laid" and "made." Though the singers were dressed as football players, the do-gooders even bleeped the expression "Right between the goal posts." This had the effect of Carol Hall's funny "Aggie Song" being reduced to coast-to-coast gibberish. Later on, I hugged her while she sobbed in our shared limousine.

After awhile I commenced thumbing through the Playbill while a lot of people who lisped and walked funny pranced up to claim their Tonys. I noted that all Nominees - not only actors, directors and lordly producers, but the lighting technicians and set designers and costume makers as well - had their personal pictures beaming from the Playbill pages alongside several paragraphs bragging o themselves. Well, everybody except the stage hands and the writers. They had one page in the Playbill, upon which they dumped the bare names of all the writers and said not another mumbling word about us. I might have been a Korean Orphan, or blind, or a blond transvestite for all the Playbill knew. I looked up from this perusal in time to hear Mr. Alexander Cohen say, "Before it can get to the stage, it must be on the page," I dunno, somehow I flashed on all that unrealized poetry Jimmy Carter spoke to me back in '76.

Carlin Glynn won a Tony for her excellence as Miss Mona, the house madam in "Whorehouse"; Henderson Forsythe copped another as the cussin' old sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd. We cheered them out of the Shubert as they crossed the street to the Sardi's, where they were met by the press and photographers and waiters bearing drinks. As for me and the rest of the "Whorehouse" gang, it was all downhill from there.

Two long, dry hours later Jane Fonda presented her daddy a special Tony. They hugged each other with tears in their eyes. Down there in our wretched seats, Barbara and I did the same. We had to do it surreptitiously, because you aren't allowed to cry in public unless you win.

A footnote: God again did not permit Neil Simon to win. One of the other two guys won in our category. I damn sure don't intend to call his name, nobody having called mine. CAPTION: Picture 1, The Tony award; Picture 2, Larry L. King