In Hollywood they wake up each morning and ask each other, "Whose testimonial dinner are we going to tonight?" On Monday in New York, United Cerebral Palsy named Bob Hope "humanitarian of the century." Eat your heart out, Al Schweitzer.
If we must have this endless parade of tributes and salutes, however, they should all be as relatively classy as "All Star Party for Lucille Ball," a one-hour CBS special Sunday night at 9 on Channel 9. Paul W. Keyes wrote and produced the taped hour, which toasts the frequently toasted Lucy without film clips or extraneous glitz and, except for a funereal oration offered up by Sammy Davis Jr., without excessively fawning paeans.
Sammy does go on. Then he stops and goes on some more. Bishop Tutu couldn't have been praised in terms any loftier. Davis even credits "I Love Lucy" reruns with brightening the lives of "war-torn children" in Lebanon. One longs for the still-sassy Ball to scowl, "Hey, Sammy, put a lid on it, will you?" But she mists up more or less on cue.
Keyes, the show business veteran who produces these affairs for the charitable Variety Clubs International, certainly got the stars to turn out. Among those expressing devotion to Lucy are Cary Grant (who reads the obligatory letter from President Reagan), Frank Sinatra (when he sings "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," it's the musical equivalent of having Picasso show up and paint Lucy a picture), James Stewart, Burt Reynolds, Joan Collins, Dean Martin and Shelley Long.
Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner team for an updated version of their old German professor routine, and it's nice to see them working again, however frail the material may be. Grant wittily begins his remarks with a self-mocking "Lucy, Lucy, Lucy." Long says, and this doesn't seem like more mere hot air, that Lucille Ball set "a wonderful example for women" by managing a career and starting a family at the same time, way back in that distant land called the '50s.
Lucy's children Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. sing new Sammy Cahn lyrics to the old "I Love Lucy" theme song, which is nice, but wouldn't it have been a charge if Desi Sr. had somehow been persuaded to show up as well? It would have been historic. Somehow the presence of Lucy's current husband, the country clubby Gary Morton, doesn't seem quite sufficient to pluck the heartstrings of the nation.
Also conspicuously absent are Carol Burnett and, come to think of it, Bob Hope, who made several movies with Ball. But then this isn't meant as the quintessential tribute to Lucille Ball; there are so many of them, none can claim that distinction. Apparently the "humanitarian of the century" title is to be denied her (or will they name another one each year?). Among the oddities on the program are a quick shot of a sullen Carl Lewis, looking more than ever like Grace Jones, and an encore of the mindlessly repetitious "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" by Vickie McClure, the supermarket clerk who sang it at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics.
The spectacle of so many stars, so many very old stars, rising wobblingly to applaud each other, and then, in effect, to applaud each other's applause, can be hard to take, but then one has to remember that most of those on screen represent an entertainment generation that may well prove to be unsurpassable. The evening is awash in schmaltz, but schmaltz of this particular strain is an endangered commodity, one that looks better and better in retrospect. It comes from a time when show business was less business than show, and that is a time that is fast disappearing. Loving Lucy will always be a part of it.