Winter 2006

20 Years With the
Right Guild

While getting ready for the DGA Awards, the longtime host recalls a big event years ago where he learned the value of being unprepared.


My fellow Guild members, if you are at all interested in knowing why I have been asked to host the DGA Awards for the 20th consecutive year and how I succeeded in making this important awards ceremony such a fun evening, read on - if not, turn the page.

I am heartened to see that not one of you has turned the page. So what is the secret to my extraordinary success as an MC? It is quite simple. I rely on three elements - Worry, Trust and Unpreparedness!

A couple of decades ago, when my tuxedo was just a year old, I accepted an invitation to act as Master of Ceremonies at an even more prestigious event than our annual awards dinner - an anti-Viet Nam War rally held at New York’s Lincoln Center. It was here that I learned how to use Worry, Trust and Unpreparedness. For a full week I worried that I was unprepared to MC the event and I trusted that once on stage, I would find my way - and I did.

To illustrate, I would like to reprint here, without legal permission from my publisher (I do live dangerously), a portion of chapter 26 from my memoir, My Anecdotal Life.

The sold-out, anti-Viet Nam War event boasted an array of superstars. I had no idea what my opening remarks would be until I looked at the roster of stars that I would be introducing. Among others were Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Leonard Bernstein, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier. On scanning those names, I immediately thought of the standard line, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce someone who needs no introduction.’ That’s it! I had found the perfect hook for the evening.

After being introduced as the evening’s host, I was greeted warmly by the glittering, formally attired, peace-seeking audience. I strode across the stage of the great hall and announced, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a redundancy! If ever a show did not require the services of a master of ceremonies, this would be it! There is nothing I can tell you about any one of these great artists that you don’t already know. However, even though I am not needed, I want to be a part of this important event, and to give myself a legitimate function, I will, between each star’s appearance, give you something that none of these great stars can - the ingredients for cream cheese cookies - the world’s flakiest and tastiest cookie ever. The recipe was created by Rudolph Stanish, chef to producer Max Liebman, the guiding genius of Your Show of Shows. A secret recipe that I wrote down, memorized and then ate - even the paper it was written on was delicious. So grab a pen, and jot down this extraordinary cookie recipe. You will thank me.’

I was surprised to see people actually fishing for pens and paper. The first announcement I made was: ‘A four-ounce package of Philadelphia-brand cream cheese - Ladies and Gentlemen, Paul Newman!’

Paul Newman came on stage to huge applause. I don’t remember what he said or did as I was too busy trying to remember a recipe that Estelle and I had made often, but not since we started monitoring our cholesterol intake. After Paul Newman’s appearance, I did not acknowledge how wonderfully he was received by the audience but simply walked to the microphone, held up my hand and announced, ‘A quarter-pound of sweet butter - Mr. Harry Belafonte!’

Harry did what he always did, thrill an audience. When he finished thrilling them, I went to the mike, and with quiet dignity, announced, ‘A cup of granulated sugar - Ms. Joanne Woodward!’

After a wonderful dramatic reading and an embracing reaction from the audience, I crossed to the microphone as Ms. Woodward exited and offered, ‘Nine walnut halves, cut fine - Mr. Sidney Poitier!’

Only scholars who write books on humor can explain why the laughter grew heartier each time I announced an ingredient and followed it with a star’s name. I started to laugh along with the audience when I mentioned that the staunch anti-war Senator Joseph S. Clark was in the first row jotting down the recipe. The announcements that provoked the biggest roars were the last two: ‘Blend together the butter and the cream cheese, add the sugar gradually and then - the nuts - Ms. Barbra Streisand!’

And the final announcement. ‘Drop a dollop of the mixture onto a cookie tin and flatten with a wet finger! Maestro Leonard Bernstein!’

With the revered Maestro Bernstein at the piano accompanying the great diva Streisand, it was electrifying - truly a duo to remember.

Before the tremendous applause for their performance died down, I held up my hand and announced, ‘Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees - and good night!’

Hopefully, at this year’s DGA event, something as kooky will pop into my head. If not, I may resurrect the cream cheese cookie recipe - only this time, I will not inadvertently leave out a key ingredient (a cup of flour) and have to deal with the hundreds of angry letters from people who followed the recipe Earl Wilson had printed in his daily newspaper column.

To learn how I dealt with it, take your copy of My Anecdotal Life off the shelf and reread the essay, “A Recipe to Remember.”

See you February 3.

Funny Business

First-person columns written by directors about their humorous experiences working in features and television.

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