The most glittering, expensive, and exhausting videotaping session in television history took place at New York's Radio City Music Hall last Sunday.
The event, for which ticket-buyers payed up to $1,000 a seat (tax-deductible as a contribution to the Actors' Fund) was billed as ''The Night of 100 Stars'' but, actually, around 230 stars took part. And most of the audience of 5,800 had no idea in advance that they were paying to see a TV taping, complete with long waits for set and costume changes, tape rewinding, and the like.
For almost 51/2 hours the audience patiently watched as just about every major star of TV, cinema, and theater made some sort of fleeting appearance, often after a 20-minute between-scenes wait.
All of this makes one wonder if this is the future of live entertainment -- everything just a big videotaping session?
Fortunate television viewers will be able to see a 3-hour version of the extravaganza on Monday, March 8, from 8-11 p.m. -- without any of the long agonizing, expectant pauses but with commercials perhaps just as agonizing.
As a critic, I have long since become a bit blase about show-biz personalities, but this conglomeration of people like Liza Minelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Princess Grace, Gene Kelly, James Stewart, Ginger Rogers, Lillian Gish, Jane Fonda, Helen Hayes, James Earl Jones, Ed Asner, Jason Robards, Brooke Shields, Joel McCrea, Frances Dee, and about 213 others was as impressive an array of talent as ever to be seen on one stage in one evening. Incidentally, the only stars who received standing ovations were Bette Davis and James Cagney.
When the taping ended at around 12:30 a.m., those with $1000 tickets (executive producer Alexander Cohen had provided me with a pair of $1000 press seats) were invited to a supper ball at the Hilton Hotel about four blocks up Sixth Avenue. When we emerged from the theater, we discovered that three lanes of the four-lane avenue had been covered with lush red carpets and the streets on either side were lined with fans, shouting out the names of their stars as they paraded to the Hilton.
At one point I found myself walking between New York Mayor Edward Koch (who did a song ajd dance number with a broom instead of a cane in the show) and ex-TV anchorman Walter Cronkite (who was in the audience). And I must report that Uncle Walter received far more applause outside the theater than Mayor Ed.
When I exited the supper dance at 3:30 a.m., leaving behind a seemingly never-tiring array of stars eating and dancing, the street was still lined with energetic fans shouting the names of stars as they emerged. It was like a scene from ''A Star Is Born.'' Oh yes, James Mason was there, too, kicking up his heels with other male stars in a special Rockette routine.
Executive producer Alexander Cohen estimates that the 5,800 seats sold out at prices ranging from $25 to $1,000. He says the show itself cost about $4 million to produce and should yield around $2 million for the new addition to the Actors Fund retirement home in Englewood, N. J.
ABC is reputed to have paid more than $5 million for the television rights to the show. At this moment, director Clark Jones is busy cutting the tapes back to three hours so free home viewers on March 8 should be getting the entertainment bargain of a lifetime.
As for me, I'm still resting up. However, I am looking forward to really seeing the actual show on videotape, now that I've had the experience of being there live.