UNT Emerald Eagles Soared With Robert Edsel, Phyllis George, Ali MacGraw, Brent Musburger And Peter Weller Despite Two MIA’s

It seems that all the eagles didn’t come home to roost for the UNT Emerald Eagles Award on Wednesday, March 5. The North Texas version of the Kennedy Center Honors at the Meyerson was to honor three of UNT’s alumni — former Miss America/sportscaster Phyllis George, multi-award-winning writer Larry McMurtry and actor Peter Weller.

Phyllis George and George Getschow

Phyllis George and George Getschow

While 1,000 guests filled the Meyerson lobby, VIP’s attended a private reception in the Opus where Eagles “RoboCop” Peter and Phyllis received medals on green ribbons. Also on stage was a third person holding a medal and smiling. Someone in the crowd of cellphone snappers nudged a friend, “Gee, McMurtry looks different.” There was a reason for the bolero-jacketed chap not looking like McMurtry. He wasn’t the curmudgeonly author. Instead the fellow was UNT’s Mayborn writer-in-residence George Getschow, who conducts a Writer’s Workshop in Archer City with McMurtry. Seems Larry had been unable to attend the event due to ill health.

One over-the-middle-age gent huffed, “I just knew McMurty wouldn’t show.”

Robert Edsel

Robert Edsel

While disappointing for some, the majority didn’t care one iota because honorees Phyllis and Peter added to their ultra-specialness by bringing along Brent Musburger and Ali MacGraw to handle their introductions in the McDermott Hall.

For some in-the-know types, there was still another added plus — the presence of “The Monuments Men” author Robert Edsel, whose responsibility was to introduce the MIA McMurtry. As the medals were being hung and held, Robert stood near a column going over his notes. The Dallas resident admitted that he’d only spent seven nights in his home this year. It seems that he’s on a new crusade to have the Congressional Gold Medal granted to the monuments men “in recognition of their heroic role in the preservation, protection, and restitution of monuments, works of art, and artifacts of cultural importance during and following World War II.”  Admitting that this undertaking was daunting — Mother’s Day has been up for considerations for years — he was determined to accomplish his goal before losing another member of the team that saved the art of Europe following World War II.

Amanda Hall and Johnny Quinn

Amanda Hall and Johnny Quinn

Another famous face in the crowd was former Olympian Johnny Quinn with his fiancé Amanda Hall.

In catching up with Phyllis, it was learned that after living in Georgia, she’s in the process of moving back to Lexington, Kentucky, where she had been First Lady when ex-husband John Y. Brown Jr. was governor. Seems she and John are still good friends. Why, she even attended his recent 80th birthday party celebration with all the kids in attendance. The reason for the move was a request made at a family meeting between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when the kids said, “Mom, it would be good if you came back to Lexington.”

When asked if she had ever considered running for office herself, the beauty admitted she had once discussed it, but not now, describing it as a rough game, a hard game. At one time, she even considered running for governor of Texas:  “After Miss Texas, you’re a politician anyway.”

Ali MacGraw

Ali MacGraw

Speaking of Texas governor, Phyllis was friends with the late Gov. Ann Richards and is proud of Wendy Davis.

Another gal drawing attention was Ali MacGraw, who had come to the event because “Peter asked me, ‘Could you do this?’ (introduce him). We’re close friends. I know his whole family. We’ve been friends since we did a movie together in the ‘80s. Our lives overlap and it’s been great fun.” Ali had flown in from Santa Fe, where it had been even colder than Dallas. Despite that chill, Ali loves Santa Fe, saying, “It’s such a rich community. So many people are working to change things.”

Bit of trivia: Ali and Phyllis also had something in common: an ex-husband, movie producer Bob Evans. Ali was wife #3 (1969-1973) and Phyllis was #4 (1977-1978).

Neal Smatresk

Neal Smatresk

Before bestowing the medals, UNT President Neal Smatresk commented:

  • On Peter Weller: “I’m of the generation that thought ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai’ was possibly the best movie of all time.”
  • On Phyllis George: “How many of us grew up listening to her?”

The honorees were whisked out of the reception to the outdoor red carpet for an official group photo. Despite huddling up together, Peter quipped, “In the words of Vince Lombardi, it’s freezing, let’s get the hell out of here.”

Fran Kimmel and Debbie Smatresk

Fran Kimmel and Debbie Smatresk

As soon as the photos were taken, they were directed to their places within the hall, where the likes of Holly Reed, Brad Beaird, Amanda and Brint Ryan, Lane Rawlins, Debbie Smatresk, Fran and UNT Chairman of the Board Bob Kimmel, Mickey and Bill Lively, Lynne Sheldon and Lee Cullum took their places for the program.

One chap who took his time getting into the hall was Peter’s son, Teddy, who had stationed himself with a tablet on the steps leading to the hall.

Teddy Weller

Teddy Weller

When the program got underway, The Ticket’s George Dunham limped to the podium claiming that he had gotten into a leg-wrestling contest with Mean Joe Greene at the cocktail party. But instead of being accompanied by co-host Melissa Rycroft Strickland, he was joined by Dave Barnett. Seems Melissa is expecting her second child and was ordered by the doctor to remain in bed.

The duo made up for the missing Melissa by kicking things off by acknowledging Johnny Quinn’s presence —

Dave: “Oddly, we found him locked in the bathroom about an hour ago.”

George: “Only a North Texas guy would break out of a bathroom.”

As the honorees sat in the Classical Loge boxes, the rest of the program included musical, reading and video highlights as well as comments by:

  • Neal, recalling that during his transition from being president of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to UNT, he attended the UNT-UNLV football game at the Cotton Bowl. “A sign in the end zone said it all: ‘We beat your team and we stole your president.’” Acknowledging the success of the Emerald Eagles program, he reported that when it started there were 400 students; now 3,500 have been “served,” with 600 having been graduated.
  • Ali told how she had met Peter in 1980 while making “Just Tell Me What You Want” with director Sidney Lumet. Describing Peter as “scary good,” she listed his accomplishments as an actor from film to theater. Why, he even moonlights in jazz bands in New York and L.A. Then, on a personal note, she told that he knew of her love for Scottish Terriers and has given her all her Scotty dogs over the years.
  • Via video, actor Jeff Bridges praised McMurtry and was following by Edsel, who described the author as a great historian, because fiction must be totally believable. He said, “You’ve got John Wayne movies, and then you’ve got ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ People are not predictable.”
  • Brent Musburger

    Brent Musburger

    Brent joked about how nice it was to “call a woman beautiful without the politically correct police griping at you.” Telling the group that she opened doors for women in broadcasting. Brent pleased the crowd saying that when they worked together, “She reminded me that she’s from Denton, Teas, not Dallas!” One member of the audience gave Brent a thumbs-up, saying, “I’ve never cared for Brent Musburger on TV, but tonight I was really impressed with him.”

Brittany George and Phyllis George

Brittany George and Phyllis George

Concluding the presentations, Dunham returned to the stage singing, “There she is, Miss America. . . “ as Phyllis was presented red roses from Mean Joe with her niece Brittany George seated next to her.

Phyllis George, Larry McMurtry And Peter Weller To Be Honored At University Of North Texas Emerald Eagle Celebration

Melissa Rycroft Strickland and Peter Weller (File photo)

Melissa Rycroft Strickland and Peter Weller (File photo)

What do former Miss America Phyllis GeorgePeter “RoboCop” Weller and novelist Larry McMurtry have in common?

This is the kind of guessing game that conjures up all types of creative wonderment.

But before going down the wrong imaginative lane, here’s the answer: They’ll all be celebrated at the University of North Texas Emerald Eagle on Wednesday, March 5, at the Meyerson.

Even if you’re not a UNT grad, you’ll feel right at home seeing these three honored.

For ever-smiling sweetie Phyllis, her old sportscasting buddy Brent Musburger “will be doing the introduction.”

Handling the emcee duties will be UNT grads Melissa Rycroft Strickland and 1310 The Ticket’s George Dunham.

Similar to the Kennedy Center Honors, the UNT version will showcase “these trailblazing UNT alumni . .  via career video retrospectives, remarks by speakers significant to their careers and musical tributes by special guests and the UNT college of music.”

BTW, if you want to score points with the UNT crowd, wear green. You can consider it a warm up for St. Patrick’s Day.

John Lithgow Led The Celebrity Roll Call Of Peter Weller, Randy Travis And Ali Faulkner At The Art Of Film

John Lithgow

When it comes to actor/author John Lithgow (it’s pronounced “Lith-go” and rhymes with “ho-ho”), some people expect Roberta Muldoon from The World According to Garp, Cain from Raising Cain or Dick Solomon from 3rd  Rock from the Sun. These conflicting types of characters may explain why such a variety of people (philanthropist Trammell S. Crow, journalist Bob Wilonsky, Jr. Leaguer Elizabeth Gambrell, socialite Tanya Roberts, etc.) attended the Dallas Film Society’s The Art of Film on November 18 at the Hall of State.

Which one of the Lithgow characters did they get? They got the 66-year-old, 6’4” tall, multi-award winner, Fulbright scholar who proved to be articulate, gracious and totally invested in his onstage chat with Elvis Mitchell, as well as in the sold-out crowd.

John Lithgow on the red carpet

But before that conversation took place, the red carpet and VIP reception were on the agenda. The red carpet was not rushed. No, siree. Lithgow talked with each of the media at length as if they were the most interesting person he’d met.

Peter Weller

Also on the red carpet was Peter Weller, John’s co-star in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. The two actors were also due to be interviewed the next morning by Unfair Park’s Bob Wilonsky just prior to the showing of Buckaroo.

Erin Foley and Arthur Benjamin

Still another notable on the carpet was Arthur E. Benjamin, whose foundation was The Art of Film’s title sponsor. At his side was Erin Foley. Arthur had had a busy week. Earlier in the week he was on FOX and NBC Nightly News about his efforts to transport Afghanistan dogs that had been adopted by American service people. So far the program has been able to reunite 15 dogs with 15 soldiers. Thursday night he was in Florida having dinner with Gov. Rick Scott. In his spare time he’s been involved with Smiling Dog Farm, a dog sanctuary in Wharton. But Arthur wasn’t slowing down for the holidays. He hinted that he’s got something brewing as the holidays get underway. But it was still too early to discuss and besides he was here to support his love of film.

Ali Faulkner

And while the hinted attendance of Larry Hagman proved to be naught, the celebs were still present. Ali Faulkner, who plays Bianca in the new Twilight move, Breaking Dawn – Part 1, was eye catching especially by the younger crowd.

Handlers eventually got John into the VIP reception where a very well-organized meet-and-greet with one-and-all took place. It went so well that time lost on the red carpet was made up and the schedule was right on place. That is, except Honorary Chair Faye Briggs who arrived just as the guests were moving downstairs to the auditorium for the talk. Oops. Seems traffic had held up the diminutive philanthropist and her entourage. Not to worry. That situation would be handled.

Once downstairs the sold-out audience was privy to a conversation between two film industry professionals.

Elvis Mitchell and Trammell S. Crow

Prior to the program, Elvis kept his distance from John on the red carpet. As he puffed on a stogie outside, Elvis admitted that he didn’t like talking with a subject prior to their onstage appearance. If they hit it off beforehand, they just may be talked out by the time they face the audience.

To prepare for the evening, Elvis had made a point of reading John’s book, Drama: An Actor’s Education. Highlights of the conversation included:

Elvis pointed out Lithgow’s specialty (as in Dick in 3rd Rock from the Sun) playing characters who have a misplaced sense of self.

Elvis’s favorite Lithgow character: Baudelaire from “Master Thespian” on SNL with Jon Lovitz.

Dick Solomon in 3rd Rock: John said Dick was a combination of Errol Flynn and Bugs Bunny. . . “He is clueless, but thinks he knows everything!”

John Lithgow

Regarding “Misperception of yourself”:  All comedy and drama comes out of duality/series of misperceptions. The play M. Butterfly is the essence of this self-deception.

Unusual characters: “I’m on the short list for all the freaks,” Lithgow says. “Producers say, ‘Lithgow can handle this!’”

Rev. Shaw Moore in Footloose: John found an Assembly of God preacher in Provo, Utah, in the Yellow Pages and talked with him for 45 minutes. Wound up respecting him. John then told about an actor from Louisiana on the 3rd Rock set who told him that he had been the first of six kids in his  family allowed to attend senior prom because his parents saw Lithgow in that movie.

John Lithgow

Kids: Young kids are honest and will laugh you off the stage. 3- to 8-year-old kids have suspension of disbelief that adults don’t have.

Types of roles that interest him: A good guy who does bad things and bad guys who surprise you like Burke, the serial killer in Brian De Palma’s Blow Out.

His father: Lithgow’s father did classical repertory theater. In 1973 John’s career took off, while his father was let go from a job, at the age of 57. And yet his father was proud, delighted and encouraged John’s success. “I’ve had a lot of success, but certainly know it can end at any time,” he says. He learned that from father.

After the conversation ended and John was given a couple of plaques (DALLAS Star Award, plaque from Gov. Rick Perry and a proclamation from the city of Dallas), everyone adjourned for a seated dinner upstairs.

Lynn McBee, Faye Briggs, John Lithgow and Carmaleta Whiteley

Remember how Honorary Chair Faye had missed out on the VIP reception due to traffic? Well, dinner proved to make up for the “darn-it-missed-reception.”

Stubbs and Holly Davis, Randy Travis and Mary Beougher

Not only did DFS Chairman of the Board Lynn McBee present Faye with a “thank you gift,” she joined Faye for a photo opp with John. As an added treat, country-western music loving Faye got to have a one-on-one with one of her favs, Randy Travis who was tableside with his girlfriend Mary Beougher, her brother Stubbs Davis and his wife Holly and Anne and Steve Stoghill.

For Dallas Film Society President/CEO Tanya Foster the evening was filled with mixed emotion. It was her swan song as the head of the DFS, but what a finale. But it wasn’t all an exit. While the announcement of her successor will be made VERY soon, Tanya is staying put to help in the transition.