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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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).
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.”
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.
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 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.”
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.