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Happy 100th, Irving Berlin

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP, UPI Senior Editor

NEW YORK -- While America's favorite composer, Irving Berlin, will not attend his 100th birthday bash at Carnegie Hall, that won't stop some of the entertainment world's best from paying tribute in a show that's 'mostly music and all Berlin.'

'My father will not be at Carnegie Hall but all the family will be,' said Elizabeth Peters, one of Berlin's three daughters. 'He lives very privately now. He prefers that his children do not talk about his life.'

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Other sources said Berlin's children and grandchildren will join the him and his wife, Ellin, earlier on his birthday for a family party at the Berlins' East Side Manhattan home.

The gala concert is sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, of which Berlin is a charter member.

Walter Cronkite will emcee the program, which will be taped by CBS-TV for a 90-minute special to air May 26. Don Mischer, who produces the Tony Award telecasts, is executive producer.

Performers will include Leonard Bernstein, Frank Sinatra, Isaac Stern, Willie Nelson, Michael Feinstein, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Billie Eckstein, Marilyn Horne, Jerome Robbins, Tommy Tune, fellow composer Morton Gould, president of ASCAP, and many others.

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'It's mostly music and it's all Berlin,' said ASCAP spokesman Ken Sunshine. 'Berlin won't be there but he'll get to see the tape later. Afterward there will be a dinner dance at the New York Hilton with the theme, 'Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.''

Those who attend the dinner dance will pay $1,000, which includes the privilege of a red-carpet walk from Carnegie Hall to the Hilton. Proceeds from the benefit will go to ASCAP and Carnegie Hall.

Until recently, Berlin was a regular visitor at the midtown office of Irving Berlin Music Corp., which publishes his music and manages his business interests, but his longtime secretary, Hilda Schneider, said 'He hasn't been coming in lately.

'When the weather is nice, he likes a drive or take a little walk, but I don't see much of him. He's home and I'm here.'

Schneider said a 'handful' of Berlin's early works, including 'Alexander's Ragtime Band,' one of his first hits in 1911, have entered the public domain in the United States and Berlin no longer receives royalties on them. The U.S. copyright law protects a composer's right to royalties for 75 years.

'He's still covered in the rest of the world, though,' Schneider said. 'Copyright law in other parts of the world will see that a composer's family and heirs get royalties for 75 years after his death.'

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In addition to royalties, which have made Berlin a multimillionaire, he also owns the Music Box Theater, which he built with Sam Harris in 1921, and is still co-owner with the Shubert Organization. The current tenant at the Music Box is a musical, 'Mail.'

Berlin was born Isidore Balin on May 11, 1888, in Temum, Russia. He emigrated with his parents to New York's Lower East Side in 1892 and began his career as a boy busker, or street entertainer.

He later got jobs as a singing waiter and song plugger on the Bowery and in Chinatown and began composing. He published his first song, 'Marie from Sunny Italy,' when he was 23.

By the time he was 24 he had written for the Ziegfeld Follies, had earned $100,000 in song royalities and was on his way to becoming a living legend of Broadway and Hollywood.

Ironically, he never learned to read music and pounded out his songs in F sharp on the black keys, leaving arrangers to prepare his scores.

'White Christmas' and 'Easter Parade' probably rank as his best-known and most enduring compositions. Other popular songs -- he wrote 3,000 -- are 'A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,' 'I Love a Piano,' What'll I Do?,' 'Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee,' 'Cheek to Cheek,' 'This is the Army, Mr. Jones,' 'Let Yourself Go,' 'There's No Business Like Show Business,' 'They Say That Falling in Love is Wonderful' and 'Sayonara'.

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His Broadway shows included 'As Thousands Cheer,' 'Louisiana Purchase,' 'This Is the Army,' 'Annie Get Your Gun,' and 'Call Me Madam.'

His last show was 'Mr. President,' which ran eight months in 1962 and was considered a flop. He has not been active in show business since and has led a reclusive life, eschewing public appearances and communicating with most of his friends by telephone.

There will be observances of Berlin's birthday in other parts of the world, particularly Britain, and Viking Press has announced it will publish an unauthorized biography of Berlin by Larry Bergreen next year.

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