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Perry Como and his specials -- as popular as ever

It has been more than 35 years since Perry Como first appeared on the pop music scene, but you don't hear many people saying "what ever happened to Perry Como?"

Twice a year you can see him on TV in a Perry Como Special -- there's one coming up soon ("Perry Como's Christmas and Chanukan in Israel, produced by Bob Banner and guest-starring Richard Chamberlain and popular Israeli singer Ilanit.

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But what does the most famous ex-barber in the world do the rest of the year? Mostly fish, play with his ten grandchildren, enjoy his island home in Jupiter, Fla. I talked to him by telephone the other day. It was cold and chilly here, but he was basking in the Florida sun, having recently returned from Israel.

It is 11 a.m. Did I get Perry out of bed?

"Are you kidding," the familiar voice laughs, sounding just as young as it did 30 years ago. "I don't live that kind of life. I've been up and around for hours. Not that many, but a few, anyway."

Out fishing?

"No, but I do fish as often as I can manage."

How about work?

"I do as little as I can get away with. That's a couple of shows a year. We just got home a few weeks ago -- we were in the Holy Land for about two weeks. We went to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tiberias, a kibbutz, Masada."

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What were his impressions of the Israelis?

"Despite the constant fighting they seem to have to be involved in, I found the people gentle and cooperative."

Any problems with terrorism?

"None whatsoever. But we were given fine protection. We worked out in the streets . . . no problems. They gave us three guards -- a driver and two other boys. We had a lot of fun, great big strapping kids.I asked one of them how old he was and he said 23. I said, 'I've got a chicken that old.' So from there on in, for the rest of the trip it was 'How's your chicken doing today, Mr. Como?'"

Did the people know him in Israel?

"Very suprisingly, I was recognized there. They get some of my shows on TV. However, I met lots of people from all parts of America, all surprised to see me there. But the truth is I didn't get to see many ordinary people. I was working most of the time. And the rest of the time we stayed in Isaac Stern's apartment."

What songs does Perry find that people everywhere identify him with most?

"It depends upon their ages.If they've been around a while they go back to 'No Other Love' and 'Prisoner of Love.' What surprises me is the younger ones who know 'Prisoner of Love' and 'It's Impossible.'

"I find it amazing to discover that young people are still interested in my kind of music. I found that true when I went on tour. I expected to come out and see a lot of beautiful white hair. But maybe 40 percent of the heads out there were young people.

How does Perry feel about today's music?

"I don't listen to much but I have ten grandchildren so I have to listen to it sometimes. There's a lot of good music around, a lot by good contemporary writers.

"I firmly believe we're coming into a romantic revival period. I don't know whether they'll want it from a 68-year-old Italian barber, but I can tell the young people listen and love to hear that old-fashioned stuff.

"I'm hopeful we're coming into a period where the eardrums will get a little rest.

"I don't really think the demand has ever left. It's just that that became the kind of music they play on the radio. The disc jockeys gave it to us for so many years, now maybe they're changing.

"But don't expect me to predict. When Elvis first appeared, I listened to his records being played on the air and said 'maybe that'll last six weeks.' Well, it's turned out to be the longest six weeks ever."

Exactly where is Jupiter, Perry's permanent headquarters now?

"About 80 miles north of Miami. . . . It used to be lovely about 25 years ago when we first came here and before it started to get so crowded with people. We're on the waterway. I fish a lot. I see Jackie Gleason occasionally, but he's about 50 miles down from here. He's probably out on the golf course while I'm out fishing. But I do golf a little -- I have one grandson down here I enjoy going out with him.

Where does Perry Como go for the next one, after the Holy Land.

"Well, we've talked about Rio, Tahiti, but it'll probably be Carnegie Hall -- that's so much closer . . . and easier to reach."

Does Perry miss the good Italian restaurants of New York?

"Listen, we have a good Italian kitchen right here in my own house. If we feel like a spaghetti fix, we just go in there and fix it."

After close to 40 years in the limelight and 14 gold records (his first million-record seller was "Till The End of Time" in 1945), Perry Como has certainly earned the privacy of that home in Jupiter and as much good home-fixed spaghetti as he can eat. As long as he continues those two Perry Como specials a year.

"Oh, I'll keep doing them," he assures me. "As long as the network will put them on, as long as there are people to watch this old barber sing." 'Forever Young'

Academy-award-winning filmmaker Robin Lehman has made an enchantingly effervescent film about the delights of life after 65 -- "Forever Young." It was screened the other night before an audience which included many of the participants -- among whom I spotted columnist Max Lerner. Just about everybody emerged from that screening room feeling the best of life was yet to come.

Independent filmmakers have a great deal of trouble getting their nonfiction films on network television because of news-department policies concerned mostly with responsibility for content. Only ABC, through the policies of innovative documentary head Pamela Hill, has begun buying an occasional independent documentary for national airing. I asked Mr. Lehman about showing the film on PBS and he indicated that PBS usually pays so little for airing independent documentaries that costs cannot be covered by such showings. Thus PBS has become the medium of last resort.

"Forever Young" is a joyous affair, with fascinating human beings, including such persons as critic-photogapher Norma McClain Stoop and an octogenarian sky-diver, all talking about and acting out their philosophies of life.

Each of the many mature people who take part seems to have his or her own unique pattern for living -- but there is one thing all have in common: a zest for life which manifests itself in days filled with business and/or hobby activities. Not one rocking chair in the whole 58-minute reel.

I hope that one of the commercial networks will soon take a look at this beautifully photographed, inspiring film and allow millions of TV viewers to benefit from its ebullient view of aging. 'Number 96'

Transatlantic transplantation has long been a commonplace commercial network programming procedure. "All In The Family" had its origins in British TV as did "Sanford & Son." The British buy many of our top series -- for instance "Kojak," "Starsky & Hutch," and now "Dallas" have proven to be great successes on the BBC.

We tend to use their shows as the basis for American versions -- but the English tend to take ours as is. Now, there is a fascinating variation about to take place. "Maude," which was a spinoff from "All In The Family," which was an American version of a British series, is now in the process of being sold as the basis for an English series based on "Maude" which is an American version -- but it all gets too complicated for me.

All of which is a prelude to the information that the same trend is now becoming transpacific, with NBC premiering next week (Wed., Thurs., and Fri.) a new show titled "Number 96," based on a hit Australian series of the same name.

According to the NBC press department, the show is "the same intriguing mix of uninhibited swingers, oddballs, hustlers, and survivors" as the Australian show. "It centers on the escapades, romances, and problems of 16 married and single, kooky, kinky, and straight-arrow residents of Number 96 Pacific Way."

Says the NBC press release to TV critics: "We call this new adult comedy series "daring" and we're anxious to read what you call it."

For a start, how about "Trash?" Egghead cable?

Is cable TV going egghead?

The mad rush into cultural cable programming continues with the recent ABC and announcement that it has become a supplier of quality shows for cable systems through its own new ABC Video Enterprises Inc., utilizing the technical facilities of Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company. Some of the programming, which is scheduled to be distributed by "Alpha," the working title of the new company, include: "Assoluta," starring Natalia Makarova and other ballerinas in a series of portraits of leading dance figures; "The Avant Garde in Russia, 1910-1930" narrated by Hugh Downs; "The Spirit of Asia"; and Verdi's "Luisa Miller" as performed at Covent Garden with Placido Domingo and Katia Ricciarelli.

But beware, if you are thinking of non-sponsored PBS-type programming. "Alpha" will eventually be "an advertiser-underwritten" basic cable service featuring around three hours of performing and visual arts programming every evening. The key word here is "advertiser." Meantime, other services such as "Bravo" and the CBS Cable operation are competing for the same type of cultural programming. PBS itself is preparing such a service.

Will tomorrow's typical cable TV sitcom be called "All In The Opera House?"

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