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Charlton Heston's Celebrity Racket Squad Nets Cash for Hollywood's Pet Charities

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It was, as they say, a love match. For the benefit of the American Film Institute and the new Olympic tennis pavilion at UCLA, more than three dozen stars appeared at L.A.’s exclusive Riviera Country Club to serve tennis balls and lob words of praise at each other. Dabney (On Golden Pond) Coleman praised tourney host Charlton Heston: “He is advanced in his strategy of the game. No one at his level has his knowledge of strategy.” Heston, meanwhile, praised his partner, Ron (Tarzan) Ely: “He carried me, and after this day is over he might have to carry me to the car.” Director Stan Dragoti praised his partner, Robert Stack: “He is really terrific to put up with a guy who hardly ever plays anymore.” And, of course, Stack volleyed back the favor, praising Dragoti: “He’s a darling—not sexually, playerwise. He smiles a lot when I snub a shot, and he’s got a terrific tan.” It took George Gradow—also known as Mr. Barbi Benton—to switch from backslapping to some good old-fashioned Hollywood backbiting. Gradow started sniping when Erik Estrada arrived, accompanied by Beverly Sassoon. “He is my least favorite person in the business,” Gradow said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give him a minus 4. When he arrived,” Gradow spoofed, “they announced that anyone who didn’t like him could leave. The valet parkers went crazy because of the sudden traffic jam.” At tournament’s end, that ball was still in Estrada’s court.