Overdone Berger

Gossip-team launch turns into Jerry-rigged show

The schmoozefest held last week at the Starlight Roof, atop the Chase, for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's new tag team of gossipmeisters turned out to be more of a semiretirement tribute to Jerry Berger than a coming-out bash for rookie Deb Peterson.

The most entertaining event of the evening was a ten-minute video, which Berger introduced as "The Story of My Life," set to an instrumental version of "That's Entertainment."

Save for a closing on-camera testimonial by County Executive Buzz Westfall, the tribute largely consisted of photos of Berger posing with stars of various magnitude over the years, through his incarnations as a film publicist, a public-relations man at the Muny and a columnist at the Globe-Democrat and the Post-Dispatch.

Jerry with Milton Berle. Jerry with Gene Kelly. Jerry with Jimmy Durante.

Jerry with Rock Hudson. Voice-over: "I schlepped to Hollywood to implore Rock Hudson's manager to allow him to appear at the Muny Opera to appear in I Do, I Do with Carol Burnett. Y'know, it worked."

And: "Leonard Bernstein became my consummate friend."

And: "Here's Robert Stack -- we were touchables."

And with Ethel Merman: "Her mentor was George Gershwin. She revealed to me that Gershwin was a cross-dresser."

Now that's entertainment.

When the monitors went dark, even Berger admitted the shtick was "hokey as hell." But it was Grade A Berger, something there'll be less of in St. Louis' Only Daily from now on, as Berger steps back to two columns a week, with Peterson boldfacing the blurbs three times weekly.

Berger was careful to schmooze Peterson as "the ultimate professional" and "one of my closest friends."

Peterson, meanwhile, says Berger has already asked to see her copy before it runs: "He has suggested that. And it was, 'Gee, Jerry, did I forget to send you that? Sorry.'"

One rumor that made the Starlight Roof rounds was that Berger had signed a one-year contract and that he'll be gone after that. Berger denies any such contract, saying he's a part-time employee with no plan to quit. Retiring "would kill me," he says.

Peterson tends to agree: "He's being as gracious as he can be, but he's competitive, and I appreciate that in him. We'll be prying his fingers off the phone in the nursing home. I think he'll be calling in items until he can't any more."

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