RICHARD HYATT: Brazen enough to meet The Duke

May 23, 2013 

The sun was hot, beer was cold and we were fried.

Someone recovered enough to suggest we forsake the heat and go inside where the air conditioner was running full speed.

I collapsed in front of the TV, paying little attention to what was on. I was almost asleep when somebody said that was John Wayne, sitting in the back of a convertible going down Peachtree Street.

This was Fourth of July 1968, and we discovered he was in town for the world premiere of his latest film. Billed as Hollywood's first movie about Vietnam, it was called "The Green Berets."

Sonya Sorich made me remember that forgettable flick the other day when she wrote about movies made in Columbus. "The Green Berets" was one of them, shooting scenes at Fort Benning and the old Eakle mansion on Hilton Avenue.

Back in that apartment near I-85, we watched the former Marion Morrison perform as grand marshal of the parade. He smiled and waved and that was about it.

We learned that after the premiere an after-hours party was planned at the brand new Regency Hyatt Hotel -- the one with the rotating blue restaurant on top.

"We ought to go," I suggested.

"Let's do it," my friend Pres Judy said.

Our judgment was directly correlated to the number of Budweisers we had consumed, so at that moment partying with John Wayne seemed like a good idea.

I went to my place, took a quick shower and put on a coat and tie. Then we headed for the Hyatt Regency. Deftly avoiding security, we made it to the ballroom where Coca-Cola was sponsoring the party.

Pres' eyes lit up when he spied a familiar face. His name was Columbus Roberts, whose family owned the bottling company in Columbus. Pres had played for their basketball team in the old Bibb Tournament.

"We're with Columbus Roberts," he told the hostess.

Pres kept talking and soon we were inside of the ballroom. It was a lavish setup. We sampled platters of food and guzzled a few drinks. Finally, we saw him.

Up on the mezzanine was John Wayne.

A gofer was parading what seemed to be every working girl in Atlanta in front of him.

If The Duke nodded, the man pulled that woman out of line and seated her next to the Hollywood favorite.

Refortified by the open

bars, we decided to get John Wayne's autograph. Brazen as we could be, we walked up to his table and shook his hand. He signed the back of my business card. I still have it somewhere.

It was years before I saw "The Green Berets." It was not one of John Wayne's prouder moments, I discovered. But the night that a couple of refugees from a pool party on Buford Highway hung out with The Duke makes me very proud.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at www.twitter.com/hyattrichard.

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