To the uninitiated, the situation seems less like show biz than it does preparations for a wedding.
"I told them that they'd need lots of makeup for you, Lee!" jokes Tabback as he greets Purcell backstage. "Probably three or four pounds at least." Everyone laughs lightheartedly.
Later, when someone mentions that Purcell once appeared on Marcus Welby, M.D. as a high school girl infected with VD, the host lets loose with another wedge of the soon-to-be-legendary Tabback wit. "I sure hope you're cured now," he chuckles. More lighthearted hilarity ensues as the actress pokes Tabback in the ribs.
Fifteen minutes later, it's showtime! As the Tom Tabback Show Band strikes up a David Lettermanesque riff, the natty host sweeps into the disco wearing his trademark double-breasted blazer and flared trousers.
Launching into a ballad with all the aplomb of Wayne Newton, he works the room like a pro, handing long-stemmed roses to lucky ladies at ringside.
Like any host worth his salt, Tabback kibitzes with the band and crew. After pointing out the drummer works barefoot, Tabback wonders whether he's wearing pants, either. (Ka-boom!) And what about that camera operator nicknamed "Winnie"? Tabback grins and says, "I think I'll call him `Pooh.'" (Ka-boom-boom!)
The first guest is "Miss Lee Purcell," and there's a small groundswell of recognition when the audience sees the face that goes with the name. Perhaps they remember Purcell from My Wicked, Wicked Ways, a TV biography of Errol Flynn in which she played actress Olivia de Havilland. Tabback guesses that it must be very difficult playing a real person. "You must have been real proud of your work in that movie," he says.
"Not really," shrugs Purcell. The actress explains that she's actually a lot more proud of her latest TV movie role in The Long Road Home as a Depression-era migrant, a part that required her to look her worst. This triggers a long discussion about the best way to remove yellow makeup from your teeth. Tabback and Purcell welcome local country singer Jimi Hall, who receives a big hand for his TV debut. Then Tabback introduces Steven R. Stevens, "agent for the stars" (one of whom is Miss Lee Purcell). Like every third guest who appears on the Tabback show, Stevens wears Western attire and delivers a plug for the upcoming Ben Johnson Pro-Celebrity Rodeo. Tabback says he himself is going to be in the rodeo, too--he'll be the one behind the shovel.
An hour later, the ol' clock on the wall says it's time to go. Luckily, there's time for one more song, which Tabback croons while shaking hands with audience members. After the show is over, some of the audience clamor for autographs.
"They're finally starting to know who I am," says Tabback, as he scrawls his John Hancock across an eight-by-ten glossy with a gold felt-tip marker. "Now I'm almost getting as many requests for autographs as the stars."
Meanwhile, two elderly audience members examine the Tom Tabback tee shirts for sale in the disco lobby.
One of the women appears puzzled as she reads a slogan that says "WHO THE HECK IS TOM TABBACK?" "We don't need one of these," she tells her companion. "We already know."
"They're hard chargers," he says, "fantastic little gals who accomplish so much that they boggle my mind."
How are you going to get 200 people to come watch you tape a show at midnight?
"Now I'm almost getting as many requests for autographs as the stars," Tabback says.