The Beverly Hills Fire: Bearing Testament
Lives That Were Touched

Busboy Walter Bailey was 18 when he warned patrons about the fire.
The letter from President Jimmy Carter, the Salvation Army award and other plaques, the newspaper clippings and letters of thanks from fire survivors are in a box on a closet shelf in Walter Bailey's house.

''He's very proud of what he did, but he doesn't display them. He's not that type of person,'' says his wife, Decho, from their home in Flower Mound, Texas.

Few people in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb know that stockbroker Walt Bailey was the Beverly Hills hero, the minimum-wage busboy from Alexandria who interrupted Cabaret Room comedians and warned patrons about the fire.

As the anniversary neared, Mr. Bailey, 38, pulled down the box and refreshed his memory about that night before talking to reporters. He's also thinking about writing a book about his experience because ''a lot of details haven't been told.''

He appeared on Good Morning America shortly after the fire, but rejected offers from the National Enquirer and a TV movie from King World (Oprah Winfrey, Jeopardy!, Inside Edition).

Now that he's a father -- Anna Jane was born two months ago -- trying to put his story into writing has become important.

''I don't know if I have enough for a book or not,'' he says, ''but my children and their children will be curious some day about: 'What did Dad or Grandpa do?' ''

-- John Kiesewetter

Singer John Davidson always drew a crowd to Beverly Hills.
In the early 1970s, entertainer John Davidson joked on The Tonight Show about how performers had to walk through the Beverly Hills Supper Club to reach the upstairs dressing rooms.

''You had to look as beautiful as you could -- the ladies couldn't come in curlers -- because you walked through the audience to get to your dressing room,'' he said.

''And they finally put in a backstage door about a year before (the fire). Thank God! Because that's how I got out!''

Thirteen years after the fire Mr. Davidson spoke to The Enquirer but refused to talk about the tragedy.

''I was asked to endorse smoke alarms. I could get on Donahue and Good Morning America and major shows that I couldn't get booked on, if it hadn't been for the fire. I turned them all down . . . because I don't want to capitalize on the fire,'' he said in 1990.

Among victims was Douglas George Herro, his musical director. The singer spent the night searching hospitals for Mr. Herro and found his body at the temporary morgue.

Mr. Davidson, then 36, was shaving in the dressing room when his drummer, Jerry Herrick, told him about the fire and led him to safety. He helped hold doors open to let others escape.

His road manager, Don Peterson, also survived, despite being on crutches with a broken leg. Said Mr. Davidson: ''It's a wonder he got out. He went out through the front door.''

-- John Kiesewetter

Beverly Hills reservationist Eileen Druckman.
''I worked in the cubbyhole taking reservations. Very small, it was originally a closet, right next to the Zebra Room.''

The memories are painful, but Eileen Druckman remembers that night in detail.

''I noticed some smoke coming from underneath the doors to the Zebra Room. So I opened the door and . . . the room was all charred. I could see down to the basement. If I had taken another step ...''

Covered in soot, she started for the head bartender to spread the alarm, but others already had. Making her way outside to check on fellow workers, she stayed until 2 a.m.

Hitching a ride from a passing couple at the bottom of the hill on U.S. 27, she found herself dropped off in downtown Cincinnati in front of the Terrace Hilton Hotel (now the Crowne Plaza).

''I saw this cabbie and went over to him. I didn't even know if I had any money or not.

''He said 'what happened to you?' I told him, and he said, 'I'll take you home, no charge.' ''

Reunited with relatives ''who didn't know if I was dead or alive,'' it was not until later in the day that she felt the full effects of the fire.

She would start treatments at University Hospital for smoke inhalation and skin problems, eventually spending three months recovering at the University of California Medical Center.

''Even after 20 years . . . it's very difficult to talk about. Just all the things, all the people. ... But it's something that should be told.''

-- Randy Allen

Bridgetown electrician H. James Amend holds wiring he found at the Beverly Hills Supper Club site almost 20 years after the fire.
Twenty years ago, serendipity brought Bridgetown electrician H. James Amend to the still-smoldering ruins of Beverly Hills.

''So many people died here,'' he whispered reverently as he fingered rusted conduit and old wiring amid the rubble. ''You felt like you were walking on hallowed ground.''

He had met lawyer John Rockel socially, and Mr. Rockel said something to the effect, ''If we ever need an electrician on a case . . . ''

Immediately after the fire, Mr. Rockel, an associate in Stanley M. Chesley's law office, called.

The enormity of the disaster became clear as Mr. Amend and the attorneys picked through the charred mess. Mr. Amend pointed to one problem after another. ''I told them, 'You shouldn't be doing this, you shouldn't be doing that'.''

His discovery of the questionable use of aluminum wiring led to multi-million-dollar settlements by the wiring industry.

A second discovery was rampant code violations that persuaded Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. to settle for $5.75 million.

''I cannot believe that any of this was ever inspected,'' Mr. Amend told his companions.

Those revelations became the foundation of a class action that changed the way law was practiced and paid almost $50 million to survivors, families of victims and their lawyers.

What he found that day in June 1977, also led to ''one of the most frightening moments of my life,'' he said. It was the day he faced scores of defense attorneys who wanted to question him as part of their trial preparation.

Mr. Amend said his anxiety melted after the first few questions. ''They had no idea what I was talking about. I was the expert . . . ''

-- Ben L. Kaufman

More 'Lives That Were Touched'...

The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Kentucky Enquirer