Lawrenceville seniors strut stuff for Oscar

Shirley Temple she wasn't, but at 73, Frances Pittard strutted out to the red carpet in a little pink dress holding a giant lollipop.

"You're still dressed like a little girl," said emcee Claudette Butler, who played the part of Carol Channing, before more than 80 smiling seniors.

"I do look kind of cute, don't I?" Pittard said before rebuffing a request to sing "On the Good Ship Lollipop."

"I am tired of that old song," she said. "I just want to go to the bar and have a drink, and I don't want a Shirley Temple. I want something stronger."

Welcome to Oscar night, sort of, at Delmar Gardens of Gwinnett retirement community in Lawrenceville.

On Friday afternoon, sixteen seniors, ages 73 to 96, dressed from head to toe like movie stars, both past and present, and vied for a gold Oscar. Well, it was more a trophy shaped like a cat.

They were part of the Delmar Darlin's and Gent's, a group of entertainers who might be past their prime, but not their sense of humor.

One by one, the sequin-clad, hat-wearing seniors -- dressed like Minnie Pearl, Frank Sinatra and Dolly Parton, among others -- came out, cracked a few jokes and then walked the red carpet. Some were spot-on. Others forgot their lines.

"What we lack in talent, we make up for in our sense of humor," Executive Director Jennifer Thilo said after the hour-long show. "The great thing is they're not passively watching entertainment. They're involved."

Involved indeed. In its 11th year, the group performs every month at senior centers, nursing homes and churches across metro Atlanta.

Butler started the group in 2000 after her mother entered the retirement community. Thelma Butler always wanted to be in show business, but she never had lessons in stage performance. Instead, she foot the bill for her young daughters to learn piano, ballet, twirling, tap dancing and ice skating, Butler said.

"When she got old, I decided to return the favor," said Butler, "and she loved it."

Thelma Butler died two years ago.

On this show alone, Butler spent six months writing the lines, compiling the music, gathering costumes and, of course, rehearsing. At least an hour each week, she said.

"What do you do with a bunch of people that don't have a lot of talent?"  Butler said. "You dress them up funny and they say funny things. They're so cute."

At one time, the Delmar Darlin's and Gent's boasted 25 members, but over the years the group has dwindled a bit as residents became sick or passed on, Butler said.

Still, there's a waiting list to get in. However, there are no tryouts. Seniors just need to be in good health and be able stand, Butler said.

"I've gone to places where I literally couldn't get one of them off the floor," she said.

Each month, the group piles on a bus and treks across metro Atlanta to entertain audiences in Lawrenceville, Suwanee, Dacula, Bethesda and Conyers, among others. The spry seniors have become so popular, they have had to turn down bookings.

Mel Bigelow, 81, decked out in a suit and hat as Frank Sinatra, said he learned his lines in five to 10 minutes, having performed since he was a child.

"Knowing what you're doing and wanting to do it, it comes very easy," said Bigelow, flashing a wide smile. "It was fun."

Among the more popular characters in Friday's show was Scarlett and Rhett Butler, played by seniors Lillian and Salty Wyatt.

Before walking the red carpet, Rhett Butler insisted he was leaving Scarlett after the show.

"Where will I go if you leave?" she asked.

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," he responded.

The pair won the Oscar. They tied with all the other stars.