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Planning Department : At the Women's Guild of Cedars-Sinai, Charity Begins With Onion Soup en Croute

December 08, 1985|MARYLOUISE OATES | Marylouise Oates is a Times staff writer.

Here's the scenario:

A big Hollywood production. The premiere of the long-awaited "A Chorus Line"--dancing, music, singing, acting and, of course, the fire-department permit.

Just another mundane detail in the glitzy world of the Hollywood benefit premiere--in this case, the upcoming Wednesday-night party previewing "A Chorus Line" for the prestigious Women's Guild of Cedars-Sinai. The party is the latest fete from the group that first figured out that a premiere could make a lot of money for a charity. When this year's results are added in, the Women's Guild will have raised more than $6 million by getting people to go to the movies in tux and spangles.

Since 1958, when the premiere of "Kings Go Forth" ($62.50 a ticket) made $50,000 for the Women's Guild, such benefits are Hollywood glitz at its most prestigious. The Women's Guild gets good films--Kirk Douglas' "Spartacus" (wife Anne is this year's premiere chairperson, and it's convenient that "A Chorus Line" stars Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas' son); "West Side Story," "Dr. Zhivago," and "Yentl" all premiered at Women's Guild parties.

The night always manages to be special in a city in which it's easier to catch a black-tie premiere than it is to catch a cab.

But nothing happens by chance. Here it is, the final Women's Guild committee meeting in early November. The invitations--with cut-outs of the film's cast--went to several dozen Women's Guild board members in September. They've done such a practiced job in mailing them out to friends that the benefit has reached that stage of pleasurable torture known as "being oversold," with 1,400 people paying $225 a head. And more wanting in.

The blond, seemingly fragile Douglas is putting her sub-chairs through their paces. She's asked longtime guild member Harriet Deutsch--a good friend of the First Lady--to sit in, and they and the dozen or so other women, including Joanna Carson, the co-chairperson, discuss how many old friends are on the waiting list and why they can't just stuff more tables onto that dance floor.

These are women who go to benefits, parties, events and premieres the way the average person goes to a supermarket--at least one major benefit a week; in the hectic winter season, more likely four or five. They are competing with lots of other big-time charity parties and with their own history, with past Women's Guild events chaired by others. This night has to be something "really special," stresses Marcia Koch, the chair of the supper-party part. The Women's Guild hasn't raised almost $2 million in just the past four years by letting details slip by. Koch had met with Women's Guild president Carolyn Blywise, Victoria McMahon and Joanna Carson in early October to decide the menu. They settled on a supper that begins with Onion Soup en Croute. Koch explains the choice as giving "a real New York flavor to come in to." (Carson says simply: "Men prefer soup.")

Guests will party after strolling from the Plitt Theater through the underground passage to the Century Plaza Hotel.

But back to the extra people. Where to squeeze them in?

The dance floor? No. "People like to be able to move around the dance floor," Carson says. And that's footnoted by Ellen Steinbaum, explaining that many attendees are not in the entertainment industry, and they pay $225 not just to see the movie but also to see some stars. People want to say the next morning that they've seen so-and-so and she was wearing such-and-such jewels.

It's settled. More tables will go onto the dance floor, and two small dance floors will be set up at either end of the wide ballroom. Now, there are even more prestigious tables to go around, and "if people really want to move around and see who's there, this will give them an excuse," Koch said.

How is seating done? " Qu'est-ce que c'est seating?" Carson grins. Koch: "Diplomatically, of course."

Committees abound: Seating, Hostesses, Gifts (goodies from Revlon, a Puma bag and a sound-track album).

"How do we intend to deal with the gifts?" Douglas asks. "Is it under the chair or on the chair? . . . And how about the poor fellows ? Do they get anything?"

"They get the bag," Cookie Kates explains. The gifts seem to be a required element at every benefit in town. People might spend thousands of dollars on an evening like this, buying one or two tables and "hosting" friends, but what everybody really likes is getting presents.

Deutsch speaks up: "Please respectfully request to have the orchestra not blare away. It ruins every one of our parties." The women agree. Koch will deal with the orchestra.

White wine on the table, red on reserve. Guests take care of other drinks. "For hard liquor," Douglas reminds them, "the hostess makes the arrangements." At benefits, a table usually has a "hostess" who is involved with the charity and who sells the seats at her table to friends.

Wait! There's a chance of free champagne. "If you let me know how many bottles you need, I'll try to get them donated," says Carson. The Women's Guild board members are expert in obtaining donations, and--with the help of the studio whose film they premiere--manage to spend on overhead less than 5% of the money raised.

"We'll acknowledge them in the program. We always give credit to anyone who donates anything," Ruth Fox says as the meeting ends.

This year's party will raise more than $400,000 for research, education and patient-care programs. Give the ladies a big hand.

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