It was Christmas. No eggnog, no mulled wine, but certainly everything else: from the colored lights and Stanley Kirsten-decorated trees to the sound of high young voices from the Mitchell Boys Choir singing "Silent Night" and the bonhomie of good friends getting together.
It was the annual Christmas party hosted by the trustees, overseers and director of the Huntington--its library, art collections and botanical gardens--for its Society of Fellows (donors of $1,500 or more). It was Friday at the Huntington Gallery, and if it had the feel of a rather large extended family bash rather than an exclusively small charity event, well, fair enough.
After all, most everybody did know each other. Some, like Bud McDuffie and Paul W. Sampsell, went to Pasadena schools together. Many--like the Daniel Frosts, John Jorgensens, H. Bradley Joneses, William French Smiths--lived in the Pasadena-San Marino area, and, like all small towns, social circles overlap. Even the guests from outlying areas--like the Armand Deutsches and Si Ramos from Beverly Hills, Betty Field from Portuguese Bend, the Nicolas Karazissises from Woodland Hills--if perchance they didn't know someone, they could come to this party and get introduced around. After all, this is the kind of party where you certainly don't sit next to your spouse at dinner and you dance with as many people as you can. As Betty Adams, who's been chairman four years in a row, plans it, the Huntington party is the first of the holiday season and if you don't feel like Christmas when you leave--there's just no hope.
But there was something else about the party. It permeated the atmosphere like the aroma of holiday potpourri. It was an undeniable pride in the Huntington. People talked about it: describing their favorite things, how they got involved, and how they truly believed the Huntington is a world-class institution, which made them feel lucky to be able to be involved.
Actually, as Richard Seaver noted toward the end of the evening, "where else would a group of people like this give $1,500 just because Stan Avery asks you to. Why, you feel honored."
The only thing official about the event, which was free to the 470 invited guests--was that it took place. Speeches ran all of five minutes. First, there was Marion Jorgensen, chairman of the Board of Overseers, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Then Stanton Avery, chairman of the Huntington's board of trustees, extending more holiday wishes.
Avery (able to read his notes in the dimmed room thanks only to a car map light provided by Robert Cheesewright, who in turn had to call on the security guards for new batteries) also vocalized the nostalgia felt by many of the guests. In past years, the party had been held right in the main gallery where in addition to all the traditional Christmas decor, there were those wonderful paintings--"Pinkie," "Blue Boy." But on Oct. 16, fire swept through the gallery and though the San Marino Fire Department (which Avery thanked publicly) responded in minutes, one painting was destroyed: Sir Joshua Reynold's famous portrait of Mrs. Edwin Lascelles. Fortunately, though, everything else was saved. In fact, guests who wanted to see "Blue Boy" could wander over to the library that night, said Avery.
Still, this year's party had to be held in the new building housing the gift shop and auditorium. And though the party certainly worked (guests were seated in two rooms with Michael Paige's musicians performing on the throughway and dance floors on either side) it wasn't quite the same.
End of Official Words
That was it for the official words. Huntington director Robert Middlekauff merely mingled. Dinner came at 8:45 p.m.: half an avocado followed by Chasen's chicken pies followed by ice cream snowballs covered with one of those super-thick chocolate sauces. And the Los Vineros Chardonnay flowed.
It was a good party, one of those gatherings where people are having so much fun eating and drinking, talking and laughing, and everybody's dancing--you think it's going to go on all night.
Not quite though. Some parties are best left when they're still going strong, especially when there's a weekend of black-tie events ahead. That's also part of the Huntington party tradition. So around 11:15 Chauncey Medberry III of Hancock Park, catching his wife Thirza's eye, stood up.
Of course, with a group like this, it's never really goodby. Rather, as he said to Vernette Tatum (who with husband, Donn, had a long drive back to Pacific Palisades herself), "can we take this subject up again next year at this time?"