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Benjamin Epstein

Spyglass Lunch Rings In Yuletide Cheer

December 12, 1985|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN

They say that every time you ring a bell, an angel gets its wings in heaven.

--Rena Godshall, director, Our Lady Queen of Angels Bell Choir

Hordes of angels got their wings Tuesday at the Five Crowns restaurant in Corona del Mar, where the Spyglass Committee of the Orange County Philharmonic Society met, as it has now for four years, for Christmas lunch. This year, a bell choir added to the yuletide cheer.

When the Spyglass women say Christmas lunch, they mean a fattened goose with all the trimmings, from apple walnut salad to sweet and sour red cabbage to dressing to cranberry pecan bread to a honeyed, raisin-filled baked apple.

"This is the time of year for the Five Crowns," said Dennis Brask, the restaurant's portly, ruddy-complexioned head chef. "We'll do a goose, we'll do a dinner of Yorkshire pudding and prime rib, as traditional a Christmas as you can get. We also do our own plum pudding--again a very English tradition."

Everybody agrees that the Five Crowns, an exact replica of Ye Olde Belle Inn outside London, is the perfect setting for a Christmas meal. But even Brask isn't entirely sure just why Christmastime should suggest fare from merrye olde England.

"I think maybe because there was no Charles Dickens in Galilee," he ventured.

Spyglass Committee member Godshall prefaced her bell choir's recital with some historical and technical background.

Did you know, for instance, that bells, originally little cups, did not take on the shape of tower bells until after the 6th Century?

Choir member John von Wolzengen showed how to play four bells at one time.

"It's hard enough to play two, believe me," commented Godshall, who then demonstrated different tonal techniques, including the "tower swing," a swing back of the arm that approximates the Doppler effect, "now used in radar and in tracking stars," she noted.

After the performance, members of the Philharmonic Committee--Ann MacLean, June Polner, Helga Jeremias, LaVera Burns, LaVera's daughter, Stephanie, and Martha Green--tried their hands and hats (you have to wear Christmas hats when you're ringing bells) at the somewhat esoteric art.

When Godshall raised her hands for the choir to begin, Burns asked: "Does that mean everyone together?" Martha Green had the least success but the most fun.

How was the meal? Dessert was delicious, albeit somewhat elusive.

"This must be an intelligence test," said Peg West, after genteelly but unsuccessfully trying to get bites of her baked apple, without benefit of knife.

It was unanimous that the goose was spectacular.

"They're from Wenks, South Dakota," Brask beamed. "Wenks is to goose what Long Island is to duck."

The ghost of Christmases past seemed to haunt the 552 Club Christmas Carol Ball on Saturday night at the Newport Marriott, this year known as "Ye Cristemasse Carole Ball."

The event has a long and colorful history: John Wayne used to read a poem, "One Solitary Life," every year. Andy Devine sang "The Night Before Christmas" in gravelly tones. Buddy Ebsen would dance a soft-shoe. A choir always performed.

Folks looked forward to it.

This year, Harry Babbitt, dubbed Sir Harry Babbitt, Surveyor of Ceremonyes, was still there, and the women's furs were still there, but--something was missing.

"This party has always meant the start of the Christmas season," said one guest, admittedly a little cranky: The hour was late, and she'd been waiting for her car at valet parking for well over half an hour.

"We've always had a choir before," she said. "What happened? Did it feel Christmasy to you? Did people even sing? It wasn't the start of the season for me."

Said another guest, also waiting: "It's become just like any other dinner-dance, only at Christmas time."

Added still another: "I came to be entertained, not be the entertainment."

Many of the 500 guests at the party, which raised $70,000 for Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, had fun, of course: There was plenty of dancing to the music of Les Brown and his Band of Renown. And the dinner, from the galantine of pheasant and goose to the cranberry pudding with Grand Marnier, was lovely.

But more fun might have been had if more of the guests had complied with the request on the invitations for disguises and masks. (Some did, and showed a good degree of imagination. Most did not.)

"I got real excited," confided a guest while enjoying his "ycorven rost syde boef" and Cabernet. He and his wife wore masks from Hollywood Magic trimmed with Christmas decorations. "I spent the entire afternoon getting these masks together. Then people didn't wear their masks."

Still relatively new to the party scene is SCOOPP, the South Coast Organization of Planned Parenthood, 50 of whose members gathered at the Ritz Restaurant in Newport Beach last week to turn over $24,000 to its parent board in Santa Ana, install new officers and enjoy a meal of crayfish cannelloni.

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