The gala for Armand Hammer's 88th birthday at the Beverly Wilshire on Sunday evening centered on his role in the search for world peace as he and others sought to aid victims of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
Just back from attending the opening of his art collection at the Soviet State Art Museum (after the exhibition at the Hermitage), assisting in the transportation of medical supplies for Chernobyl victims and an unexpected meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev at the Kremlin (the five-minute talk evolved into an hour-and-five-minute session), Hammer held hero status with his guests.
Indeed, two toasts suggested the Nobel Peace Prize.
Abigail Van Buren was first: "A perfectly incredible man . . . he could be a candidate entitled to the Peace Prize."
Gregory Peck was even more specific: "I can't think of anyone more deserving of the Nobel Prize than Armand Hammer. If there is anyone who knows how to get along with Russia, it's Armand Hammer.
"I'd like to fantasize a scene with President Reagan meeting with Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Armand Hammer, locked in a room together for as long as it takes to strike a deal for peace and nuclear cutbacks, and I know that they would come out of that room with a good deal."
It was a party of unending highlights. The invitations had been shaped in the form of black grand pianos, with 88 keys extending to emphasize Hammer's 88th. Black--and a few red--grand pianos, were rotating centerpieces on the tables. Merv Griffin opened the star-studded program after about 400 guests were seated for dinner at 7 p.m. Maestro Mstislav Rostropovich, his cello accompanied by Jean Barr's piano, performed Tchaikovsky's "Nocturne," Carl Maria von Weber's "Adagio and Rondo," George Gershwin's "Prelude." His finale, David Popper's "Dance of the Elves," left the audience astounded.
Then came the mousse of salmon with a light mustard sauce accompanied by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 1983, the chablis sorbet, the rack of veal decoupe remonte accompanied by Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 1977 and a zucchini boat filled with mushrooms and the souffle potatoes, then the Dom Perignon 1978 with the birthday cake squares with fresh strawberry filling. The black-iced grand piano cake Hammer ceremonially cut on stage was not for eating.
Post dinner, Ludmila Lopukhova and Simon Dow performed the "Pas de deux" from Swan Lake, Act II. Merv Griffin conducted live "interviews," which culminated in the toasts. Midst it all, Jimmy Dorsey's Orchestra and Joanie Sommers and Shony Alex Braun played and sang for dancing.
Then there were the highlights with Hammer: Peace and a cure for cancer, he said, were his goals before he reaches his 100th birthday. When he brought on Dr. Robert Gale and Dr. Paul Terasaki, the physicians who went to Chernobyl, the audience stood in ovation.
Those making toasts represented the conservative and liberal elements of the community: attorney Arthur Groman, who is Hammer's long-time friend; Occidental Petroleum secretary Paul Hebner; entertainment executive Jerry Weintraub (whose wife, singer Jane Morgan, led the "Happy Birthday to You" tribute), Maestro Rostropovich, the Rev. Robert Schuller, Mayor Tom Bradley, former Carter Hawley Hale chairman Ed Carter; Channel 2 anchorman Jess Marlow; USC President James Zumberge; philanthropist Sybil Brand, and County Supervisor Ed Edelman.
Some of the most eloquent words came from the handsome and gray-haired Peck: "The sheer amount of fun this man has--he just has more fun than anyone I know . . . it just makes me feel certain in my mind that his 100th birthday is an absolute certainty; we know it's in the cards. We know you'll be here and we hope some of us will be here, too."
In response, Hammer aligned himself with his elder counterparts as symbols of the winning tradition, paying tribute to golfer Jack Nicklaus, jockey Willie Shoemaker, pianist Vladimir Horowitz and President Reagan.
Among those in the black-tie audience were Mary Jane Wick, sitting at the same table with Armand and Harriet Deutsch. Nearby were Charlton and Lydia Heston, Earle and Marion Jorgensen, Yolanda Nava and Art Torres, Mickey Kantor and Heidi Schulman, Maxine Ostrun and Theodore Orloff, Councilwoman Pat Russell and husband Dr. William. More were Betsy Bloomingdale, Stanton and Ernestine Avery, Victor and Andrea Carter, Robert and Kathleen Ahmanson, Anna Bing Arnold, Larry and Carol Attebery, Lee and Arrola DuBridge, Daniel and Camilla Frost, Julian and Jo Ann Ganz Jr., Eva Gabor (with Merv Griffin), Fred and Peggy Hartley, Maria Hummer and George McCambridge, Tom and Edwina Johnson, Sidney and Nancy Petersen, Franklin and Judith Murphy, Charles and Sue Young.