SAN DIEGO — If Saturday's American Cancer Society gala wasn't quite a battle of the flowers, it is fair to say that the Sheraton Harbor Island East's Champagne Ballroom was no place to be for shrinking violets, wallflowers and secondhand roses.
Coyly titled "Another Bloomin' Affair," the party found its way around the fund-raiser syndrome by providing name entertainment, some unlikely local talent, and an aromatic theme that was as pleasing to the eye as it was to the nose. Actress and singer Ann Jillian headlined the evening, ascending to the stage after the audience had been warmed up by the premiere of the new comedy team of Kolender & Duffy, known on Broadway as "The Boys in Blue."
The theme turned out to be one of those double-entendres that deserves a double take. Since the Luther Burbank of the gala, chairman Val Moore, clearly did not want her 500 guests to think of the event as just another party, the title really promised blossoms by the garden-full, a promise that was kept, and then some. Masses of flowers--orchids, asters, mums and even a few pointillist pansies--bloomed at the center of each table, a fragrant cargo of visual delight towering in make-believe gazebos from whose peaks fluttered streams of multicolored ribbons.
Moore admitted that the seminal idea for this garden party was her own, but then, she said, her committee took hold of it, and the result looked as if the ballroom had been carefully mulched, weeded and watered. A few fortunate guests carried the centerpieces home, but each woman bore away as the evening's trophy a fragile, snow-shaded orchid tucked into a sturdier crystal orchid.
Not too surprisingly, a fair number of the blossoms were ambulatory, and strolled around the room trailing the scents of costly perfumes distilled from less-rare blooms. Dick and Vangie Burt (Vangie chaired last year's gala, a kind of Ragtime-to-Roaring '20s bash that featured champagne disguised as bathtub gin.) brought their summer house guest, Lisa Kahre, who in June ceremonies at the Civic Theatre was awarded the crown of Miss California. Kahre found herself in familiar company, since the guest list included Linda Thomas, who reigned as Miss California in 1976. Hughie Thomas escorted his wife.
One section of the room was partitioned off to form the cocktail hour reception area. A Covent Garden-like attitude was maintained here not by flowers, which were absent (as they say, budgets will be budgets), but by hucksters Jack Berkman and Ron Oliver, who hawked the 60 or so items offered in the suitably misnamed silent auction. The choices ranged from artworks to classy weekend getaways, and the bidding was unrestrained.
When they entered the ballroom, guests found the Dick Braun Orchestra in full swing and bowls of cucumber soup waiting on the tables. Dinner progressed as a sort of see-saw routine between sambas and salads, rumbas and raspberries.
The entertainment commenced when Police Chief Bill Kolender and Sheriff John Duffy took the stage to conduct the live auction, an offering of just a few choice items that included a South Pacific cruise and a walk-on role in television's "Simon and Simon." It was, in a way, a classic tough cop-good cop situation, in which Kolender energetically promoted the items while Duffy made it clear that it would be nice if the guests would buy them.
Everything sold, and the affair, flourishing under the heady rain of annually improving successes (this was the sixth in the series) is expected to exfoliate into one major crop--funds for the cancer society's various programs. Local chapter President Duane Drake announced that net party proceeds should be close to the $100,000 mark, a nice record and a goal-setter for the committee that tackles the gala next year.
Their duties done, Kolender and Duffy made way for Ann Jillian, who swept on stage in a flash of crystal beads and white cashmere. She electrified the crowd with a medley of contemporary hits and her own Broadway repertoire. The singer, whose well-publicized brush with cancer was known to most of the guests, donated her services. For this generosity, she was rewarded with a lengthy standing ovation and an armful of pink roses.
Rancho Santa Fe's Neil Reagan, brother of President Ronald Reagan, was among the evening's special guests, as was his wife, Bess. The crowd also included Norma and Jim Shiner; Betty and Dan Hoffman; Rep. Bill Lowery and his wife, Katie; Janie and John Pendleton; Betty Alexander with Howard McCandless; Betty and Walt Zable; Betty and Dick Thomas; Joan and Al Arias; Ron Moore; Grace and John Malloy; Barbara and Chuck Christensen; Kay and Bill Rippee; Jimmie and LeRoy Brockbank, and auction chairman Donna Schmitt with Roger Conlee.