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Benjamin Epstein

Gershwin Sets Mood; Ann Landers Calls Tune

July 22, 1986|Benjamin Epstein

They called it "A Night with Gershwin." It was a rhapsody in black-tie and blue.

A sellout before one invitation was sent, the Search Foundation event took place Friday night at the Irvine Hilton. According to Beverly Thompson-Coil, co-chairman of the party with syndicated columnist Ann Landers, the 400 guests raised more than $80,000.

The foundation was formed to combat drug abuse; its first goal is the production of a video to be distributed free of charge to grammar schools nationally.

In homage to Gershwin's hometown, a King Kong doll atop a miniature Empire State Building, with biplanes circling, greeted guests as they arrived for cocktails on the hotel patio. Two pianists rhapsodized poolside.

Landers, who would later receive the foundation's National Drug Avoidance Award, offered her ideas about eradicating the drug problem.

'A Lot of Nonsense'

"Shut down the Mafia," the petite Landers said. "Spraying the crops and sending planes (to Bolivia) is just a lot of nonsense. That's not going to put an end to it. Shut down the Mafia, and you'll have a hold on the problem."

Hollywood producer Arnold Shapiro ("Scared Straight") will produce the anti-drug video "Searching for the Light" at cost.

"What's making us crazy is the expense of packaging and distributing the videos," Thompson-Coil said. "We'll need a couple million (dollars), which means corporate underwriting. Another problem is that many schools can't afford video equipment. We're investigating the possibility of getting outmoded or discontinued VCR models to send to those schools."

By evening's end, Thompson-Coil, who presented Landers her award, had other problems. "Roger Luby was helping me on stage," related Thompson-Coil. "He actually picked me up in the air and my rib cracked. Ann Landers could hear it. I was seeing twinkle stars," she said, not referring to the decor. She got prompt medical attention: She said that "at least 15 doctors" at the party felt her rib and declared it merely "a bad bruise."

Thompson-Coil looked as if she had just stepped off the cover of a magazine in her intensely blue beaded Manhattan-skyline blouse, velvet and shantung skirt and fanned hairpiece by French-born, Newport Beach-based designer GiGi. Indeed, she was seen autographing copies of the August issue of Orange County magazine on which she appears.

Also in blue were Sounds of Music conductor Barry Cole and Thompson-Coil's husband Horace--they wore blue cummerbunds and bow ties--and patron party chairman Diane Slemons. Erich Vollmer came in "blue-tie." Pam Goldstein pointed out that her dress, although black and white, was designed by Jennifer Blue.

The release of a thousand black, white and blue balloons signaled the start of dinner in the ballroom, where the skyline motif continued, and lighted signs blared the names of such landmarks as Broadway and 5th Avenue.

Under the direction of its new executive chef, Don Hamilton, the Hilton catering department outdid itself: The meal included a plate of mixed seafood sausages, veal with porcini mushrooms, and a "floral salad"--a stuffed tomato variously adorned with such edible petals as nasturtium, rocket flowers and borage.

15 Pounds of Chocolate

In an innovative touch, assorted Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons were set out simultaneously. Pam Goldstein, who owns Le Cake Laguna, fashioned child-size grand pianos from 15 pounds of white chocolate for the centerpieces.

Luby and Dick Stevens served as auctioneers. Items included "The Phyllis Diller," a complete face lift donated by Diller's doctor, Michael Elam; high bidder was Bonnie Baker. "We're going to syndicate it," said a friend. "She doesn't need that much work." Ben Harris bought a portrait sitting by Polish-born artist Maciej Maga, who now divides his time between Dusseldorf and Laguna Beach. (Maga's portrait of Pope John Paul II hangs in the Vatican.)

The Los Angeles Gershwin Choir sang tunes by guess who during dinner; Cole did a voice-over outlining little known facts of the composer's life while his orchestra performed a suite from "Porgy and Bess." The performances and dinner conversation often seemed at odds.

"What do you do when the people complain that the music's too loud?" Cole asked. "Gershwin wrote the trumpet parts way up high, not me! I'm going to write to Ann Landers."

Art Linkletter served as honorary chairman for the event, but he was in Detroit speaking about drug abuse prevention. Betty Shamburg's impending move to Phoenix will soon force her to step down as executive director of Search.

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