The famed Kirkeby estate was upstaged Friday night when Elizabeth Taylor strolled onto the premises, every inch of her size-six figure and white gossamer dress making heads swivel and flashbulbs pop.
The actress was there to support her favorite charity, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, of which she is national chairman. Co-hosts for the event were Italian bed linen/lingerie magnate Athos Pratesi and wife Dede.
Those willing to pay $1,000 per ticket got to rub elbows with Taylor and the evening's honorees, songwriters Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager. The two are responsible for the sentimental tune "That's What Friends Are For," and for donating the proceeds from record and video sales to AmFAR, as the AIDS group is called. The song, recorded by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight, is expected to bring in more than $600,000 by the end of this year. Friday's dinner was supposed to raise $250,000, and all of the money will go to AIDS research grants and education programs.
"I hope we can do something like this again," Sager said early in the evening. "Maybe an album. We can't do enough. Maybe there is a burnout factor (in songs raising money for charity), but maybe just from the point of view of the record company. But you can't worry about that. You just have to do it."
The mansion became an elaborate backdrop for the evening. Designer exhibitions that debuted the day before were still up, providing an interlude for those who weren't star-gazing. Among the guests were Carla Kirkeby, Barry Manilow, Sheldon Andelson, Merv Griffin and the ever-present Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor, Nancy Dickerson, record producer/composer David Foster, Glenn Ford, David Geffen, Leonard and Wendy Goldberg, Rob Lowe and Melissa Gilbert, and the AmFAR contingent, including Dr. Mervyn Silverman, president; Dr. Michael Gottlieb, co-chairman; and board member Helen Kushnick (she and husband Jerrold lost their 3-year-old son Sam to AIDS due to a blood transfusion and the two have become outspoken supporters of AmFAR).
After dinner Silverman made a pragmatic plea for funds, also stressing the need for more education about AIDS. "If everyone listened to what we had to say," he said, "we could stop the spread of the disease right in its tracks."
Added Taylor, "(Carole and Burt) captured the essence of (our) need in their lyrics and melody. . . . They are an inspiring model for their colleagues."
Bacharach and Sager returned the favor by singing a medley of their songs, followed by David Foster, who played his "Love Theme From 'St. Elmo's Fire.' " Even Barry Manilow sang a few of his songs (and some commercials from the old days) after convincing himself that he could perform without a full orchestra, special effects and backup singers in calypso outfits. They were all rewarded with a standing ovation from an audience that stayed to the end.