SAN DIEGO — Ann Jones watched JoBobbie MacConnell make an especially graceful glide across the dance floor at the U.S. Grant Hotel and said admiringly, "You know, JoBobbie is everybody's Auntie Mame."
And, truth be told, if the chairman of the annual Fine Arts Ball suddenly had borrowed a trumpet from the orchestra and given it a few blasts, the action would have seemed quite in character.
MacConnell, who dreamed up Saturday's "Another Evening to Remember" as a particularly piquant entertainment for 250 patrons of the San Diego Museum of Art, did seem rather in the Mame mood that night. After having welcomed one guest by informing him, "You will feel exhilarated at the end of the evening," she turned to another and mentioned that she had worked out with weights for a few weeks so that her strapless, jet-and-ivory gown would fit just so.
The evening was exhilarating, and perhaps even intoxicating, the action starting with a cheerful romp through an adult kind of candy store, and continuing in a ballroom turned into the kind of nightclub that they just don't build anymore.
The hospitality began with champagne in the hotel lobby. Bubbly in hand, guests passed through an abbreviated receiving line that included MacConnell and her escort and co-chairman, John Siglow, and museum President Gordon Luce and his wife, Karon. The destination was the Garden Room, which the Grant exempted from its usual function as a restaurant so that the noted Sotheby's auction house might set up a monumental display of antique and heirloom jewelry.
The cases filled with rare and extravagant bangles (what better appetizer could be offered to patrons of the fine arts than such a glittering visual buffet?) had the effect of exotic blooms upon the guests, especially the sort that delight in jewels, and drew them as surely as nectar does bees. In most cases, husbands followed wives at a safe distance. Nothing was for sale, however, since the collection will be put up for auction in New York at the end of the month.
According to Sotheby's West Coast agent, Lisa Hubbard, the appraised value of the display exceeded $12 million, with a single ruby and a single diamond (the latter weighing a mere 31.47 carats) each valued at more than $1 million. The fun of it all was that guests were allowed to model the gems and imagine they owned these splashy works of nature.
"This is so glamorous, like an early Christmas," remarked an enthusiastic Joy Owen, who admitted that she would not decline if her husband, Oren, deigned to offer her one of the sparkling ornaments. Other women were too busy slipping rings on and off their fingers to make any comment at all. But it may have been a man, California Western School of Law Dean Michael Dessent, who best summed up the impact the stones made on the crowd. "If they put four wheels on some of these rocks, you could drive them," he said. His wife, Katie, chimed in that for her part, she would rather wear them.
Had the guests known what awaited them upstairs in the ballroom, it might have been easier to pry them away from the bejeweled Garden Room. Beverly Hills party planner Arthur Simon (his credits include several Emmy and Academy awards banquets) had been given but one instruction when he was invited to design the decor, and that was to let his fancy run wild. He did.
The room's own lighting system had been shut down so that Simon could create a fantasy of lights and flowers on the tables. Using orchids and other snowy blossoms with abandon, Simon set the centerpieces atop black moire cloths, and strung them with tubes filled with tiny flashing lights that, when activated, twinkled like so many miniature movie marquees. To draw the room together, the designer added a multicolored, twinkling fan of lights, rather like an immense peacock's tail, as a backdrop to the orchestra. The effect was dazzling.
The Michael Carney Orchestra seemed right at home amid the glitter and glitz. Ranked as one of New York's top society bands, the group swung easily through both 1920s jazz and the Big Band sounds that remain de rigueur at big parties today, making it all most danceable, and thus ensuring that the party bounced merrily right up to its 1 a.m. closing time.
The menu put a bounce in more than a few steps, too, owing especially to the surprise inclusion in the middle of the meal of an innocent-looking sorbet that turned out to be heated with red pepper. An elegant opener of foie gras and salmon preceded this whimsical sorbet, a pair of filets matched with veal sweetbreads followed, and for dessert, guests dug into cylindrical mousses prettily gift-wrapped in solid chocolate. To put a sparkling cap on the evening, each guest was given a bottle of champagne to carry home as a reminder of "Another Evening to Remember."