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David Nelson / Society

Singer Frankie Laine Is Gently Basted at Roast

October 09, 1986|DAVID NELSON

SAN DIEGO — If Police Chief Bill Kolender suggested to an audience of 350 prominent citizens that you had paid $1,000 to research your family tree and $2,000 to suppress the results, would you:

A.) Whistle "Dixie" and pretend to be somewhere else,

B.) Aim a swift left jab at the top cop's schnoz or,

C.) Retaliate by commenting that, "As for Bill Kolender, anyone who can see him can't say that crime doesn't pay."

Did you choose answer "C"? If so, you'll find yourself in the select company of famous songster Frankie Laine, who adopted just such a wise course of action when rebutting the insults heaped upon him at the seventh annual Rolf Benirschke Roast, given Oct. 1 for the benefit of the San Diego Chapter of the National Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis.

As far as roasts go (and sometimes they go more than far enough), the insults hurled at this year's shindig were gentler than most, perhaps because of the esteem which Laine, whose 21 gold records place him in the super-superstar category, is accorded in this city. This isn't to say that the grill squad chanted like a group of choir boys (indeed, much of what they said could not be quoted in a family newspaper), but it is fair to say that Laine was more basted or poached than really roasted.

The gang got down to the nitty-gritty at a kind of new-and-improved Benirschke Roast called "Viva Las Vegas," which was given at the Kona Kai Club for the delectation of a crowd that included some of the town's most gleaming glitterati . The team that usually joins in planning this annual diversion (and includes San Diego Charger Benirschke, who suffered a nasty bout with colitis several years ago) decided that the routine roast format was becoming, well, overdone.

Thus this year's game plan included two hours' worth of casino games in advance of the formal, three-course dinner, as well as the roast.

The choice of Laine as roastee gave the party an extra bonus because he cheerfully obliged with a post-roast concert that included several of his major hits. The roster of songs began with "Rawhide" and continued with "That's My Desire."

As guests entered the party, they were handed tickets good for a chance at a list of door prizes. That's not news, right? But some clever soul decided that the casino would more closely resemble the genuine Las Vegas article if it were glamorized by showgirls in spectacular, Ziegfeld Follies-like costumes, and, as things developed, it turned out that several men hopefully assumed a date with one of them to be among the evening's top prizes. No such luck, of course, but the women (decked out in towering headdresses, feathers and not much else) added a certain zing to the moment that was even more exciting than the blackjack dealers' cries of "Twenty-one!"

The dinner and roast took place in a room decorated, to pay a whimsical tribute to Lady Luck's favorite toys, by committee member Dick Ford. The centerpieces were topped by pairs of giant dice (actually, white boxes painted with black dots), and bundles of folded playing cards cleverly stood in for flowers. Even the ashtrays and matchbooks were imported from Caesar's Palace. Far from dining on roast, the guests instead nibbled at salad, chicken Cordon Bleu, and chocolate mousse served in fancy chocolate cases.

Master of ceremonies Jerry G. Bishop left most of the roasting chores to others, but he did get in one shot by mentioning that Laine was "so fat that his bathtub has stretch marks." Radio man Don Howard said that Laine had "willed his body to science, and science was contesting the will."

The St. Vincent de Paul Center's Father Joe Carroll took a rather more complicated tack (the man had a Jesuit education, after all), in which he described having heard the singer's confession in a dialogue composed of the titles of Laine's many hits. Band leader Bob Crosby resolutely refused to roast, having announced that he had too much respect for the singer, and Kolender closed the show with a series of one-liners that brought the house down.

As mentioned earlier, Laine got in the last licks by the simple expedient of offering up a medley of his songs as his wife, Nan, sat beaming at the head table.

Chairman Susan Eres and co-chairman Cheryl Sillings put the evening together with help from a committee that included Tisha Swortwood (one of the event's founders), Wenda Aldrich, Denise Capozzi, Krista Gates, Jamie Tucker, Darcy Cloud, Ann Spicer, Barbara Mandel, Madeline Javelet, Liz Smith, Laurie Black and Debbie Day.

Honorary chairman Joan Kroc was unable to attend--the party conflicted with the Padres' last home game of the season--but she did send a tidy contribution in her place.

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