Actress Nanette Fabray waded through her $250 junk-food dinner clad in a sweat shirt over her silk cocktail dress. Like 800 others in the Century Plaza ballroom, she faced ribs, chicken, pizza, chili and a chocolate sundae, served by formally attired waiters bearing silver platters.
"Very different," she said, searching for the words.
"We wanted French fries, too," an organizer said. "But you can't do fries for this many people."
That may have been the one sign of restraint at Saturday's gala benefit for the Los Angeles Children's Museum, where guests were instructed to "dress for fun"--hence the sweat shirts--and to play amid children's exhibits re-created for the night at the hotel.
'Hard Hat Sam'
Actor Robert Culp carefully printed the words "Hard Hat Sam" on a yellow plastic cap he was decorating in the makeshift "recycling workshop."
"This is just junk," he said of the industrial leftovers, "but kids can make anything out of them. So anyway, my daughter (4-year-old Samantha) gets a new hat," he said, carting off his handiwork.
Other guests mugged for cameras in a temporary TV studio manned by newscasters Jerry Dunphy and George Fischbeck, or climbed into a Los Angeles Police Department car, munching popcorn through the cocktail hour.
Personal trainer Marc Vahanian, who'd been given his $250 ticket by a friend, watched the Westside crowd. "I don't do a lot of gala-going," he said. "But this is wonderful."
The event, dubbed "Touch Our World," netted about $150,000 for the Children's Museum, which provides hands-on experiences for the 250,000 children who visit annually.
Almost 2 Million Kids
Museum Director Jack Armstrong told guests over dinner that 1.75 million children have come to the downtown space since it opened more than seven years ago.
"The museum is having an impact on the community, because children's views of the world change as a result of visiting there," he said. Armstrong also mentioned plans to move to a space large enough to accommodate 1 million visitors annually. The gala's honoree Bruce Corwin, who is president of Metropolitan Theatres Corp. and the museum's founding president, said that move will likely happen in the next five years.
After the hefty finger-food dinner came a magic show by illusionist Harry Blackstone--and some raucous rock 'n' roll dancing.
Fabray took in the baby-boomer tunes from her banquet table. "I go to all these benefits--all the time--about twice a week," she said. "This is the first one that said dress for fun. And it's a smash. " Other guests admitted they found the casual dress instructions "confounding" and consulted with each other for moral support. The majority dressed in sportswear, as if en route to a college football game.
Organizers had contemplated other antics for the night. They'd hoped to bring in a fire engine, "but it wouldn't fit in the building," said dinner co-chairman Jo Usher. Likewise, they stopped short of anything abjectly messy, such as body painting.
"I'm ready for that. But I'm not sure anybody else is," Corwin said.
No real kids were expected--but a few came. And watching the youngsters observe the adults, it became clear this was a night for adult regressions--not for children themselves. Erika Knickmeyer, 14, picked quietly at her artichoke pizza and the Milk Duds, which had been served as a centerpiece. The Bel-Air girl had come with her mother and sister, but said she felt a little out of place.
"It's a Saturday night," Knickmeyer said, in protest. "I would have liked to do other things. Be with some friends. Go somewhere."