It was only 30 minutes into "Getting Sentimental," the benefit for KCET Channel 28 staged at the Hollywood Palladium last week, and already Newport's Mel Jaffe was discussing girdles. Mimicking Hepburn. Doing Durante. Recalling World War II.
"When I was a kid, I'd hitchhike to Hollywood, go to a radio show and pray I'd get picked to do an audience warm-up," Jaffe said. "They'd give us a girdle to wiggle into or a brassiere to try on. The audience would be hysterical by the time the show went on the air."
The Palladium, the 46-year-old dancing emporium with the stardust ceiling, does that to people. Catapults them into reverie. Crumbles the protective layer that hides long-held dreams of making it big in Tinseltown.
Jaffe said he wanted to be a comedian until he found out it was hard work. "I loved to make people laugh. I'd do Katharine Hepburn: 'Reahhhhhllly. My calla lilies are reahhhhhlllly cahhhhhla lihhhlies.' And Durante: 'Yah gotta start off each day wit a sonnng! And even when things go wronnng, you'll feel bettah, you'll even look bettah. . . .'
"And the Palladium will always brings back World War II to me. I was just a kid. My uncle, Irv Cottler, performed here. Now he plays drums for Sinatra." Jaffe, president of National Lumber, had limoed up from Harbor Island on Thursday with wife Raya to join other nostalgia-hungry Orange County residents and hundreds of Angelenos who paid $200 per person to dine and dance to KCET's taping of "Sentimental Swing: The Music of Tommy Dorsey." The 90-minute show will air on PBS stations across the nation this summer. Over dinner catered by Rococo, Newport's Bobbie Stabler (whose father Percy Guth co-produced "Around the World in 80 Days" with Mike Todd) remembered the Palladium as "so exciting. And we were all sooooo young. First time I came, a girl with a gardenia tray asked me if I'd like to buy a flower. I said, 'Yes!' And the poor sailor I was dating had to give her 50 cents. It was all the money he had.
"Later, my husband Bill and I danced here, and I could hardly wait until I'd be old enough to go upstairs to the real bar. Downstairs was soft drinks for those underage." Trekking to Hollywood was especially significant for Newport's Steve Marosi, attending with wife, Hedda. In the late '40s, Marosi was chief technician for David O. Selznick. With the producer, Marosi designed the world's first acetate recording and playback machine. "In those days they didn't have anything like magnetic tapes," he said. "All of the sound was on film tracks. That meant you had to have the film developed before you could play it back to hear what it sounded like. My invention allowed a record to be cut on stage and played back immediately."
As for the millions you think Marosi made on the invention, forget it. "I was simply doing my job," he said.
For the inventor, the Palladium is synonymous with the big bands. "I think I saw all of them before the war. Harry James, Stan Kenton, Tommy Dorsey. . . . I was at the Palladium within two months of it being opened (in 1940, with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra serenading 10,000). I remember seeing a very young Judy Garland there." Newport's Elizabeth Tierney (husband Tom was at the Laguna Art Museum) confided that her parents had met at the Palladium in the '40s. "They met one year, and I was born in January of the next!"
Allows the Innovative
Between courses of caviar soup presented with vodka straight-up, racks and racks of lamb, French vanilla ice cream dusted with chocolate and drizzled with creme de cocoa, endless petit fours and personally boxed chocolates, Newport's Judy Rosener, a KCET board member, shared the philosophy of public television. "Since it is not beholden to advertisers, public television can develop programming that may have a very small market--opera, for instance, and documentaries. . . .
"Commercial television has to appeal to a broad audience. Public television allows the innovative. Most people don't realize that 70% of all of KCET's operations funds come from viewers."
Rosener, assistant dean of the Graduate School of Management at UC Irvine, emphasized that she also supports Orange County's public television station, KOCE Channel 50. "But I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I've had an affinity for this station since its beginning. And KCET is really a station for all of Southern California."
As the show was taped and heart-melters like Mel Torme, Jack Jones and Maureen McGovern took the stage to croon Dorsey classics, guests were invited to dance before the cameras. Whirling with wife, Darlene, Pacific Mutual board Chairman Walter Gerken of Corona del Mar received a friendly nod from actor John Forsythe. The "Dynasty" star was seated front and center with wife Julie, Walter Matthau and Jayne Seymour, among others.
'Romantic' Dress Code
Darlene explained that she and Walter are mutual friends of Forsythe's tennis partner, Peter Mullin. "Peter is an agent at Pacific Mutual. He and John play tennis once a week at John's house," she said.
Darlene, who bowed to the "romantic" dress code in a flared silk skirt and pearl-edged blouse, confided that she and Walter (formerly on the KCET board) always go to the Mullins' Christmas party. "Linda Evans comes and John and his wife Julie, of course. John always gives me a big kiss, and I say to myself, 'Me? John Forsythe is kissing meeee ?' " Also among Orange County residents attending the affair were Joe Rosener (Judy's husband), Elaine and Martin Weinberg of Santa Ana and Betsy Sanders of Anaheim, a vice president of Nordstrom. The event, staged by the KCET Women's Council, was expected to net $200,000.