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An 'Architect' Who Builds Dream Parties : Clive David's Fees Range From $50,000 to $150,000

April 27, 1987|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

CARLSBAD — What a conversation stopper:

"Have you ever seen a man's suit of armor fill up with water as he's waiting to get out of his gondola?"

Clive David continued, arching his eyebrows at the memory of that rainy masked ball in Italy. "Oh, I can't tell you all the crazy things that happen in this business."

He has stood in the ruins of the Citadel of King David alongside Golda Meir for Israel's 25th anniversary gala. He has made sure Marilyn Monroe wasn't late to sing "Happy Birthday" to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. He took care that Queen Elizabeth II didn't fall down an unlit flight of stairs during a visit to the Bahamas. "I mean, who wants to look at a toppled queen?" he asked.

He has had a lifetime of extraordinary adventures that he can dine out on for decades to come. And that is why this 52-year-old bicoastal Englishman is in such demand around the world as le dernier cri of party planners when VIPs want something more glitzy than a backyard barbecue. But he's not bad at that, either.

Just ask Patricia Kluge, wife of Metromedia mogul John W. Kluge. In 1985, David organized a "harvest barbecue" at the Kluges' Virginia estate as part of a weekend of festivities for 300 notables including King Constantine of Greece, Ann Getty and Norman Lear.

There was a whole buffalo roasting on the spit. Brass chandeliers hanging between horse stalls. And prize-winning cattle roaming during the cocktail hour.

But these bulls and cows were especially primed not to defecate.

It was David who found out that the cattle could be fed a dry diet ahead of time that was guaranteed to keep them from soiling the pristine white wood shavings on the floor of the barn. "His imagination is extraordinary," Patricia Kluge enthused. "I must say that I would never do any other project without Clive David."

Hired for Anniversary

That seems to be the feeling of many hosts and hostesses. Lorimar's Merv Adelson and Barbara Walters hired David to organize their four-month wedding anniversary in New York. So Adelson naturally tapped David to plan an even bigger event--an invitation-only Ultimate Weekend at the La Costa Hotel and Spa on Friday through Sunday to show off the resort's $85 million make over to 400 royals and Rothschilds, moguls and movie stars.

Adelson, one of La Costa's main investors, has so much confidence in the party planner that he and Walters flew off to China and Tibet "without," as Adelson's assistant noted, "a worry that the weekend will be anything less than perfect."

David, meanwhile, is working at a frantic pace to make sure it is. "We're talking about people coming from all over the world," he explained. "We're talking about three days and nights of meals, 175 hair appointments, innumerable golf outings, the works. It's the same as putting on a Broadway show with no dress rehearsals and no out-of-town tryouts. And, though it runs only a couple of nights, it needs to be structured like it could run forever."

Maxim No. 1: " People get in touch with me because of my reputation. They don't get me in the Yellow Pages. "

Who's Who in America lists his occupation as "party architect." But David is still smarting over a newspaper headline "that said I made my living as a 'party boy.' It made me sound like a flake who goes around partying all the time."

After a flurry of publicity, David often receives irate calls and letters. One man phoned in the 1970s to say, "You make me sick. Our boys are dying in Vietnam and there are people living on the streets and you're spending all this money on parties."

David was livid. "I said, 'Hold it. You show me what's wrong with a charity party that helped others and gave joy and provided employment, and call me back.' And then I hung up on him."

Parties for World Peace

He still gets criticism but handles it more gracefully nowadays. He might cite the time that Dr. Ralph Bunche called him a "valuable asset" for world peace because of a party he had planned at the United Nations. "And I said 'Why?' " David recounted. "And he said, 'We achieve more at a party like this than we ever do on the floor of the General Assembly.' "

In case anyone should misunderstand, David throws parties for other people, not for himself. And while he has extraordinary access to some of the wealthiest people around, he leaves the guest lists to his clients.

Maxim No. 2: "We live in a lobotomized, robotoid society. I get such palpitations and stress from incompetence that I'd rather put in the hours and do it myself."

David has no permanent staff. Instead, he uses answering machines to link up the office/homes in Beverly Hills and New York City that comprise his Party Enterprises Ltd. When he does need help, he hires people wherever he is working at the moment, be it Italy or Israel or Indiana.

For the La Costa weekend, David will have as his staff all 1,200 resort employees. Plus, he will involve 200 outside personnel, including printers, musicians and florists.

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