"I like to have a lot of birthdays."
So said Dr. Armand Hammer, chairman and CEO of Occidental Petroleum and master of U.S.-Soviet relations, who celebrated his 89th birthday Sunday with 400 close, personal friends.
They kissed him, hugged him, wished him well, patted him on the back, had pictures taken with him, praised him and sang to him over the course of the five-hour-long evening at the Beverly Wilshire.
The party began even before the birthday boy arrived (Hammer's actual birthday is May 21), with celebrities and celebrated businessmen and women crowding the lobby, giving TV cameras something to look at. Jimmy and Gloria Stewart took a table in the back early on, as did Sybil Brand and Cesar Romero.
Also braving the mob scene were Marvin and Barbara Davis, Carl and Estelle Reiner, Harriet and Armand Deutsch, Jane and Jerry Weintraub, Anna Bing Arnold, Pat and Michael York, Dear Abby and husband Morton Phillips, Ann Landers, Merv Griffin and Eva Gabor, Mayor Tom Bradley and wife Ethel, Gregory and Veronique Peck, Art and Lois Linkletter, Robert and Millicent Wise, Sherry Lansing, Danny and Rose Marie Thomas, Dinah Shore and Charlton Heston.
The Birthday Boy
Hammer made his entrance without fanfare--until the cameras spotted him and he was swallowed in a sea of tuxedos and billowy ball gowns. Behind him was his wife, Frances, who stopped to chat with friends along the way, women who made a fuss over her ivory lace dress and necklace of diamonds, cabochon emeralds and sapphires.
"Dr. Hammer thinks he's going to be around forever," said Dr. Robert Gale, the UCLA bone marrow transplant specialist who flew on Hammer's private jet to the Soviet Union to help victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster last year. "My own feeling is that he likes to entertain his friends. The important thing is not that it's his 89th birthday."
Guests filtered into the ballroom for entertainment and dinner, the former provided by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (an old Hammer friend), Ludmilla Lopukhova and Simon Dow from the San Francisco Ballet and opera star Placido Domingo.
Griffin handled his emcee duties with aplomb, introducing guests, reading telegrams, making quips and stalling for time when Domingo missed his entrance cue. Congratulatory notes came from President Reagan, Frank and Barbara Sinatra, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Prince Charles, Vice President George Bush, Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr., and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
This was followed by dinner and dancing, and much chatter as guests abandoned their tables and gathered in clusters around the room. Seen about were Merv Adelson and Barbara Walters, Earle and Marion Jorgensen, Jean and William French Smith, Brandon and Lilly Tartikoff, Sen. Albert Gore and wife Pauline, Joan and Ray Irani (he's president of Occidental Petroleum) and Rosemary Tomich (a director of Occidental).
The party took on the feel of a family get-together as guests took the microphone and bestowed best wishes on Hammer. Soviet Ambassador Yuri Dubinin conveyed congratulations from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Helen Boehm (of the porcelain company) presented Hammer with a porcelain bluebird, and attorney Louis Nizer toasted the Hammers. During dinner there was a surprise visit from a Chinese delegation of officials who arrived en masse, surrounded by unsmiling men with microphones in their ears, and gave Hammer a framed picture of two cranes, symbols of longevity.
The evening concluded with songs from Shore and French chanteuse Line Renaud, and two rounds of "Happy Birthday to You" from Jane Morgan Weintraub. A giant cake was wheeled out on stage and, as the audience stood to applaud, Hammer took the podium to thank his friends for being present. He went on to give a sketchy version of his involvement with the 1985 Geneva summit, the Nicholas Daniloff affair, his opinions on the Reykjavik talks ("It was a success, although people said it was a failure"), and added that he believes there will be a U.S.-Soviet summit this fall.
"It will be the most productive of all," he said. "Mr. Gorbachev will tell us that what he really wants is the well-being of the Russian people." Hammer closed by praising the work of Dr. Steven Rosenberg, who has made breakthroughs in cancer research through immunotherapy.
Most guests didn't stay for birthday cake, but filtered out after saying their goodbys to the Hammers. Even the hosts couldn't afford to dally, since they were jetting to the Soviet Union the next day where Hammer was to receive an award for his efforts promoting world peace. That's just the start of a two-week trip that will include stops in Budapest and in London to see Prince Charles.
"He never thinks about his age," Frances Hammer said of her husband. "He's 89, I'm 85. You have to keep moving it or you lose it."