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Ann Conway

The Duke Would Have Loved Art Museum's Birthday Bash

September 09, 1987|Ann Conway

John Wayne would have loved it: No sissy cake and candles for the Newport Harbor Art Museum when it celebrated its 25th anniversary with a Western-themed "Birthday Barbecue Bash."

Not even close. Instead, 550 guests got their hoedown sweets served up he-man style: tarts tied to leaves from a yucca tree.

Wayne's widow, Pilar, was the honorary chairwoman of the Monday night event that raised an estimated $70,000 for the museum's operations fund.

"This is a special night for me," she said, arriving on the arm of her first husband, Richard Weldy (to whom she was married for eight months in 1950) and the man who introduced her to the Duke (whom she married in 1954).

"I've watched the museum grow and grow and grow," she said.

In fact, the museum's association with Pilar and John Wayne has been a long one. When it was struggling to become known in contemporary art circles, the museum staged art exhibitions and benefits on the Wild Goose, the Wayne yacht.

Recalling one benefit aboard the Wild Goose, the exotic-looking Peruvian, whose memoir, "John Wayne, My Life with the Duke," has just been published by McGraw Hill, said: "People came for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres throughout the day."

And for Monday's event, an image of a young John Wayne--Stetson slung low over his forehead--graced the sepia-toned 25th anniversary bash invitation.

"When you're going to have a party that celebrates the West, who else do you think of?" asked museum director Kevin Consey, 35, who wore his own Stetson to the party.

Guests, who had donated $75 to $500 each to attend, ambled about the museum's hay-strewn parking lot, dining on Tex-Mex cuisine that included chicken and beef fajitas, jalapeno chilis and crab quesadillas. Also on the menu was mesquite-grilled chicken and ribs. Then there were the tarts--1,000 of them--tied to 10 yucca trees. (When guests desired a treat, Four Seasons hotel pastry chef Judy Sagamia simply wielded her scissors and lopped off a leaf). "How novel," Andrea McClintock said. "Dessert on trees!"

While seated at tables decorated with cactus centerpieces, guests watched exhibitions of the Texas two-step and square dancing. "I loved square dancing as a boy, " said TV writer-producer Earl Hamner, author of "The Homecoming," the book that inspired the series, "The Waltons."

"It was part of life," said Hamner, who was "John-Boy" in real life. "Now, you rarely see it. It's become folk dancing."

It was Hamner and his wife, Jane, who introduced event chairman Sam Goldstein and his wife, Pamela, to Orange County when the two couples lived in Studio City.

"The Hamners would visit Laguna Beach every summer," Goldstein said. "And they'd invite us down. Well, Pam and I fell in love with Laguna and moved there permanently in 1978."

There was just one tension-producer for Sam Goldstein during the anniversary bash: Where was country singer Tammy Wynette, who, for $9,000, was to perform on stage at 8:30 p.m.? "She was going to arrive about 5:30 (p.m.)," he fretted, as the clock struck eight.

Not to worry. After Goldstein took the stage to introduce his committee, he spotted Wynette's silver bus--the Tammy I--steaming up the hill beside the museum. "Oh my goodness, here they come. That's Tammy folks!" he yelled to the fidgety crowd at 8:45 p.m.

Not all the guests, who had been partying since 4 p.m., stayed to hear Wynette close with her classic hit, "Stand By Your Man." Wayne and Weldy ducked out early to catch the red eye to New York, where she would discuss the serialization of her book by the National Enquirer.

But about 200 guests did stay to see Goldstein win the coveted door prize, a Honda LXI donated by Bill Leslie of University Honda in Costa Mesa.

"I'm so embarrassed," Goldstein said, after Wynette drew his ticket. "I bought five tickets at $100 each. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it. I have an apartment in Los Angeles, maybe I'll put it there."

Attending the bash were museum donors John and Donna Crean (she said she'd been standing by her man "since 1948 and the bottom line is: He's the boss"); museum board president Rogue Hemley and his wife, Judy; Joan and George Thagard, a rancher who raises "sheep in Australia and Christmas trees in Texas"; country singer Jeff Pearson, who donated his performance; museum curator Paul Schimmel and his wife, Yvonne; Susan Consey, and Aissa Wayne, daughter of Pilar and John Wayne.

Others included museum trustees Jack Shea and his wife, Marion; Michael Shea and his wife, Christina; Jacquelyn Schmitt, with Norman; Harold and Sandy Price; Michael and Nancy Meyer; Jim and Sharon Henwood; Tom Rogers, attending with Pat England, and Warren and Joanne Fix.

Committee members included Hancock Banning III; Sandy Beigel; E.G. Chamberlin; Beverly Diamond; Bruce Eisenhauer; Alison Baker Frenzel; Nora Lehman; Jane Cope Pence; Michael Perkins; Susan Porter; Gloria Gae Schick; Judy Slutzky; Jacquelyn Schmitt, and Jay Young.

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