A little confusing, a little hectic--but who could argue with an evening that just might wind up raising $1 million for United Cerebral Palsy Assns.
So what if there were some minor glitches--that the crowd in the packed ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Friday night ate dinner accompanied by a continual auction conducted by Merv Griffin, Donna Mills and Robin Leach, making conversation only a dim memory. Or that the cocktail reception was another auction (this one silent). Or that there was some confusion as to what was being auctioned off during dinner, because the programs and auction lists never made it to the tables. Or that a moving speech by honoree Leonard Goldenson got punctuated by a sound-man's voice being played out of one of the speakers. Or that a spotlight exploded and shattered over the heads and into the food of Suzanne de Passe and her husband, Paul le Mat. Or that after five hours of entertainment and selling, Bob Hope seemed to wrap up the evening and then the Gay Men's Chorus was suddenly on the stage singing "Hooray for Hollywood."
Dinner chair Nancy Zarif said that she was hoping for the $1 million from dinner and auction (no final tally was available Sunday), just one stop in the several days of celebrity and sports activities that encompass the fifth annual Mita Festival, the first held in L.A.
Despite the glitches, there were touching moments when the honorees received their awards--probably nothing more graphic then when TV executive Goldenson told about the founding of UCPF after discovering that his middle daughter had been hurt at birth. He said he went to top people in the entertainment industry, asking them, "How do you sell this . . . do we show the grimaces on children?" When the idea came up to "glamorize it," to include stars in fund-raising and educational efforts, there were 40,000 babies born every year with CP--because of German measles, or whooping cough or problems at birth. Now, Goldenson said, the number is 10,000.
The major honorees of the evening also managed a great deal of warmth--John and Nancy Ritter (his brother has CP) talking about their 10 years of involvement with the annual telethon, or when Henry Winkler, who annually takes part in the telethon, explained how much more involvement still was needed.
But up to this point, the evening was black-tie entrapment. Even for a benefit-blase crowd, usually immune to whatever lengths an evening can produce, this night seemed to have no end. When Winkler received his award and kidded, "I think what we need more of right now is some bidding," Ritter went into a classic pratfall.
Maybe that's what happens when you get someone like producer Aaron Spelling to chair the auction committee. He just does too good a job, with items like a $20,000 Blackgama from Somper Furs, a 1988 Scorpio, a walk-on role on "Moonlighting," a week in Singapore, two round-trips to New York via MGM Grand Air and a week at the Waldorf Astoria--and on, and on, and on. The crowd was not attentive, prompting Robin Leach to intone, "Is everybody listening--or are you waiting for your fish or beef?"
Certainly the biggest prize was the fabulous necklace on Candy Spelling, who with Aaron was hosting Merv Griffin and Eva Gabor, who was wearing a startling turquoise set. "I am embarrassed, darling, to say I bought this myself," the pretty Gabor explained.
Doug Cramer and his date, Ames Cushing, along with dinner guests Jennifer O'Neill and her date, Coastal Commissioner Mark Nathanson, and John and Julie Forsythe had a dinner experience right from "Love Boat." While Emma Samms was up modeling during the auction, a fellow everyone assumed was her date joined the table. She returned, the evening continued, and it was only in the course of introducing him that it was apparent that the fellow knew no one at the table.
Many 'Daytime People'
There were stars--but the list of "celebrities" contained what seemed to be a lot of unknown names. "They're daytime people," CBS veep George Berntsen told Penny Thomopoulous and Bob and Nancy Daly. "A lot of daytime people."
Nancy Daly might have had the most special jewelry on, one of the woven friendship bracelets that the teen-agers tie on each other to wear until they fall off. Her daughter Linda had tied hers on during a Grateful Dead Concert, she explained, and indeed she was going to wear it until it came undone.
The ballroom was set up to resemble a 1930s Art Deco nightclub--and Michael Feinstein really brought on the applause, joined for a few numbers by Rosemary Clooney, who told the audience how much she loved Stacey and Henry Winkler.
Seen in the audience--Jane and Marc Nathanson, Wallis Annenberg and Dr. John Gerace, Tova and Ernest Borgnine, Henry and Jayne Berger, Bernie and Ellen Byrens, Margaret and Howard Weitzman. "Thank God, someone bid $72,000 on the Arabian horse," ABC VP Ilene Berg told some friends. "I had been talking, gesticulating with my hands, and the guy said, 'OK. We have $68,000.' "