At a bargain $90 per person, the Huntington Harbour Cancer League pulled the rabbit out of the hat with "It's Magic," netting proceeds of $100,000 for the Orange County Unit of the American Cancer Society.
"The Huntington Harbour League is a cohesive group," unit president Dr. Steven Armentrout said during a silent auction that preceded a fashion show using Harbour residents as models. "They work hard together. This is the biggest event the American Cancer Society has in Orange County."
While Armentrout and 520 other guests calmly sipped cocktails in the Irvine Hilton & Towers ballroom Saturday night, the women models went gaga in their dressing room.
"Whoops, I think I have a problem here," said one, shimmying into a slinky gown. "I'm too fat for this!"
"Do I look all right?" another wailed.
"Not quite," answered a comrade. "I think you have the skirt on backwards."
Kitty Leslie, fashion coordinator for Newport Center-Fashion Island, explained: "The women have just seen their clothes for the first time. I blind-fit every one of them--picked out their fashions after they sent me their pictures and measurements."
Model Sally Fenton, a cancer survivor who headed the league's first benefit seven years ago, was feeling "iffy" about trying on clothes just minutes before the show. "I've never done a show this way," she said.
It was Fenton who brought to Huntington Harbour the idea of a fashion parade featuring neighbors-turned-models. "My sister-in-law had chaired a similar benefit in San Francisco for the Junior League," Fenton said, adjusting a belt on a futuristic Claude Montana knit. "And since the league had done the show for 60 years with great success, I knew it would be a winner."
(It has been a winner, all right. In its seven-year history, the annual benefit has netted $400,000 for the American Cancer Society, event organizers said.)
Some of the models' spouses were having jitters of their own. "I always worry about my wife falling off the ramp," said camera-toting Maury Stone of his wife, Karyn, who has modeled in six of the league's seven shows.
And league president Jeanie Barnett fretted over the full-length beaver coat that her husband was supposed to wear. "Don says it's just not him," Barnett said.
"That will be a hard one for dad," agreed her daughter, Shelley. "Dad's so macho . But then, he's so gorgeous, he'll be a hard act to follow."
As it turned out, each of the five male and 15 female models turned heads. Strutting confidently down a skirted ramp to tunes such as "Old Black Magic," they thrilled neighbors and family members, who whistled and applauded the peekaboo knits from Apropos, maxi and mini furs from M. Jacques, haughty Parisian suits from Anastasia, avant-garde wear from Ellesse and fashions for the ample-figured from the Forgotten Woman.
"The models don't just happen, " show-commentator Leslie said backstage. "The league women spend a year preparing. They have tryouts for women who want to model (male models are voted on by a special league committee), and they're judged by experts in the field--models, fashion directors, beauty consultants. Then, they practice with help from a modeling agency (John Robert Powers in Orange) and a choreographer (Carlton Burnett)."
What if they make a gaffe? "We tell them to exaggerate it," said Terry Simons, assistant to the choreographer. "Make it as big as possible, so the audience will think it was supposed to happen."
After a magical finale, guests settled down to dinner at tables decked out in crystal top hats and batons. On the menu: "Houdini" salad; "Copperfield" entree (a filet wrapped in filo dough); "Henning" disappearing dessert (and it disappeared--a dreamy combination of raspberry and white chocolate mousse).
A live auction and dancing followed dinner.
Committee members included co-chairmen Bobbitt Williams, Missy Prowell and Henny Huntsinger. Assisting were Ellen Goodwin; Garnet Banks; Dolores Olivarez; Marky Paugh; Molly Cuckler; Vicki Walker; Joyce Weiss; Shelley Kallick; Carole Viviano, and Churee Kakimoto.