SAN DIEGO — On Friday, the Old Globe Theatre's Craig Noel most likely found it exceptionally worthwhile to be Craig Noel. Indeed, any of the 1,300 or so wildly enthusiastic Globe supporters who turned out to honor him on his 50th anniversary at the helm of the city's leading stage probably would have been absolutely delighted to be Noel for the evening.
Billed simply as "A Tribute to Craig Noel: The First 50 Years," the series of celebrations at the Sheraton Harbor Island Hotel feted the Globe's longtime executive producer.
Noel seemed remarkably unaffected by all the fuss, at least at the Tower Lounge reception for 100 major Globe contributors. That preceded the larger reception for Globe Guilders, given in the Champagne Ballroom, and the dinner for 400, in the Palomar Room.
"Tonight is an excuse to have a party for the membership. It's a membership party, and it's meant to honor them," Noel remarked modestly as he ordered a glass of soda water at the bar.
Noel agreed to speak briefly about his half-century of service to the Globe.
"I've always maintained that anyone else could have accomplished in 10 years what it has taken me 50 years to do," he said. "I'm a native San Diegan, and I don't travel well. I take the path of least resistance, so it doesn't surprise me very much that I just kept my nose to the grindstone and my shoulder to the wheel for 50 years. It was just natural for me to stay here."
Striking a reflective pose for a moment, Noel added that the Globe's current status seems to him a product of sustained but simple effort.
"If you keep on doing what you believe in, you'll end up having some success," he said.
(Was Noel excited about the honors heaped upon his shoulders that evening? Probably to a degree, but he evidently kept an even keel about the situation. His house guest, Globe conductor-in-residence Conrad Susa, said that just 20 minutes before leaving for the hotel, Noel busied himself in his living room taking down drapes that were scheduled for replacement.)
However, the various dignitaries gathered to praise Noel declined to allow him his unassuming stance.
Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif., who before the main reception briefly huddled behind the ballroom kitchen with County Supervisor Brian Bilbray and San Diego Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer), noted that while Mayor Maureen O'Connor had declared 1987 to be "The Year of Craig Noel," this really should be considered the "Century of Craig Noel."
'Funny Bones and Hearts'
"Mayors come and go, and supervisors shuffle offices, but Craig Noel has touched innumerable funny bones and hearts," said the freshman senator.
After his formal introduction by actor Robert Hays, the evening's master of ceremonies, Noel quipped, "As members, you should not ask what the organization can do for you, but what you can do for the organization." Just as the audience prepared to giggle, Noel added, "Senator Biden gave me that remark!"
The mass gala concluded, a somewhat smaller group proceeded down the hall for the dinner for major donors. (Darlene Shiley, who provided primary underwriting for the event, arrived late and breathless after having driven to the neighboring Sheraton Grand and wondering why she couldn't locate the party.)
Toasts kept the dinner (and the servers, who constantly rushed to pour more wine) moving at a lively pace. Those paying tribute included Sister Sally Furay, current Globe board president; longtime theater supporter Delza Martin, and Shiley, who said that her toast to Noel consisted of but one word, which was "Thankyou." (Hays called Noel "Our own Bard of San Diego, and one of the swellest guys I ever met.")
Globe Artistic Director Jack O'Brien, not to be outdone in the accolade department, delighted the crowd by rising and announcing, "I am sick to death of the name 'Craig Noel!' We are having a saccharin attack tonight!"
However, his tribute was as sweet as the others, and he followed it by reading a poem sent by actor David Ogden Stiers that took a Shakespearean turn of phrase and was a rather nifty compliment to the man of the hour.
Deborah Szekely and her son Alex joined Leslie Fox, Danah Fayman, actress Marion Ross and indefatigable Globe supporters Jim and Dolly Poet in hosting the evening.
Among the guests were Jack and Mona Schultz, Vic and Sondra Ottenstein, Mike and Katy Dessent, Henk and Suzanne Henselaar, Bill Eaton, Darlene Davies with Paul Marshall, Helen Edison, Dallas and Mary Clark, Ken and Dixie Unruh, Claire Tavares, Luba Johnston with Charles Hostler, Jim and Ruth Mulvaney, Tom Corcoran, Judy Joliat with Don McVay, Tom Hall, Ken and Kathy Newton, Roger and Ellen Revelle, Jacques and Annyce Sherman, John and Sally Thornton, and Terry and Crickett Nickle.
Yes, they ate cake at the first Marie Antoinette Halloween Costume Ball.