SAN DIEGO — Thank goodness centennials only happen once every 100 years. This kind of nonstop partying can cause circuit overload.
Even for George Burns, who declared to an elevator full of ga-ga fans that he was glad to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Hotel Del Coronado because "there aren't many things around older than I am."
Or aging so well, either, George.
Indeed, the star of the multimillion-dollar bash was the beachfront resort, awash even before this extravaganza with historic hype--its turrets supposedly the model for the City of Oz, its banquet rooms supposedly the first meeting place of the then Prince of Wales and Mrs. Wallis Simpson, its beaches where Marilyn Monroe kept Billy Wilder and co-stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis waiting and waiting during the shooting of "Some Like It Hot."
Hot and Star-Studded
The weekend was definitely hot. Dozens of stars (some a little vintage, like the hotel itself) mingled with $5,000-a-couple party-goers who helped raise $1.6 million for 22 of their favorite charities through the weekend events. Dick Van Patten, Debbie Reynolds, Cornell Wilde, Lloyd Bridges, Glenn Ford, Ruth Buzzi and Ruby Keeler were just a few of the famous faces floating through the masterful party scene created by Dallas' Wendy Moss. By the time the Navy did its fly-by over Sunday brunch and the centennial time capsule was sealed, the guests had bounced between decade-themed parties Friday night, celebrity tennis tournaments, fashions shows and smokers and wound up with a massive banquet under thousands of yards of rose-covered arbors, done in the style of the dinner that welcomed Charles Lindbergh back after his historic flight. After the banquet, all gathered for a show that included Burns, Dionne Warwick and Phyllis Diller and ended with a stage full of what could have been the Famous Faces of 1944 singing "God Bless America."
Food was everywhere--all done by the hotel chef, massive tables filled with crab and oysters, candy stores with Mary Janes and Baby Ruths, from deli to Chinese ("Eat the Chinese," one experienced party-goer advised. "Even bad Chinese food isn't bad.") But everything was good, too good, like the make-your-own sundae Ruby Keeler was seen creating in the soda shop along the Main Street set that filled the hotel's center courtyard. Iron Horse Vineyard's Joy Sterling and Forrest Tancer chowed down on fresh veggies from bushel baskets (that's what happens when you start to live in the country), and there were endless pastries and, to wash it down, booze served from coffee cups in the Speakeasy. "It's easy to do this party," the Del's owner Larry Lawrence proclaimed. "All you need is $3 million--and the Del."
A Bemedaled Crowd
And the medallions, always the medallions, perhaps the greatest party innovation of this decade. To make sure that only Centennial guests had entree, men were issued large, goldish medals on broad red ribbons, women a thin "gold" bracelet--the medallioned crowd resembled a convention of winetasters or aging gymnasts.
The weekend partying began Friday night, with many guests opting to dress a la a past decade. Like Point Loma's Al and Carol Palmietto in letter sweaters--she even had a circle pin, "But I can't remember which side you wear it," she said, referring to '50s lore and the way of knowing good girls from the not-so-good girls. Ruta Lee did everyone one better, and wore her costumes from "Hello Dolly" through the entire weekend. The weekend worked, as both somewhat jejune celebs and certainly star-struck ticket buyers bought in on having a good time. "I'm having a really good time," producer Sherry Lansing proclaimed late in the evening as she danced past in the Thomas Edison club. A floor away, Billy Curtis, who played the mayor of the Munchkins in the original "Wizard of Oz," held forth and the Del's Lawrence and his wife, Jeannie, entertained in the Del Morocco.
Mary Martin surveyed the piles of caviar and announced: "This is what I am concentrating on." Actor Steve Kanaly of TV's "Dallas" in the sergeant's uniform he wore in Vietnam, was explaining his battle ribbons, but added: "I can still get the uniform on--that's what I'm proudest about."
Bunny Wrather was there with Bill Moss--"Wendy used to be known as Bill's daughter," the ebullient Bunny said, "But now . . ." Also present--Wendy's mom, actress Jane Withers.
Images From the Past
In from Hawaii, Tony Curtis (whose paintings now bring between $10,000 and $20,000) talked about pictures--moving pictures, pointing out the various spots used in the filming of "Some Like It Hot." Lining one of paneled staircases were more tragic pictures, haunting photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.