It was, for a change, a show that was worthy of the $250 dinner ticket.
The Starlight Foundation's fifth anniversary benefit at the Century Plaza Friday night featured singers Bette Midler, Diane Schuur, Melissa Manchester, Dionne Warwick, Rosemary Clooney and Burt Bacharach and wife Carole Bayer Sager--all of whom had come to pay tribute to the man of the evening, Barry Manilow.
Manilow received the foundation's humanitarian award for his support of the foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill children and young adults. Manilow has donated proceeds from concerts to Starlight and has helped out with wish granting for the organization, founded in 1983 by actress Emma Samms and her cousin and manager, Peter Samuelson. The take from this event, which was fully underwritten, according to Samuelson, was targeted at $350,000.
It was a long evening but a sit through-able one. At 7 p.m. the thousand or so guests made their way through a $1-per-game "carnival" set up for the evening, featuring midway games like ring-toss and balloon-darting. Judging from the toys, stuffed animals and other loot guests were cramming into shopping bags, there were a lot of winners.
While that carnival was going on, another was taking place in the lobby nearby, as stars dropped in for the requisite photo opportunity. Paparazzi and guests with Instamatics elbowed one another for space to glimpse Marlee Matlin, Richard Dreyfuss, Sandy Duncan, Manilow and the Bacharachs. Steven Spielberg and Amy Irving had their own mini-photo opp off to the side. Also spotted were Jackee and John Stamos (Starlight's National Youth Ambassador), who hosted portions of the show.
When Elizabeth Taylor arrived, there was bedlam. The megastar wore a violet satin gown with Major Earrings and floated up to the platform with that faraway, dreamy look in her eyes. She was escorted by George Hamilton, who stood on the sidelines smiling slightly, tanned the color of redwood siding.
When the couple took their seats for dinner in the ballroom, Hamilton couldn't help but show off one of La Liz's best assets--her jewels. He took That Diamond Ring and showed it to the guests at the next table, taking it around to each person. "It was gorgeous !" exclaimed one woman who actually got to try It on her finger. "Mine doesn't even compare," she said, showing her multidiamond dinner ring which did, to be honest, look a little shabby in comparison.
After speeches and the presentation of the Founder's award to Carl Icahn, chairman of the board of TWA (who made a bid for support of his own charity helping homeless children), came the entertainment. The jazz/pop theme of the evening was highlighted by Midler, who did some shtick, sang "Do You Wanna Dance" and told some choice anecdotes about her early days working with Manilow. "I had a burning desire to learn every song ever written," she said, "and he had a burning desire to make them all into medleys."
Manilow, who also performed a song and thanked those who were making a fuss over him, said in his acceptance speech: "The last time anything like this ever happened to me must've been my bar mitzvah. I owe you one, all of you."