Washington and Hollywood made a new connection Saturday night as the Kennedy Center headed west for its California debut. Herb Hutner, the chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on the Arts, surveyed the crowded ballroom. "It's an absolute sellout," he said, this first-ever Hollywood Salutes the Kennedy Center Honors. He was pleased but pragmatic about the possibility of repeating the successful event. "My term of office expires this year. If George Bush wins, and I think he will, we'll have it again next year."
Hutner and his wife, Juli, had packed the Grand Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton with tables of politico-cultural types, enough Kitchen Cabineteers to adorn a White House dinner and sufficient artistic royalty to signify that the evening, somewhat of a reprise of the Kennedy Center Honors gala in Washington, had real merit on its own.
For 10 years, the honors not only have helped finance the national cultural center in Washington, but also focused attention on America's greatest performing artists. The evening was a second-time-around honor for theatrical maestro George Abbott, Lucille Ball, choreographers Katherine Dunham and Alwin Nikolais, and Hollywood's own Jimmy Stewart.
All but Ball showed up for a reasonable amount of deserved adulation, the presentation of Pascal sculptures, reshowing of the biographical films that had been part of their honors ceremony in Washington, and some short and sweet statements from the likes of composer Henry Mancini, dancer Cyd Charisse and Milton Berle (insisting that he and Lucy were so close, they had even shared dresses).
The audience loved it--and any benefit organizer would have loved that audience. Marvin Davis, asked if he had bought anything lately, replied, without missing a beat, "Yes, New Hampshire." Barbara Davis was busy chatting it up with former Time Inc. executive Ralph Davidson, the new chairman of the Kennedy Center, who said he is intent on raising $75 million, "as quick as I can." (The philanthropic Davises would surely be a good place to start.)
The event was exciting and eclectic, and if such honors were given out, Juli Hutner would be up for this year's award for the warmest, friendliest and even fairly fast-paced evening of tributes. (The show itself was produced by Mike Seligman, and he, like Herb Hutner, had brought in his wife, Jan, to help--and of course that is the best way to get things done in Hollywood.)
Shirlee Fonda (her late husband, Henry, was a Kennedy Center honoree in 1979) sat with Henry's son, Peter Fonda, at a table that included producer Doug Cramer and Larry and Maj Hagman. Bunny Wrather (another member of the President's Advisory Committee) was there with Martin Manulis. Reaganites abounded, like former Ambassador to the Vatican William and Betty Wilson, Marion and Earle Jorgensen (seated with Jimmy and Gloria Stewart), and Erlenne and Norman Sprague. Faces around the room--Henry and Jayne Berger, Verna Harrah with Quincy Jones, Contessa Cohn, attorney Mickey and Mary Carol Rudin, Peggy Parker and Walter Grauman, Katherine and Arpad Domyan, Lady Dodge, Alexis Smith (who did the emceeing honors), Kathy and Rick Hilton, Mary and Brad Jones and Felisa Vanoff (her husband, Nick, produces the annual Washington-based honors show) with her son, Nick Jr.
There were wonderful impromptu moments--like the starlet-style woman who rushed out of the crowd to hug a bemused George Abbott when the spotlight hit him, for one minute getting the chance to share that glow. Or Berle, asking a piano-moving stagehand if he needed help and getting a quick "No, do you?" in reply. It didn't faze Berle. He countered with, "We have a writers' strike and they are writing for stagehands," a line worthy of the Kennedy Center Honors.
MOVING AND SHAKING--The crowd in the back yard at the home of Tony Thomopoulos and Cristina Ferrare was heavy-hitting enough for a Senate campaign. But, no, the candidate was running for Beverly Hills municipal judge.
The crowd had turned out because Brian Braff and his wife, Nichole David, a partner in Triad Artists, have terrific connections in the Hollywood community. "And he's the good candidate," Thomopoulos announced.
That assessment was also given by super-litigator Howard Weitzman, who, with his wife, Margaret, co-hosted the reception. Among the guests: Dionne Warwick, Wayne Rogers, producer Bernie and Debbie Brillstein, TV mogul Chuck Fries, John and Nancy Ritter, attorneys Howard Price and Walter Teller, and Braff's law partner, Arlen Andelson, and his wife, Michelle.