It's a rare night on the high-ticket benefit-go-round that shards of real life and hard times pierce the facade.
One extraordinary exception is the annual bash held by the Interval House shelters for women who are victims of domestic violence--a glitz 'n' guts gala that by tradition leavens party frivolity with social relevance. This year was no exception.
Nearly 400 friends and supporters paid $150 each to attend Interval House's ninth annual auction-dinner-dance at the Ritz-Carlton on Saturday. The party took its theme from "The Phantom of the Opera."
The event netted about $140,000, according to Interval House co-founder Isa Smashey Rogers.
As in years gone by, the centerpiece of the evening was a 20-minute presentation by shelter "graduates"--women who fled abusive husbands and successfully rebuilt their lives.
While guests polished off their piano-shaped chocolate desserts (following a cocktail hour at the silent auction tables and dinner of smoked duck salad and veal medallions), the nine gowned grads gathered in the center of the dance floor. Passing a microphone, each in turn told of her ordeal, her escape, her psychological journey from being a victim to becoming a survivor.
"I suffered a beating that caused a loss of hearing," Graciela Ortiz said.
"In one year alone, my husband put me in the hospital five times," said Beverly, who asked that her last name not be used.
"The tears," Carmen Hazelwood said, "are still right behind my eyes."
Before dinner, Interval House associate director Carol Anne WilliamsL spoke proudly of the graduates and their role in "raising the consciousness" of the guests.
"When these women came to us, they thought their lives were over," she said. "Look at them tonight--they're beautiful, you can't tell them from any other society person here. And how many of us would have the guts to stand up as a teacher, sharing something traumatic that happened to us so that others could learn from it?"
Inspired by the grads' performance, guests bid furiously on live auction items, hawked by such celebrity auctioneers as former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown; French Consul-General Jean Michel Harzic; KNBC newscaster John Beard, and TV actors John Schuck, John Milford and Beverly Garland, honorary chairwoman.
The top bid of the evening came from Pat and Leo Marchand, who paid $13,500 for a first-class cruise from New York to London on the Queen Elizabeth II, five nights in London and a Concorde ride back to the United States.
Proceeds will be part of a capital fund drive to buy a new shelter, executive director Mary Walton said. Interval House operates out of shelters in Seal Beach and Midway City, but the lease on its three-bedroom home in Seal Beach expired in July.
"We won't be on the streets tomorrow," Walton said, but "we need a new home."
She told the guests: "I know this is not the most popular cause in the world. If you give to us, you're not going to get your name on a building that will go into the next century. This is not glamorous."
Nevertheless, she said: "A woman is beaten every 18 seconds (in the United States, and) 35% of the calls coming into police emergency lines are from victims of domestic violence. We're talking about a basic violation of the family structure. This is a real problem."