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ANN CONWAY

New Owners Plan to Share Wayne Digs

February 03, 1989|ANN CONWAY

Could they? Would they? Will they? Those are the kind of questions that society types have been asking since the sale of the former John Wayne mansion in Newport Beach hit the papers last week.

Will Beverly and Robert Cohen--who owns a development firm in Los Angeles and half-interest in the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills--throw open their $6.5-million doors to Gatsby-esque socials? To charity bashes? To, dare we ponder it, home tours?

Well, reach for the smelling salts. The answer is an unqualified yes.

In fact, Beverly said with a tiny sigh from her suite at the Four Seasons: "I was offended that the cost of the house was paraded so much in the papers. I would like to emphasize the philanthropic side of things."

Things such as the fact that Beverly has regularly opened her Palos Verdes home, where the couple has raised rare orchids, birds and koi fish, to the Palos Verdes Garden Club for tours. And things such as the fund-raiser for the Sephardic Hebrew Academy that she will chair May 31 at the Los Angeles Hilton Hotel. That event will salute Wallis Annenberg, daughter of Walter Annenberg; former President Gerald R. Ford and his wife, Betty, will be honorary chairmen. Beverly also sits on the board of the Jewish Home for the Aged in Northridge.

One cause that she hopes to champion from her new digs on Newport Bay is the John Wayne Cancer Clinic at UCLA Medical Center. "We're thinking about doing something for that," she said, "because cancer is such a dread disease and we have lost so many dear friends to it."

She isn't acquainted with the county's "charity needs" and will have to live here awhile to get a feel for what she will want to do, Beverly said. "But I certainly want to do something a couple of times a year."

Beverly--who back when her husband was earning $15 a week "dreamed of living on a bay someday"--said she has ordered eight beds for the house and plans to hole up there on weekends until everything comes together.

First on the list: renovation of the 60-foot dock area to accommodate the couple's 120-foot ("125 feet with the swim step") yacht, P'zazz. They plan to christen it with some friends this weekend in Seattle, where it was built, and then take it soon on its maiden voyage--into the waters of Mexico with a stop in Acapulco.

Plans for the mansion include the addition of a "morning room," a circular, glassed-in space separate from the 9,000-square-foot house, Beverly said. "Our whole concept of living is to combine the outdoors with the indoors. We even like to dine outside in the winter with heaters!"

And what of that memorable projection room where the Duke displayed his Oscar and his collection of kachina dolls, and where a silver screen dropped from the ceiling? It will be converted to a multilevel space, Beverly said, and include "a pool table, a nice bar and a projection room."

The couple plan to create a "greenhouse effect" in their new home. "When you walk through the front door, we want it to have that greenhouse feeling," Beverly said. (The couple's two greenhouses in their for-sale Palos Verdes manse contain thousands of home-grown orchids.)

Above all, the Cohens want their home to be casual and welcoming. "We want to share the good life with our family and friends," said Beverly, mother of three--Ernest, 36; Eleda, 34, and Michelle, 30--and grandmother of two.

Perhaps the crowning glory for locals, aside from the chance to share in the Cohens' love of philanthropy, will be the monument to John Wayne that the pair hope to erect on the property. "We don't know what it will be yet, but we want it to be something that will make his memory lasting," Beverly said.

A little night music: "It was the most delightful evening I've ever had," said Newport's Raya Jaffee of the time she spent Saturday sitting next to Gregory Peck. "He is such a nice person--really charming, modest, sincere, genuine, just a wonderful man!"

The occasion was the tribute to Robert Wise, the Academy Award-winning director-producer. Wise, who directed "The Sound of Music" and "West Side Story," was presented with an honorary fellowship from Tel Aviv University in ceremonies at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

Raya's husband, Mel--president of National Lumber--has established the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at the university, where he has also endowed a chair for international trade. He is also past president of the Western Region of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, sponsors of the Laureate of Distinction dinner.

Also among locals who mingled with such stars as Eva Marie Saint, Burt Lancaster, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris: Marvin and Pat Weiss, Florence and Jack Berlin, William Ingram and Anne and Jacob Entin.

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