The party's over, and waiters are taking up the wine-stained damask tablecloths. Guests are drifting to their cars, stuffed with veal and self-satisfaction.
But what's that over there? Oh, it's just a guest who paid $10,000 for his meal--trying to sneak out the door with a purloined centerpiece worth about $25.
On the big-money charity dinner circuit, no one would dare show up in a clip-on tie, or clean his teeth with a matchbook during dessert. No, at the power parties of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, bad taste comes on a much larger scale.
Sometimes it's celebrities who misbehave. For instance, smoking on the dais may or may not be in bad taste--but how about the nighttime soap star who horrified the crowd by doing just that at a benefit for the American Cancer Society?
Guests at another benefit several years back could hardly forget the evening's guest of honor, a former top star of the 1940s whose limousine was two hours late and who never made it inside once she pulled up. She had been nervous, sources said, and had kept the driver circling the block while she imbibed a liquid courage from the wet bar in the back seat.
Crossing the Line
Charities that concern themselves with man's inhumanity to man sometimes cross the line of bad taste as well. Take one Amnesty International party, where guests were shown real-life films of torture--after which a zealous party organizer chirped, "Let's eat!" to the stunned group.
At one Academy Awards viewing party, thrown as a benefit for another human rights organization, organizers used the commercial breaks in the Oscar telecast to show videotapes of atrocities that included graphic close-ups of dead and rotting bodies, leaving guests with forks poised halfway between plate and mouth.
Most charity functions provide alternatives for those who don't like or can't eat the dinner on the menu. But it wasn't a request for vegetarian or kosher food that inspired one cranky guest at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to demand that the kitchen make him up a plate of spaghetti. Party organizers all over town, well used to this man's sensitive palate and heavyweight clout, grit their teeth and prepare him whatever he likes when he shows up to an affair.
Most Execrable Taste
Discussing how much--or how little--something costs, is in the most execrable taste, most would agree. Most, that is, except one local captain of finance, who regaled his table companions at a Joffrey Ballet dinner with a laundry list of the price tags related to his recent home remodeling. The gentleman, who apparently wished to be thought of as another Donald Trump, instead came off as that other great American, George Babbitt.
Worse yet after an art auction benefiting the medical emergency charity Operation California, one $25,000 donor was so miffed when he wasn't mentioned in press coverage of the event that he stopped payment on his check.
And, believe it or not, even something as innocuous as a centerpiece can serve as a catalyst for human bad taste and greed. At one annual yuletide luncheon, the mistress of ceremonies finally had to forestall centerpiece squabbling by announcing that the person at each table whose birthday fell closest to her own would get to keep the favor. Were drivers licenses produced and examined? You bet.
Then there was the lavish premiere of "Ruthless People" at the Century Plaza Hotel, which featured especially striking centerpieces. They were all too attractive to sticky-fingered guests, and guards finally had to be set up at the escalators to keep guests from absconding with the Memphis-style vases that held the flowers.