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ROBIN ABCARIAN : A Date With Matron Saint of the Singles

February 21, 1992|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Outside the party, in the bar of the Bel Age Hotel, the shy young lawyer is belting back a drink. Recently divorced, she's too rattled to enter unfortified. This is, after all, her first singles event.

She doesn't really need a drink. She needs Dianne Bennett.

Inside, in a covered patio area rented for the occasion, Bennett is working the room. Hostess of a weekly get-together for singles, she lets no one stand on the sidelines. Her hand is always attached to someone's elbow. And the elbows are always changing. Hanging back is verboten. Bennett would rather introduce them twice than not at all.

"I grab them and drag them like bad cattle across the room," Bennett says, hooting at the image. "I have become impervious to rejection. I am a catalyst."

Bennett is one of those people best appreciated in the flesh: She is very tall and very blond and is wearing a very tight, very short black skirt and black leather jacket. Her very big blue eyes appear even bigger under her dramatic black, glue-on lashes. She's very va va voom in a retired showgirl kind of way, with the larger-than-life personality you find in people who are unimaginable anywhere but Los Angeles.

But even in Los Angeles, Bennett is conceivable only in places like Beverly Hills and Hollywood, where blond is not just a pigment but a way of life, where self-promotion is not just an art but a calling.

She began her social climb in the '60s as a Beverly Hills meter maid, one of six "parkettes" with quotas of 80 tickets a day. That career ended after she appeared on "What's My Line?"

"It was the scandal of the city," she says dryly. "You would have thought I'd appeared in Hustler with my uniform half off." But the meter-maid job paid off; by the time she left it, she'd met everybody .

Later, Bennett was the music industry gossip columnist at the Hollywood Reporter for 15 years, she says, before she was fired for running a blind item about a thieving record company president. During that stint, she met everybody else .

After she was sacked, there was nowhere to go but down.

She began specializing in nobodies . She credits herself with discovering comic Yakov Smirnoff and in the process, becoming the matron saint of the Russian arts community in Hollywood.

"I am the Brian Epstein of the Russian community," she says proudly. "Anything with Russia, lemme tell ya, call the blond."

Hair color is a recurring theme in the Bennett bio. "I was the blond the music industry loved to hate," she says. "I was a blond around town. Have miniskirt, will travel . . . in the back of your limousine!"

Nowadays, she travels by Toyota. But she is still looking for the perfect "item." Sure, she's in it for the money, but there is a larger purpose: "Hey," says Bennett, "I'm doing a good deed for humanity."

Humanity seems receptive. Tonight, with the canyons closed by rockslides and half the streets under water, at least 50 people have made it to her party. There are plenty of singles' groups to choose from, but people say there is something different about this one. The difference is, of course, Dianne: "I am the party queen, honey, I know a good party from a lame one."

Though she charges only $9 admission ("Love on a budget"), she advertises for an "upscale" crowd, ages 21 to 49. The self-definition varies widely.

Among this evening's female guests: a tight-faced, 50-year-old flight attendant who likes younger men; several matchmakers scouting potential mates for their clients; a young woman who works at KCET; several 20-ish girls who look as if they've just come from the market at Nicky Blair's and a 62-year-old woman, beret cocked at a jaunty angle, who just moved to Hollywood to start an acting career.

Among the male guests: an orthopedic surgeon/party animal, a Shakespearean actor/masseur who speaks enthusiastically about business contacts to be made at Debtors Anonymous meetings, a 29-year-old bank administrator who is "into" older women, ubiquitous networker-from-hell Jerry Rubin, and a portrait painter named Al Harper with a sense of self-esteem that might awe even John Vasconcellos.

"Hey, baby," says Harper, pointing to a portrait of Humphrey Bogart. "I painted that. Remember my name. You're gonna be writing about me one day. What's your name? Do you have any Jewish in you? You sure? I bet people ask you that all the time."

The surgeon, Jacob Tauber, is an occasional guest. He has appeared on a TV show called "Personals" as the potential love object of three women who said they wanted to meet a millionaire doctor.

"I'm not exactly hurting for dates," says the millionaire doctor, who adds he recently tossed himself a 40th birthday party at his mountaintop mansion for 1,000 guests, many of them young models. "We didn't quite have a human sacrifice, but almost," he says, laughing, before veering off in the direction of a lanky blond widow in a miniskirt. Best guess on her age: 20.

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