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Comic Makes an Impression on Committee

March 29, 1993|ANN CONWAY

When comic impressionist Fred Travalena wasn't impersonating President Bill Clinton ("I've got the job; now what?") at the Balboa Bay Club last week, he was doing his Johnny Mathis ("Look at meeeee. . ."), or his Ross Perot, Wayne Newton, Frank Sinatra, Robert DeNiro and Sly Stallone.

A pricey performance at a black-tie benefit?

Nope. Just a cozy get-together with seven ladies who lunch: Dori de Kruif, Peggy Goldwater Clay, Mary Lou Hornsby, Sandra Brodie, Cleva Howard, Mary Ann Wells and Gloria Osbrink, the committee for the May 14 "Celebrity Dinner" at the Bay Club on behalf of the Associates of the House Ear Institute.

Travalena will perform at the black-tie gala, which will also celebrate founder Dr. Howard House's 85th birthday. (House, an otologist, has treated President Reagan, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Barry Goldwater and Burt Reynolds). Travalena visited the Bay Club to check out the ballroom and dine with the gala committee.

"Politics is what makes people laugh hardest these days," the entertainer said, digging into a light lunch. "People are burned out. They laugh most at a truth about a politician that you point out to them."

He still gets a huge laugh with his imitation of a recording by Reagan on an answer machine: "Rinnnnnnnnng," squealed the comic, relaxing his face to look like Reagan. "Hello . . . eh . . . currently . . . eh . . . Nancy and I, eh . . . eh . . . Beep!"

One of his favorite bits is to employ an Elvis voice when he visits drive-through restaurants. "Over their speakers, as Elvis, I say something like: 'First I wanna thank ya for ma staaaamp. Now, could ah have a double cheeseburger?' The help goes nuts."

What's it like walking around with 1,000 voices in your head? "I've only just begun to be in touch with the fact that performing is fun," said Travalena, who has appeared on "The Tonight Show," "Larry King Live," "Murphy Brown" and in nightclubs. "For 23 years, it has been very hard work."

For his gig at the Bay Club, Travalena will do his Tribute to the Presidents--"Bush, Clinton, Ford, Nixon, LBJ, JFK, Carter," he said. "And I'll do Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Robert DeNiro, Frank Sinatra . . ." And more.

"When I do Sinatra, I do him in the '40s and the way he sings now."

Travalena also gets in character with what he calls "prosthesis makeup."

"I was one of the first impressionists to really look like my characters by using special makeup," he said. "In my act, I show video clips of characters I've done--Gorbachev, Reagan, Nixon. I debut Clinton on television in April."

To create a successful imitation, the entertainer has to like his subject, he said. "If I flat out don't like them, I can't begin to work on the impression. That's just the way it is."

Gala chairwoman De Kruif wants the event to have "a New York supper-club atmosphere," she said. So decorations chairwoman Brodie has arranged for movie-set Art Deco decor to be installed in the ballroom.

"We'll also have palms everywhere--like the old Coconut Grove," De Kruif said. "And waitresses will offer women guests gardenias on silver trays. We want guests to feel like they're in a sophisticated nightclub. You know, like the wonderful old supper clubs--Ciro's, 21 Club, the Stork Club, Mocambo. They were the best. "

Goldwater Clay remembers attending the legendary 21 Club in New York as a child with her father, former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. "I can still see the little jockeys standing out in front," she said. "That's where I tasted my first Napoleon. I remember thinking: 'What's the name of this fabulous thing with all of the custard, flaky crust and sugar?' "

Don't look for Napoleons on May 14. But do look for walnut salad with pears and Roquefort cheese, filet mignon with duchess potatoes, and a surprise birthday cake for the man of the house.

Gala tickets are $125 per person. Osbrink is president of the Associates, a House Institute support group that raises funds for its children's center.

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