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ON VIEW / MARY LOU LOPER

Celebrating Gloria Vanderbilt and Life Itself : The air is festive as party-goers in L.A. raise their glasses in honor of the socialite, designer and novelist. And after the quake, they're counting their blessings.

January 27, 1994|MARY LOU LOPER

People like to huddle after an earthquake. And last Friday, the Fashion Circle of the Costume Council of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art didn't miss a hug in its scheduled dinner and dancing party at Chasen's. The evening honored Gloria Vanderbilt, who came from New York and one of the East's worst winters ever.

Circle chairwoman Donna Wolff tried to explain the ambience: "It's just that people were so ecstatic to be alive. There was so much electricity in the air. People came out in spite of the broken china and crystal. We actually had very few no-shows."

By Monday, the atmosphere was calmer as more than 700 filled the museum's Bing Auditorium for "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," a video documentary about Vanderbilt by her 26-year-old-son, Anderson Cooper, a Yale graduate and film producer. Then, over tea and sandwiches in the museum atrium, everyone compared quake experiences.

The video charts Vanderbilt's life from her lonely childhood and the media blitz surrounding the transfer from her mother's custody to that of her aunt. It depicts her passion for art and her love for writing. (Her new novel is "The Memory Book of Starr Faithful," about a young woman sexually abused by a politician.)

The documentary ends with her son's question: "What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?" An adoring mother smiles. "You."

Vanderbilt first gained fame when her father died before her birth, later in the child-custody case and, then, on her own, as a socialite who designed the Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, fabrics, china and perfumes.

She's always in social photos, and a large crowd wanted to see her Friday and Monday. What they found was a fresh, open, kind woman who says she "would have been happy living in a white house with a picket fence and just being loved by my family."

At the museum, Vanderbilt's entourage included New Yorker Phyllis Adams Jenkins, arm in arm with Carol Matthau, wife of actor Walter, and one of Gloria's best friends. The three women made their debuts in almost the same year in New York. As they say, they "came out." But Matthau's debut party was canceled because it fell on the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941. She lamented: "And Errol Flynn was going to jump out of the bandbox!"

On Monday, a cloudy day, Bonnie Black was regal in a fox-trimmed raincoat. Sally Cobb, former owner of the old Brown Derby, greeted Vanderbilt. Wolff and Mary Martin, Costume Council program chairwoman, were by her side.

More clustering around were fashion doyen Eleanore Phillips Colt, photographer Jean Howard and Heather Shuemaker. David Gill Evans recalled sitting with Vanderbilt at the Hollywood Bowl when she was married to conductor Leopold Stokowski.

At the black-tie party at Chasen's, the crowd included Jane and Steve Ackerman, Hugh and Lynn Evans, Richard and Sally Mogan, Hal and Eunice David, and George and Betsy Link.

Monday evening, Bea Arthur hosted a dinner party for Vanderbilt and guests, including Bob and Bea Scott, Norman and Lyn Lear, the Matthaus and psychiatrist Andrew Slaby, Vanderbilt's escort.

Cooper commented on his mother: "I am very proud of her. She is actually the most amazing person I have ever met." Pretty nice, from a son.

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Canceled: The Blue Ribbon event with former President Richard Nixon at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace was canceled last Wednesday because of the earthquake. Said Sandra Ausman, Blue Ribbon president: "He said he'd come out for us again."

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Escalation: Allen and Madeleine Paulson have donated their colt Assurance (slated to fetch at least $40,000) to the glitzy list of auction items at Nancy Davis' second annual Race to Erase MS Feb. 11-12 in Aspen, Colo.

Last year, the fund-raiser to combat multiple sclerosis brought in $1.3 million.

Here's the weekend agenda: Feb. 11, a country-Western party and Calcutta pool at Hotel Jerome Antler Bar and Ballroom; Feb. 12, the Chrysler/Guess? Race to Erase MS Celebrity-Pro ski race at the Little Nell Race Course, and that night a gala at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Ballroom with Kenny Loggins, Kenny G and Kevin Pollak entertaining and George Hamilton and Dennis Miller engineering the live auction. It's a personal cause for Nancy Davis, a mother of three and daughter of Marvin and Barbara Davis. During tests done after a ski accident in 1991, she was found to have MS.

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Have Heart: Los Angeles needs some love. Expect special feeling for all the Valentine and heart events throbbing on the calendar.

The American Heart Assn. plans its 17th annual Heart Ball to benefit research and education Feb. 25 with legendary entertainer Ray Charles.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art Graphic Arts Council will host its 11th annual Valentine Party and auction Feb. 11 at Butterfield & Butterfield auction house on Sunset Boulevard and honor art collector Frederick R. Weisman.

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