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UCI Benefit Serves Food for Thought : 'Schindler's List' Writer Keneally Asks Guests to Ponder How Holocaust Could Have Happened

January 31, 1994

Calling it the world's "most extreme case of race hate" author Thomas Keneally spoke of the Holocaust at a recent gala dinner on behalf of UC Irvine's Program in Writing.

"This was the case in which the organs of a government were devoted to producing death of a minority as an industrial product. This was as far as you can go in race hate--the furthest track of the line," said the author of "Schindler's List."

Not your everyday gala topic. But just the kind of point guests had paid $150 each to ponder.

"How is it possible that cultured Europeans did this thing?" Keneally asked the crowd gathered at Gustaf Anders restaurant in Santa Ana. "And, why can't we let it go?"

The opportunity to address those questions and write about the paradoxical Oskar Schindler--"both profiteer and savior, scoundrel and deliverer"--are at the heart of his 397-page book that became the film by Steven Spielberg.

"I wanted to comprehend it," he said.

While Keneally praised the movie, he said he might have changed the ending. "I thought it was a bit unlikely that Schindler would have broken down," he noted during the cocktail reception. "Schindler went on black marketeering right till the end of the war.

"However, that's a small quibble with what is a massively authoritative film. If anyone's going to have a quibble, it's going to be the author of the original work. The mother-in-law at the wedding is not permitted to approve of the oaf or bimbo their child is marrying, you know."

Will he and his wife, Judy, attend the Academy Awards? "I haven't heard a word," said the Australian who came to Orange County in 1992 to become director of UCI's Program in Writing. "We attended the New York and Washington film premieres with Spielberg. But I'm not sure the Academy Awards is a place for a writer, with all of that sex and drugs and rock and roll."

Judy thinks it would be just fine. "I called Amblin Studios (Spielberg's studio) today to ask them about tickets," she said. "Our daughter, Jane, says we should go.

"They told me they don't know what they will be offering until Feb. 9 when the Oscar nominations come out."

Party guests schmoozed with the jovial Keneally, offering comments on the book and film, before they sat down to a formal dinner with choices of Chilean sea bass or braised lamb shank. Favors were autographed copies of "Schindler's List."

"I read the book in 1983, when it first came out," said Spencer Olin, the university's dean of humanities. "I had no idea that I would ultimately be a colleague of Tom Keneally's."

Olin says he is grateful for the publicity that "Schindler's List" has brought to UCI's Program in Writing, a graduate course of study that has turned out authors such as Michael Chabon ("The Mysteries of Pittsburgh"), Whitney Otto ("How to Make an American Quilt") and Marti Leimbach ("Dying Young").

"Everywhere Tom Keneally goes, everywhere he gives a reading, every review of the film, brings the good name of UCI to international acclaim," Olin said. "He is the most unpretentious celebrity I have ever known. I am proud to be his colleague."

Also among guests were Irv and Gloria Gellman, Louise and Howard Adler, Hancock and Julia Banning III, Eric and Lila Nelson, Nola Schneer, John and Elizabeth Stahr and Jonas and Viviane Schultz.

University representatives included Vice Chancellor Kathy Jones; Michael Clark, chair of English and comparative literature; Paul Silverman, newly appointed associated chancellor for the development of health sciences, with his wife, Nancy; and novelist Judith Grossman, a professor in the writing program.

*

Hog Wild for Hoag: Duds befitting a biker bar--black lace tops, leather jackets, head kerchiefs and dangly earrings--were the last word in gala-wear on Friday night when 1,500 people celebrated the Taco Bell Newport Classic under a mega-tent at the Newport Beach Country Club.

Among those strutting their biker stuff were Taco Bell President and CEO John Martin and his main squeeze, Stefanie Mayer. "I own a Harley motorcycle," said Martin, who was Harley-dressed from the top of his head (black kerchief) to the tip of his toes (biker boots).

Mayer wore a see-through lace Harley top she'd purchased at a specialty shop in Santa Ana. "It should fit tighter," she said. "But they were all out of the smaller sizes."

While her breezy chemise got the night's lion share of stares, it was Mayer's belt that made the biggest fashion statement. "It's made from tire rubber," she said, smiling. "And it's studded with Budweiser beer caps." Oh, and the buckle. "It's a seat-belt buckle ," she said, snapping it with her thumb. "Don't you love it?"

When guests weren't ogling each others' clothing, they were feasting at buffet stations piled with food from area restaurants, getting "engraved" at a tattoo parlor, or listening to a concert by Huey Lewis and the News.

Expected proceeds of more than $200,000 will be used for the expansion and renovation of Hoag Hospital's Emergency Care Unit. The annual event is organized by Hoag's 552 Club support group.

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