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ANN CONWAY

SWM Seeks Co-Pilot No. 3 for the High Life

March 28, 1994|ANN CONWAY

The "amphitheater thing" has been getting embarrassing. So have the where'd-you-get-the-loot? looks. Not to mention the sidelong glances he gets every time he shows up at a social event with a designer-clad beauty on his arm.

So Mark C. Johnson has decided to go public--about his social agenda, that is.

Sole owner of the Chapin Medical Co. in Corona, the twice-married, twice-divorced 47-year-old with a net worth of $20 million has begun to make waves in social circles because:

* He has an 8,000-square-foot mansion-cum-amphitheater in North Tustin that has recently been the site of some high-level arts parties.

* He has been tossing megabucks at charities--$50,000 to the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, $25,000 to the Alzheimer's Foundation, $5,000 to the Laguna Art Museum--while most of his peers are tightening their money belts.

* He's single, available, and his dates, ferried to galas in one of his five red Ferraris, are usually the most beautiful women in the room.

Last week, Johnson--who calls himself "an open book who doesn't drink, smoke or do drugs"--sat poolside at his Mediterranean-style digs to clear the air.

"I think, in general, people are sensitive to big spending these days," said the CEO whose 20-year-old critical care pharmaceuticals company does $50 million in annual sales. "A lot of people in this community have turned out not to be what people thought they were.

"What sets me apart from what I call 'plastic Newport, down there' is that everything you see is bought and paid for. I don't buy anything unless I can write a check for it. I have no debt."

As for his social agenda: "When I turned 40 that 'brevity of life' thing set in and I asked myself, 'What do I do now?' "he said.

"I knew I wanted to donate money to causes I cared about but it's only been since 1990 that I have really felt secure and comfortable enough to give back."

His donations have included $200,000 to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, $100,000 to Children's Hospital of Orange County and thousands to Opera Pacific, the March of Dimes and the Assessment and Treatment Services Center.

Until now, he has kept a low profile because he's not into visibility, "believe it or not," he said. But recently, center chairman Thomas Nielsen invited Johnson to become a center vice chairman. (The news will be officially announced next month.)

So, bring on the spotlight. "Now, I want to help the center reach into the community; I don't think it's nearly as visible or understood by our community as it needs to be."

And he's hoping to meet his next wife. Soon. "Just this bluntly--I'm in the market, looking for another spouse," said the red-haired entrepreneur. "I feel like a pinball in this house all by myself."

Johnson, who has two grown sons, wants a woman who "would want me as opposed to need me," he said. "If I can buy a woman--and I'll take the time to find out if I can--I don't want her. I don't need a gold-digger." (In an aside, Johnson said he's willing to spend "upward of $40,000 per year on designer clothing" for his wife.)

"I want a woman who can share my life, but have her own life--not be in my shadow."

In his previous marriages he thought he had it all--passion, romance and affection.

But he has found it takes more. "I've learned about the value of tranquillity and equanimity," he said.

Wife No. 3 will love to dress up, whirl about in his wide-body helicopter, attend about two black-tie galas a week and share his enthusiasm for "an eclectic, adventuresome lifestyle," he said. "She'll have to participate with me in all of that. Basically, I'm a teddy bear who won't grow up."

And if he loses it all tomorrow? "People would be surprised if they knew I was as simple and genuine as I am. People are often intimidated by what I have. What they don't understand is that I'm still pumping gas at a Standard station in Pasadena where I started out 25 years ago. There was never any silver spoon in my mouth. I loved pumping gas so I don't have any fear in that area."

Oh, and one more thing from the man who was raised on Emily Post and could place all the silver on the table by the time he was 3: "I want to open my house regularly to charity parties, the way the Creans (John and Donna Crean of Santa Ana Heights) do.

"I can handle up to 100 people per party several times a month. That's what this house is for--entertaining."

*

Dining at Patina: Fresh from catering Willie Brown's 60th birthday bash (attended by Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, et al) chef Joaquim Splichal--owner of Patina restaurant in Los Angeles--met with Newport Harbor Art Museum activist Alison Baker-Frenzel last week to discuss plans for the Art of Dining. The annual museum benefit is scheduled for April 24 at the Four Seasons in Newport Beach.

Minutes after Baker-Frenzel took her place at Patina--a Melrose bistro favored by the likes of Warren Beatty and Henry Kissinger-- Splichal presented her with the carpaccio of ahi tuna with chilled tomato mousse he will prepare for the $300-per-person French-themed gala.

"Hmmmmm, light and lovely," said Baker-Frenzel, chairwoman of Art of Dining. "This gala is all about dining in the French style-- lightly ."

Other menu items will include spiced corn chowder with smoked shrimp from the Four Seasons and galantine of rainbow trout and lobster from Mille Fleurs restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe. Former museum board chairman Jack Shea and his wife, Marion, will be honored at the event. For tickets, call (714) 759-1122.

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