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RSVP : Royalty, Celebrities at 'Oscars of Charity Balls'

October 31, 1994|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Imagine a gala where Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn and Dustin Hoffman are seated for dinner. This, however, isn't the table drawing stares. That's because dining together nearby are First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Duchess of York Sarah (Fergie) Ferguson, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Placido Domingo, Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks and Gov. Pete Wilson with his wife, Gayle.

This is the eye-popping turnout of society's powerful and glitzy that makes Marvin and Barbara Davis' biennial Carousel of Hope ball for diabetes charities, held Friday at the Beverly Hilton, L.A.'s most mesmerizing fund-raiser.

"It's the Oscars of charity balls," said Lee Minnelli, who came with stepdaughter Liza. "Barbara has created a miracle. She's made the most glamorous ball in America."

The evening began with a silent auction chaired by Dana and Nancy Davis that included everything from a Jack Russell terrier to a week-long trip on Isaac Tigrett's private, 1928 railway car. While the 1,269 guests bid, VIPs--including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, Jackie Collins, Quincy Jones, David Geffen, Mary Tyler Moore and Chevy Chase--mingled in an adjacent room.

The Democratic First Lady and the Republican California governor were there as well, though they weren't rubbing elbows. Their body language throughout the evening were like those of parents--who've endured an icy divorce--attending their child's wedding.

The pre-dinner receptions ended 45 minutes later than expected and it was 9 p.m. before the long parade of tuxedoed men and designer-gowned women were seated. "This is definitely not the night for a little black dress," observed Nancy Davis. "This is when you crack the vault, break out the jewels and put on the real ball gown."

One fashion rule was: the younger the woman, the blacker and sleeker the dress. In the First Lady's case, she wore a long-sleeved, fitted at the waist, floor-length black-knit gown over a silk chiffon slip. It was set off by a simple diamond necklace.

As this fashion caravan entered the International Ballroom, it found a scene dominated by the ball's pink colors. Seated by the stage near Rod Stewart, Paul Marciano, Lod Cook, Wayne Gretzky, Ron Perlman and Patricia Duff was author Gore Vidal. He said he came to the gala because "I was recently told by my doctor that I am a senile diabetic." Vidal paused for full ironic effect. "The least I could do," he added dryly, "is show solidarity."

Before dinner was served, there were brief speeches by Barbara Davis, who focused on the work of her Denver-based Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, which will receive most of the $6 million raised, and by Marvin Davis, whose voice cracked when he spoke about his daughter Dana's struggle to preserve her eyesight against diabetes.

The dinner of roast chicken with morel sauce (which Beverly Hilton owner Merv Griffin underwrote) was barely off the tables when Kenny G, who had been practicing scales in the men's room, made his way through the tables playing impossibly long notes on his soprano saxophone. "The toughest part was dodging the waiters," said G.

For producer George Schlatter, the toughest part was shoehorning a speech by Sidney Poitier and performances by G, Jay Leno, Placido Domingo, Natalie Cole, Neil Diamond and Phil Collins into the allotted time. "It's one thing to ask them for the favor of performing," he said. "It's another thing to ask them for a short favor."

Hanks, who affectionately congratulated the President for his Middle East mission ("Bubba did good"), presented the Brass Ring Award to the First Lady. Her first words were, "Tom, Bubba is as Bubba does." She went on to note how difficult it is for families without health insurance to deal financially with diabetes.

As the guests departed they were each given two large canvas gift bags, one each from Revlon and Guess. One guest said the satchels were so large the crowd "looks like they're going through customs."

Among those departing were Anne and Frank Johnson, Wendy and Leonard Goldberg, Bob Daly and Carole Bayer Sager, Betsy Bloomingdale, David Foster, Shirley MacLaine, Steve Tisch, David Foster, Cynthia and Bud Yorkin, Lili and Dick Zanuck, Margie and Jerry Perenchio, Danny DeVito and Bob Hope.

Perhaps the most discerning observation on celebrities in the departing throng came from Robin Ruzan, who is Mike Myer's wife. She looked at the famous faces and said, "I keep thinking they're celebrity look-alikes. It's like they can't all be here."

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