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R S V P : Caring Made Benefit a Hit


The "Night at Sardi's" theme provided a friendly and intimate setting as the ballroom of the Regent Beverly Wilshire was transformed Wednesday night into a replica of the famous New York restaurant for the third annual Alzheimer's Assn. of Los Angeles benefit dinner.

Guests passed under a doorway decorated with caricatures of the show-biz elite. Numbered baseball cards designated the tables in keeping with the entertainment, a zippy rendition of songs from "Damn Yankees."

But it was the sense of care and understanding shared by family members and their friends, drawn together by the effects of the disease, that was the most winning element of the evening.

Among those present were Lorraine and Sid Sheinberg; Mike Farrell and his wife, Shelley Fabares; Vincent Sardi; Stuart Roth, chairman of the National Alzheimer's Assn.; Larry Varnes, president of the local chapter, and the evening's co-chairwoman Laurie Burrows Grad, whose family, including her director-brother James, had saluted her in the program with the appropriate slogan, "Whatever Laurie wants, Laurie gets!"

What she got was a good time for all, despite the underlying sorrow of the cause.

In her welcoming remarks, Fabares, whose mother, Elsa Rose, died of the illness in 1992, quoted former President Ronald Reagan's letter, which revealed his Alzheimer's diagnosis and mentioned his concern for the toll it would take on his wife, Nancy.

"His courage in coming forward is deeply appreciated, and we cannot help but identify because our organization's motto is 'Someone to Stand by You,' " the co-star of "Coach" said as she introduced the evening's honorees.

"This has really been a transforming moment for us," said the association's executive director, Peter Braun, referring to the attention created by the Reagan revelation.

"This is an illness which affects the entire family--the patient is silent, the care-giver overwhelmed--but we, as a network, can help to ease the burden."

Underwritten by Home Savings of America, the evening's program included awards that reflected the family-support theme. Isabel Sanford spoke of her sister Emma Kelly's "smile, her helping hand, her ear to always listen and her warm embrace," as she made the presentation of the Professional Care-Giver Award to Kelly, who was director of the Alzheimer's day-care program at the Assistance League's Hollywood Senior Center.

Film director Donald Petrie was honored for his work on the movie "Grumpy Old Men," deemed a respectful and affectionate depiction of the elderly.

Sportscaster Tim Ryan, whose wife, Lee, has Alzheimer's, made the presentation to baseball great Keith Hernandez, whose mother, Jacquelyn, died of the disease.

"He had to watch his mother disappear before his eyes," said Ryan, referring movingly to "the long goodby" loved ones experience as they watch the disease progress.

A member of the board of directors of the National Alzheimer's Assn., Hernandez said, "This is my first award for something I've done to give back. As a baseball player I had no peripheral vision. This work has opened up my life."

Then it was time for the ex-Met to say, "Let's play ball," and to savor the fun of watching a spirited cast, which included Hal Linden, Charles Nelson Reilly, Patrick Cassidy, Phylicia Rashad, Gloria Loring and Jerry Van Dyke sing songs from "Damn Yankees," including, of course, "You Gotta Have Heart."

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