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A Garden Wedding of UCLA Research Centers

September 11, 1996|BETTY GOODWIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Never mind that Mayor Richard Riordan graduated from Princeton ('52). When UCLA's biggest guns prevailed upon him to loan his glorious Brentwood estate (think Hotel Bel-Air and squint and you have an idea) for one evening, he was all Bruin.

Though there was a lofty purpose to Sunday's party--the inauguration of the UCLA Humanities Consortium, which will integrate three of the university's major research centers--there was no question that Riordan's home was a major draw. (Riordan couldn't attend.) As one guest put it, "It's either the chairman or the venue" that brings many people out. Indeed, Phyllis Hennigan, the Music Center's Blue Ribbon president, eyeing the grounds, must have been thinking the same thing. "This would be a beautiful place for a Blue Ribbon event."

Even so, Brian Copenhaver, provost of UCLA's College of Letters and Science, pointed out a deeper connection. Riordan, he said, "is a person well-known for his love for humanities. It's part of his character. He has a splendid library and, I'm told, he has a regular reading group. He's a man who thinks and reads." In fact, early plans for guests to view Riordan's renowned upstairs library had to be scratched when the party mushroomed past 200 guests. Party-goers were confined to the meandering garden with its fountains, gorilla sculpture and small, private chapel.

The crowd was a cross-section of alumni and, well, interested parties, including UCLA Humanities Executive Council Chair Caryl Carothers, Terri and Roy Aaron, Karl Malden, talk show host Michael Jackson, Wallis Annenberg, Frances Brody, Bronya and Andrew Galef, Peggie and Walter Grauman, Suzanne Marks, Nancy Livingston, Eileen and Peter Norton, Bea and Phil Gersh, Susan and Peter Strauss, Adele and Ira Yellin, Monte and Roz Livingston, and Sherry Lansing, whose comment was typical: "I graduated from Northwestern but I love UCLA." Nancy Vreeland (Syracuse) and Betty Sigoloff (UCLA) co-chaired.

It may have been the only dinner where the key players were introduced in chronological order, as Pauline Yu, dean of the Division of Humanities, presented the directors of the consortium's three centers--the Center for Medieval and Renaissance studies, the Center for 17th and 18th Century Studies and the new Center for Modern and Contemporary Studies--in that sequence.

And it didn't take an English major to see the point when actress Anne Archer, actor John Michael Higgins and UCLA English professor and author Gregory Sarris read quotations and perspectives on gardens and sex by such disparate sources as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, St. Augustine, Elvis Presley and "I Ching: The Chinese Book of Change."

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