With a shy smile and a tug at his cane, Academy Award-winning animator Chuck Jones, 84, confided he was surprised by the 30th anniversary party staged to celebrate "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas," a film he produced and directed.
"Did I think, 62 years ago, when I started at Warner Bros., that I would ever attend something like this? No, I didn't," said Jones, as he mingled Saturday with hundreds of fans in the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach.
Billed as an "Evening in Whoville," the black-tie event--organized by his daughter, Linda Jones--saw the reunion of the artists who helped create the TV special based on the Seuss tale of a Grinch who dresses up like Santa and steals Christmas from the folks of Whoville.
Among guests was artist Maurice Noble, who created the background scenes for the film, Sara Karloff (whose father, Boris Karloff--the original Frankenstein--was the voice of the Grinch and the film's narrator) and June Foray, the actress whose voice was used for Cindy Lou Who.
During the cocktail reception, where guests bid on auction items that included animation prints, Chuck Jones confided the Grinch represented "us."
"Everybody hates Christmas a little," whispered Jones, who lives with his wife, Marian, in Corona del Mar.
The Grinch disliked Christmas so much--its gifts, decorations, fancy foods--he sneaked down the chimneys of Whoville on Christmas Eve to cart it all away, even plucking candy canes from the hands of sleeping children.
"But did it change anything?" asked Noble, smiling. "Whoville had Christmas anyway! And the Grinch was converted."
Guests oohed and ahhed when the ballroom doors were opened. On view: a Whoville Dr. Seuss could love. Dining tables were topped with centerpieces of pine, flowers and gaily wrapped gifts. A stage displayed a painting of a Christmas tree. And in each corner of the room was a movie screen--festooned with ribbon and pine--that portrayed scenes from the holiday classic.
Guests were no sooner seated than a children's choir sang the movie's haunting theme, "Welcome Christmas."
Linda Jones addressed the crowd: "My family has put this together as a celebration. . . . We're delighted to have everyone here," she said.
"I want to thank Chuck Jones for creating the film 30 years ago and for creating me long before that."
Dinner included Sour Grinchy Soup with Two Sizes Too Small Heart (corn chowder with tiny, heart-shaped croutons) and a dessert to put a Grinch to shame: cakes, cookies and truffles--all shaped like hearts.
During the festivities, special guest Leonard Maltin, the popular movie critic, called the film "a rare, unusually felicitous collaboration between two very strong creative talents."
"As a film, it is undeniably a Chuck Jones film," he said. (Jones created 1,200 of the film's drawings.) "And yet the material is absolutely identifiable as Dr. Seuss. It is as if neither man had to compromise or sacrifice his individuality to make this film work."
June Foray still gets a thrill when she watches the movie. "I look at it today and I see the innocence of people--how good always prevails against evil," she said.
And then, affecting the tiny voice of the film's Cindy Lou Who, Foray drawled: "Why Santa, why have you stolen our Christmas tree?"
Foray's first job was the voice of the cat in Walt Disney's "Cinderella," she said, letting out a loud, "Meooooow!" "It has been a great career."
During the holidays, Sara Karloff doesn't miss the chance to watch the Grinch on television. "My father has left the most wonderfully treasured family legacy," she said. "Every Christmas the kids ask, is grandpa on tonight? It's much more exciting for us to turn on the television than to see it on a video."
Proceeds from the $250-per-person event will benefit the Motion Picture & Television Fund and Foundation, a Los Angeles-based service organization that promotes the well-being of the Southern California entertainment community through health care and retirement services.
"It is my father's favorite charity," Linda Jones said.