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Entertaining Thoughts From Successful Hosts

January 26, 1998|ANN CONWAY

In a panic about your next party?

Take heart, say the experts. With thoughtful planning and a few tips under your belt, it will be a breeze.

For starters, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Have a focus. Invite interesting people. Establish a comfort zone.

Going by the Golden Rule is the key to successful entertaining, says Washington power hostess Sally Quinn in her best-selling new book, "The Party: A Guide to Adventurous Entertaining" (Simon & Schuster).

Quinn knows. She's entertained everyone from presidents to screen legends in her spacious Georgetown home. And they keep coming back.

Sit down with any of Orange County's party-giving cognoscenti and you'll probably hear the same advice. Hosts to presidents and superstars, world-class CEOs and performing artists, local party-givers are no slouches in the soiree department.

For example: Kevin Cartwright pulled off several receptions--all on the same day--for President Clinton and four former U.S. presidents at the Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda.

Joan Irvine Smith's under-the-canopy luncheons and horse-jumping events at her San Juan Capistrano ranch are all the rage with Hollywood's equestrian set.

John and Donna Crean's home-demolition derby and yacht-christening parties have been some of the most sought-out events on the social circuit.

What kind of party magic do they weave?

The No. 1 rule for a successful party, says Smith (whose late mother, Athalie Clarke, entertained presidents in her Orange County home): "a congenial guest list."

"If people get along, it doesn't matter whether you have hot dogs or a fancy menu; it will be a good party," she says.

When a person entertains privately, it's a compliment to guests to go all out, she says, "serving them the best food and liquor and creating a lovely setting."

And, if it's a benefit you're staging, well, the blueprint is basic: "Simply enlarge what you do in your home for your guests."


When it came time for Cartwright to work with library staff to create a series of private receptions after Nixon's funeral, he kept one thing in mind: "Entertain with the spirit the Nixons had when they were in the White House."

After all, the library is an extension of the Nixons, he says, "so it was important to reflect their love of entertaining. They shared the White House with more of the American public than anyone before them."

Guests, who included presidents Clinton, Carter, Bush, Ford and Reagan, enjoyed food and libations presented on fine china in gleaming rooms decorated with flowers.

Adds Cartwright: Remember to enjoy the unexpected and not get overwhelmed.

On that occasion, the unexpected turned out to be a meeting that Clinton held with Chinese officials. "Out of that meeting came the go-ahead to give China most-favored nation status," Cartwright says.

Donna Crean's No. 1 party tip: "Come up with a great idea."

Friends weren't surprised a few years ago when the Creans sent out invitations to attend a home-demolition party on their Santa Ana Heights property. The couple had tossed a similar bash in Beverly Hills.

The plan: Eat, drink and be merry while knocking down one house to make way for another.

(This is the kind of unique focus that Quinn says can make a party.)

"We have all the windows removed beforehand," says Donna Crean. "Then, as guests arrive, we give them sledgehammers and spray paint so they could be creative or knock it down."


There won't be any tools of destruction in March when the Creans stage a christening party for their new 112-foot yacht.

Champagne tulips will be the preferred equipment, she says. "We'll just invite some people to come and have food and drink and take a tour," she says. There it is again--the focus.

More tips from Orange County's great party-givers:

* "Quality and attention to detail in everything you do," says Margo Chamberlin of Newport Beach, who has staged benefit galas around Orange County appearances by Cecilia Bartoli, Ivana Trump, Lauren Bacall and Julio Iglesias. "From the invitations to the food, entertainment and floral arrangements. You can't have quality in only one area. It has to permeate the entire event."

* "A warm welcome for guests and fabulous lighting," says Billur Wallerich, director of community relations at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. "If people feel special and surrounded by a beautiful glow, it's hard to miss."

* "Service," says Steve Norton, owner of Masterpiece Productions, a catering firm in Newport Beach. "The biggest mistake people make is reducing party costs by cutting down on service personnel. You can reduce a cost of a flower arrangement by using something simple and guests won't notice. But if you take away 10 servers, everybody notices and they leave remembering that. Having to sit and wait for service leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth."

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