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Singing the Praises of Caroline Ahmanson

January 28, 1998|BRIDGET BYRNE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Wearing a tasseled pink and black Chinese jacket, as proud as any Italian grandmother to acknowledge her many family members present, flashing the smile made famous on Art Linkletter's TV show "House Party," Caroline Leonetti Ahmanson was honored for her contribution to the Los Angeles Music Center Education Division. She has co-chaired the group since its 1979 inception, leading it to provide more than 12 million children with arts experiences.

"She set a standard for us all, that you can be self-confident, assertive and successful and still be a lady," said Andrea Van de Kamp, CEO of the Music Center, as she paid tribute to Ahmanson at a dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Monday night.

The tribute's chairwoman, Wallis Annenberg, greeted each guest on the stairs to the cocktail foyer, establishing the welcoming, embracing tone of the evening, which buzzed with gossip and the gaiety of good friends--and, of course, lots of talk about President Clinton.

"I found her. I introduced her to Howard," boasted Linkletter, who more than 50 years ago first hired Leonetti as the beauty and charm commentator on his daytime radio show before her marriage to Howard Ahmanson, who died in 1968.

There was a tribute from Gov. Pete Wilson and a presentation by Charlton Heston of "a glass thing" inscribed with words from "Twelfth Night": "I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks."

Ahmanson returned the thanks, dubbing herself "the luckiest person in the world." Cranking the Victrola so her dad could hear his favorite operas was her earliest memory of her lifelong love of the arts, she said.

In addition to membership on the boards of numerous businesses and civic organizations, Ahmanson's arts contributions include serving on the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the National Council on the Humanities and the California Arts Commission as well as the Board of Governors of the Music Center.

The tribute raised about $450,000, which will establish the Caroline Leonetti Ahmanson Endowment Fund for Arts Education to sustain the Music Center programs that enable young people to participate in and appreciate performing and visual arts--such as the Arts Jazz Trio from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, which played during the cocktail hour. The Education Division serves about a million Los Angeles area teachers and students each year.

The dinner was served at candle-lit tables. Favors of champagne flutes, embossed with mouse ears, were provided by Walt Disney Co. and dinner chairs Jane and Michael Eisner--Michael sporting Mickey Mouse dress studs on his tuxedo shirt.

"It's so important tonight that we got Otis Chandler here," said Van de Kamp, acknowledging the rare presence in black tie of Chandler and his wife, Bettina, who were honorary chairs for the event, which was co-chaired by Van de Kamp, Phyllis Hennigan and Marcia Wilson Hobbs and organized by a committee that included Ahmanson's daughter Margo O'Connell.

Others present included Judith and Steve Krantz, Nancy and Alan Livingston, Joanne and Roger Kozberg, Andrea Rich and UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, Gloria and Glen Holden, Georgiana and Ricardo Montalban, Annette and Peter O'Malley and Betty and Fred Hayman.

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