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RSVP / INTO THE NIGHT

Celebs Take a Spin on Carousel of Hope

October 26, 1998|BETTY GOODWIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There were so many celebrated faces at the Carousel of Hope ball Friday night that you can't possibly list them. You can only relate moments:

* Gayle Wilson escorting Betty Ford to the ladies' room.

* Sugar Ray Leonard and Tony Danza talking about their workouts.

* The strange photo-op threesome of Buzz Aldrin, Jackie Collins and Vanna White.

* Christopher Darden and Howie Mandel doing dinner.

* Sylvester Stallone fretting that no one would bid on his donated auction painting. (Not to worry--Jim Wiatt, his agent, and Brad Grey, his manager, bid the price up like crazy, and the piece went to someone else.)

* Emcee Jay Leno gleefully introducing Dustin Hoffman to the crowd as "winner of numerous Cable Ace awards."

Nevertheless, Barbara Davis, the force who fills the Beverly Hilton's International Ballroom to the rafters every other year for her Children's Diabetes Foundation fund-raiser, doesn't want anyone to think pulling it all off is easy.

"It's hard each time you do it because you've got to ask people for money," Davis said as guests arrived to her 15th event--the first 10 were held in her hometown of Denver.

"When things go good, I make a lot of calls that day. If someone turns me down or sounds annoyed, I don't make a call until the next day. I'm very superstitious." (Every year she also wears a pink gown, her lucky color. This year's dress was from Vera Wang, and this year's jewelry was emeralds.)

And sometimes things go wrong at the last minute.

Like?

"The Duchess of York canceled at 4 o'clock today," she said. Even without Fergie, the evening was a blockbuster. The fashion quotient matched up to the Academy Awards, and, even better, the jewels and gowns weren't loaners. (Chicest fashion statements: Lili Zanuck's short black satin pouf by Armani and co-chair Anne Johnson's white lace Badgley Mischka column.)

The headliners were Las Vegas quality: Leno, Babyface Edmonds, Celine Dion (singing a duet with tenor Andrea Bocelli, who appeared in a taped video performance), all working for free, as did Sidney Poitier, composer David Foster and producer George Schlatter.

You could drink all the champagne you wanted. (Hilton owner Merv Griffin underwrote the meal, from lobster salad to baked Alaska.)

Davis doesn't like her guests to leave empty-handed. Goody bags (filled with a baseball cap, blow dryer, CDs, makeup, T-shirt, bottled water and Christmas tree ornament, for starters) were so large and unwieldy that it was a challenge to carry them out.

A silent auction held before dinner offered a dazzling array of goods and services, including a German shepherd puppy complete with dog training classes; three nights at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Dubai ("a beautiful suite overlooking the Arabian Gulf"); and a Peugeot mountain bike trimmed in buffalo leather by Hermes.

The top bid of the evening was $25,000 for the use of a Gulfstream IV-SP jet round-trip from L.A. to Aspen. By evening's end, Davis had raised $4.2 million. Her husband, Marvin, one of the richest men in the country, announced that the couple would throw in $2 million of their own, and in his own speech he made it clear that the money they have contributed to diabetes research is the accomplishment they are proudest of.

Davis made children's diabetes her cause 23 years ago when her then 7-year-old daughter, Dana, was diagnosed with the incurable disease. Dana, who now has a master's degree in teaching, has had 23 laser eye surgeries, must take daily insulin shots and monitor her blood. A cure is the brass ring that her mother reaches for.

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