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Socialites, Start Your Party Engines and Let the Season Begin!


Labor Day weekend is upon us, and the social terriers will soon be stirring for that annual ritual known as the launch of the "social season," once narrowly defined by Autumn Cotillion in October and the Assembly Ball in November.

So here we are with a social calendar showing a smorgasbord of events. In recent years, the opening of the opera has been the designated kickoff. The gala benefit on Sept. 6 will open L.A. Opera's first production, Verdi's "Aida." Alyce Williamson and Carol Henry are chairing the Egyptian-themed extravaganza, which will be staged on the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County Plaza.

The first Saturday after Labor Day is booked with three events. On Sept. 9, supporters of the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House will McDance the night away at their ninth annual "Mac Tonight." "Politically Incorrect's" Bill Maher will be the special guest at the black-tie benefit featuring Big Macs and fries served under glass. Or if you prefer hot 'n' spicy, there's the City of Hope's annual dinner that same night sponsored by the trade group Foodservice/Hospitality Industry. Chef John Sedlarwill construct tamal zacahuil, a 6-foot-long tamale weighing about 200 pounds. In Studio City, you can scarf hot dogs and pizza at "Starry Night," the Wellness Community-Foothills' evening on the New York street set of CBS Radford Studios.

On Sept. 16, the posh Huntington Ball will be held beneath a full moon on the south terrace of the Huntington Art Gallery, the Beaux Arts mansion in San Marino that was the Huntingtons' home. Heather Haaga, chairwoman of the event, promises a multiple-course dinner similar to those served by Arabella Huntington in her heyday. This is one formal occasion when you can't get by with a little cocktail dress.

And here's a brand-new bash: Before she left for a family reunion on the southern Adriatic coast, Terry Stanfill shared plans for "Un Ballo in Maschera," the first fund-raiser sponsored by the new California Chapter of Save Venice Inc. The Sept. 23 event is to be held in the gardens of Villa delle Favole, the San Marino estate of her neighbors, Disney exec Thomas Schumacher and interior designer Matthew White.

"It promises to be the most beautiful party we've ever been involved with," said White, who's co-chairing with Hutton Wilkinson, longtime associate of the late Tony Duquette. "We're taking our inspiration from the lavish masked ball staged by South American millionaire Carlos de Bestiqui in 1951 at Venice's Palazzo Labia," said Wilkinson. Undersecretary of the United Nations Joseph Connor and his wife, Sassy, will be the guests of honor.

Why the L.A.-Venice connection? Stanfill, whose parents emigrated from Italy, said L.A. has been helping Venice ever since floods devastated the city in 1966. In the 1970s, with the support of the late Dr. Franklin D. Murphy, former chairman of The Times and former UCLA Chancellor, the L.A. chapter of the Venice Committee of the International Fund for Monuments sponsored the conservation of the Church of San Pietro di Castello. The newly formed California chapter of Save Venice Inc. has raised the funds for the restoration of the church's Lando Chapel, which will be dedicated to the memory of Murphy, who died in 1994.

As for a proper definition of the "social season"? Personally, I think it depends on your priorities. A Trojan will tell you it's the first USC home game (Sept. 9). In our household, the resident handicapper views the opening day of Santa Anita's Oak Tree Meet (Oct. 4) as his social lodestar. It's all sooo stressful.


Patt Diroll's column is published Tuesdays. She can be reached at

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