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'Quest for the Crown' Brings Out Bevy of Beauties at AIDS Benefit

March 07, 2000|PATT DIROLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The late Noel Coward once defined sex as "simply a matter of lighting." It certainly was a key factor in the beauty pageant staged at L.A.'s Wiltern Theatre on Saturday. But that's because the 26 "girls" in this competition don't bear up very well under scrutiny. It takes vast quantities of hot wax, industrial-strength makeup and high-tech corsetry to qualify for the annual drag queen contest staged by Aid for AIDS.

For 10 years, the spectacle was produced by Alexis Pittman as "Battle for the Tiara." When Pittman died in August, his colleagues decided that rather than let the crown go without a queen, and the queens go without a crown, they would continue the event and rename it "Quest for the Crown."

Backstage, this year's bevy of beauties was one big bundle of nerves. Miss France fretted over his spotlight. Miss Israel--a dead ringer for Julia Roberts--complained of the cold. "I'm not used to being strapless," he wailed; and Miss Australia--stunning in black velvet--fidgeted with his pearl choker. To top it off, Miss Saudi Arabia's buff "bodyguards" were AWOL.

This event is no place for the timid, dear hearts.

"Anything from the absurd to the insane can happen . . . and usually does," said Scott McPhail, the show's co-producer (and Miss Kansas in previous years).

Comedy writer Bruce Vilanch emceed, arriving on stage in a bathtub blanketed in "American Beauty" rose petals from which he emerged wrapped in a bath towel imprinted "No on 22."

The protracted parade of lovelies that followed included Miss Mexico, who descended from a huge pinata; Miss Antarctica in a sleigh pulled by four dogs; Miss France with a trio of poodles in tow; Miss Russia, balancing a giant Faberge egg on her head; and a slightly tipsy Miss Ireland, who produced a live leprechaun from beneath her bouffant gown.

And who was the fairest of them all? Stilt-walking Miss France took the crown, which required a pair of bikini-clad hunks to hoist it onto her Eiffel Tower headdress. Miss Mexico was first runner-up; and a bummed-out Miss Norway was sixth. She pranced off the stage in a huff. Now, remember all this ribaldry serves a worthy purpose. The evening raised more than $225,000, said executive producer Roger Tansey, to provide financial help to needy people with HIV and AIDS in L.A.

*

Clanging alarms sent security guards flying to the Huntington Library last Friday night when the sudden thunder and hailstorm triggered the San Marino landmark's elaborate alarm system. More than 650 guests were sampling wine and canapes in Henry Huntington's former garage, now the handsome new Boone Gallery, where "The Art of Bloomsbury" is on display through April 30.

"It sounded like a bomb," said Huntington staffer Catherine Babcock, "but everyone went back to enjoying the art."

Organized by London's Tate Gallery, the collection features works by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry--all part of that effete set of supercilious intellectuals, who called themselves "the Bloomsberries" in the early 1900s.

*

Para Los Ninos and KTLA Charities honored Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-L.A.) and Times Mirror Co. CEO Mark H. Willes for their support at the third annual Hearts on Track for Kids benefit Saturday night at Staples Center. The lavish buffet dinner and live auction preceding the L.A. Kings versus Nashville Predators game raised more than $350,000.

The proceeds will continue to fund programs for children who live in the skid row area of Los Angeles.

*

Tinseltown's elite helped raise $1 million Thursday night at the 20th annual gala hosted by Marlo, Terre and Tony Thomas to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Entertainment at the Beverly Hilton Hotel was headlined by Ray Romano, Sheryl Crow and Marc Anthony, but the real star of the show was Bob Ulrich, CEO of Target Stores, who will fund Target House II at the Memphis-based hospital to provide a home-away-from-home for long-term patients and their families. The donation brings Target's contribution to more than $20 million.

Patt Diroll's column is published Tuesdays. She can be reached at pattdiroll@earthlink.net.

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