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Retro-Style Benefit for L.A. Master Chorale Worthy of an Oscar

November 14, 2000|PATT DIROLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The scene could have been a page from the Biltmore's 1927 scrapbook, the night of the first Academy Awards. Photographers in fedoras with popping flashbulbs, screeching "fans" in retro dress greeted the black-tie crowd arriving at the Biltmore's carriage entrance Saturday night. All the hokey hullabaloo was just the overture to the Tinseltown Ball, this year's gala to benefit the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

A flotilla of choristers serenaded guests with "Hooray for Hollywood" as they walked down the hotel's long promenade past a trio of tableaux vivants depicting classic movie scenes. And in the Crystal Ballroom, with zebra-print chairs and masses of red roses, "Fred and Ginger" twirled and dipped on a black and white dance floor.

Ball chairwoman Elaine Griffin Techentin chose the Tinseltown theme as a special nod to Paul Salamunovich, who will retire in June after a decade as the chorale's musical director. He was born in Hollywood and graduated from Hollywood High School, where he met Dottie, his wife of more than 50 years. The event was the first in a series of season-long tributes to the maestro, who has been associated with the chorale for most of his life. "I was there from the beginning," he recalled. "It was 1946. Marilyn Horne was 13, Marni Nixon, 14, and I was 19 when we were in the Los Angeles Concert Youth Chorus and later with the Roger Wagner Chorale. When Wagner was asked to establish the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 1964, as a resident company of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, I became his assistant."

The evening had several surprises, including Master Chorale president Mark Foster's presentation of an original poster from the 1962 MGM film "How the West Was Won," in which Salamunovich sang on the soundtrack, and a musical tribute sung by chorale members from the ballroom balconies. J.A.C. Redford directed the medley of classic film scores, which ended with a shower of red roses. Looking on with pride from the sold-out audience were the Wagner and Salamunovich families, along with several members of North Hollywood's St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church choir, which Salamunovich has conducted for 52 years.

Although, diagnosed with lymphoma earlier this year and undergoing chemotherapy, the maestro has no intention of hanging up his baton any time soon. Salamunovich is set to conduct in Salt Lake City and Carnegie Hall next year. "As long as I have an experience to share with people," he said, "if they ask me, I'll be there!"

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Cheryl and Haim Saban's duchy in the Beverly Park section of Beverly Hills was the setting for the Fall Social for the board of directors and the foundation board of Regents of Childrens Hospital Los Angeles on Wednesday. The annual event, designed to recount the hospital's accomplishments over the last 12 months had special significance as Childrens approaches its centennial in 2001.

This year saw the construction of two new buildings. But, more important, the hospital's Childrens Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases is now the largest program in the country. "We have just published new research for treatment of neuroblastoma that has tripled the survival rate of these kids," said center director, Dr. Stuart Siegel. "Plus we've developed new anti-cancer agents such as fenretinide, a derivative of vitamin A, that not only causes tumor cells to act like normal cells, but actually kills the tumor cells. Right now we can cure 70% of cancers, but it is still the No. 1 disease killer of children. The thrust of our program is to find drugs for that 30%."

Nine-year-old Amy Drummond, of Glendale, one of the center's success stories, was a special guest. Poised beyond her years, Amy told of her treatment for retinoblastoma, which was diagnosed when she was 9 months old. After undergoing chemotherapy and laser surgery, the cancer recurred and she ultimately lost the eye. Today, she's cancer free, plays in a band, is an avid dance student and is on the drill team.

At the conclusion of the evening, board chairman Walt Rose of Pasadena announced the lead gift provided by his co-chair, Marion Anderson, and her husband, John. The Bel-Air couple have donated $6.5 million in honor of the hospital's centennial.

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Good thing Suzanne Marx and Maidee and Buzz Kirkeby set a time frame on their All-American election night party at the Peninsula Hotel last week, or guests would have been scarfing burgers, chili, hot dogs and apple pie 'til the wee hours as the cliffhanger returns rolled in. Several guests sported Reagan red, and even the waiters got into the spirit with Uncle Sam paper hats while dispensing bags of jellybeans. If there were any Democratic or Green partisans in the crowd, they kept it to themselves.

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

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