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Philanthropic L.A. Marches to the Tune of the Masterplanner

Newsletter helps movers and shakers schedule for optimal attendance by A-list donors.


In a city as balkanized as Los Angeles, community building has to start somewhere. Liz Familian started with parties.

Familian publishes the Masterplanner, an up-to-the-minute list of the year's significant upcoming Los Angeles philanthropic events. Even those who do not regard sorting out galas as the most important task facing the Western world might find the Masterplanner to be a handy decoder of the elite--and an interesting little document of postmodern Los Angeles society. Familian, however, considers her creation nothing less than "a Bible for the community."

While it is not everyone's cup of tea, the Masterplanner helps movie premiere planners dodge the merry-go-round of philanthropy balls, museum openings and awards galas that anchor public life in Los Angeles. It reminds people not in "the Industry" when potential invitees will be at such perennials as the Sundance Film Festival.

"I would never place an opening of a movie without checking [the Masterplanner]," says Paramount Pictures chairwoman Sherry Lansing on the Masterplanner's Web site. Her high-powered endorsement is merely one of many that leap off the site like movie poster blurbs:

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 28, 2001 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Event beneficiary--A story in Monday's Southern California Living on the Masterplanner events roster mischaracterized the beneficiary of a Feb. 3 event at the California African American Museum. It was held to benefit the Jazz Antiqua Dance and Music Ensemble.

"Indispensable."--Jean Picker Firstenberg, director of the American Film Institute.

"If the Los Angeles Masterplanner didn't exist, someone would need to invent it!"--Billionaire philanthropist and Masterplanner advisory board member Eli Broad.

And though the Masterplanner's primary purpose is listing fund-raisers, former studio chief Lew Wasserman once posted his 80th birthday party on the Masterplanner--to warn the city that he had dibs on many deep-pocketed Hollywood guests, Familian said.

Because what if somebody threw a party and nobody came?

The genesis of this social scripture, Familian says, was "BC 1986."

"I mean, think about it," she muses, over a plate of chopped Shrimp Louie at a fashionable Beverly Hills bistro, Maple Drive, where white tablecloths, deep booths and hushed conversations conjure an air of high-end Zen. "There was no desktop publishing. No fax machines. Databases were very cumbersome to use."

In those days, a group of old-money Los Angeles bluebloods circulated an annual registry, the Master Calendar, listing the events of 20 or so of what Familian calls "elite WASP charities."

But where did that leave the social events orchestrated by all the new money? Clusters of new elites and new museums were assembling like barbarians at the gates of Rome, and their mushrooming fund-raisers outstripped the pace of an annual calendar.

The Master Calendar, concluded Familian, who was then chairing the board of the Children's Museum, "did not cover the mosaic that Los Angeles had become. L.A. is not a static place. There are new people. With new energy."


Finally, Familian witnessed "a train wreck of two events"--and decided to wade into the fray. She announced she was creating a citywide clearinghouse on all Los Angeles fund-raising schedules--the Jewish calendar, the Catholic calendar, the Democratic and Republican calendars, arts and Hollywood events--to unify this civic Tower of Babel.

When her first Masterplanner newsletter came out in 1986--with Los Angeles' first African American mayor, Tom Bradley, on its advisory board, along with leaders of the Music Center, LACMA and the Junior League--it unveiled a new organogram of social orchestrators.

Not to mention, nowadays, a whole new genre of soiree, such as the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center dances and the Gay Asian Pacific Services Network awards ceremonies.

The inevitable Web site ( came in 1999.

"Imagine the chaotic traffic jam of events that would occur" without the Masterplanner, onetime NBC chairman Grant A. Tinker says on the Web site, crediting the agenda with providing "organizational sanity."

Traffic jams? Train wrecks? Sanity itself?

If the Masterplanner has saved Western (or at least Westside) civilization, it does not always succeed in the herculean task of blanketing all the city's emerging social universes.

The March 1 NAACP Image Awards were absent from the Masterplanner Web site in early February. Event publicist Jalila Larsuel said she had not known how to place a listing--but the event subsequently made the Web site and the March newsletter.

Veteran publicist Jeanne Taylor "didn't think twice" about listing a February jazz benefit for the California African American Museum. "I think if people knew it existed, they would use it," she says.

Familian says that despite research and outreach, it's impossible to find out everything--especially when people list late or not at all. "It's in everyone's best interest to be listed," Familian says. "We're in a melting pot and anything that hasn't melted needs to."

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