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Social Circuits

September 29, 2002|ANN CONWAY

Mamma Mia!

Call it a social triathlon: They wined and dined. They watched the opening night performance of "Mamma Mia!" They discoed at a post-performance cast party. And so it went for patrons of the Center Theatre Group who celebrated the launch of its 36th season at a sellout benefit that netted $160,000 for its outreach programs. "This is our most successful gala ever," Betsy Applebaum, co-chairwoman, said as she welcomed hundreds of guests to a cocktail reception at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The buzz (besides the one for the group's nostalgic new season at the Ahmanson Theatre, which includes Lily Tomlin in her Tony Award-winning performance in "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe") was for the recent opening in New York of three productions first presented by Center Theatre Group--"My Old Lady," "In Real Life" and a new version of "Flower Drum Song." "They all started here," said Gordon Davidson, the group's artistic director and producer. "I present these primarily for our community, but the good stuff always moves on."

Tomlin was guest of honor at the formal dinner--with filet mignon and potatoes layered with artichokes--staged at tables topped with towering sprays of white orchids in the pavilion's Grand Hall. "It is fitting that we would bring 'Search for Signs' here because, as you know, L.A. is the center of the universe," said Tomlin, as she addressed guests such as gala co-chairs Harold Applebaum and Sheri and Les Biller. "The Music Center is always a good place to find intelligent life, and it wouldn't be possible without generous people like you."

Also on the guest list at the Sept. 20 gala: Judi Davidson, Richard Kagan, Julie Hagerty, Patty Glaser, Lainie Kazan, Piper Laurie, Corina and Antonio Villaraigosa, Shelly Freeman, Brian Hargrove, Adela and John Ohanesian and Mara Brock Akil.

Moving Forward

Standing in for her late husband, beloved L.A. Laker announcer Chick Hearn, Marge Hearn took the spotlight at a gala netting $200,000 for the Dorr Institute for Arthritis Research & Education and Operation Walk, a surgical outreach program for disadvantaged arthritis patients. "We planned for this to be a celebration with Chick. This was something he really wanted to do," said orthopedic surgeon Lawrence D. Dorr, the institute's medical director. "We are so grateful that Marge is here--she's had a lot of requests" for appearances.

Dressed in a glittering jacket for the gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Hearn said it felt "strange" to be without the man to whom she was married "a couple of days short of 64 years." "This is my first experience of being alone [in public], but I feel very much at home with this group," she said.

Her husband, who had hip-replacement surgery earlier this year, believed in Operation Walk's outreach to the underserved, she said. "He loved the fact that it helped people who couldn't afford the surgery." Also honored was orthopedic nurse Jeri Ward, winner of the inaugural Audrey Skirball Kenis Community Service Award.

Founded in 1994, Operation Walk has provided hip- and knee-replacement surgery for about 250 people in developing nations and the U.S., Dorr said. "These are crippled people who can't walk because they have such severe arthritis," he said. "Since they have no medical insurance, the surgery is like a miracle that drops out of the sky for them."

During the Sept. 21 festivities, Dorr announced that the Audrey Skirball Kenis Foundation had recently given a $1-million grant to Operation Walk. "In some ways, we have called it Audrey's walk," Dorr said of the late philanthropist for whom the foundation is named. "Audrey, her husband, Charles Kenis, and the foundation have been the biggest supporters of these trips."

On the guest list: Bob Steiner, Bill Bertka, Judy and Buddy Litten, Linda and Harvey Vechery, Linda and Stu Lantz, Arnie and Carol Cohen, Kathy and Rich Cardarette, Elgin Baylor, Jamal Wilkes and Ruben Bird.

Komen Awards

A breast cancer survivor and a tireless health advocate, Sandy Finestone was presented with two awards at a Sept. 19 reception honoring sponsors of the Komen Orange County Race for the Cure: Volunteer of the Year (from the local affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation) and the National Komen Outstanding Volunteer of the Year for Lifetime Achievement.

"I got involved with this group because I like the Komen philosophy," said Finestone, a psychologist who underwent a double mastectomy when she was diagnosed with multifocal breast cancer 19 years ago. "Twenty-five percent of all funds we raise goes to the national office and 100% of that goes to cancer research. Seventy-five percent stays in the local community and we can use it for what needs to be done."

Also receiving awards for their work on behalf of the foundation were Marie Blash and Bill Saksa.

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