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SOCIAL CLIMES

All for the sake of new smiles

October 05, 2003|Ann Conway | Times Staff Writer

Strolling along the red carpet, he flashed grin after grin. But it was thumbing through a photo album he took from his suit pocket that made plastic surgeon William P. Magee smile.

"See her? A 13-year-old from Colombia who never went to school" until she received surgery to repair a cleft palate, he said, stepping out of paparazzi range as Jessica Simpson, Carmen Electra, Roma Downey and Doris Roberts swept into the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the Operation Smile gala. "And look at her: This lady walked 18 miles to see us. And him: He was 35 when he had surgery, and when I brought him to his mother, she didn't recognize him."

Before tucking away the album, Magee gazed at its cover photo: a group of facially disfigured children in the Philippines, hopeful candidates for the organization's free surgical procedures. "A smile is the very first level of communication, and one out of every 500 children in a developing country needs cleft lip or cleft palate surgery to perform this simple task," said Magee, who co-founded Operation Smile. "When you take care of those children, you move them from hopelessness to possibility."

The Sept. 24 West Coast Gala raised $2.3 million for the Virginia-based organization. Seated in a ballroom decorated with flickering white tapers, hundreds of guests watched as Simpson and Barry Manilow performed, the latter dedicating "Can't Smile Without You" to "everyone at Operation Smile." Also on the party agenda: kudos to reconstructive surgeon Randy Sherman, director-producer Tom Shadyac, film producer Elizabeth Monk Daley, Laker Karl Malone and the late Wilt Chamberlain for their support.

Standing in for the late John Ritter, actress Katey Sagal presented a Universal Smile Award to Shadyac, producer of the ABC sitcom "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter." "I am standing here tonight for a man who had a universal smile," she told the crowd. Said Shadyac: "John was Operation Smile to me."

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