Fords Get the Hollywood Treatment

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<i> Times Society Editor</i>

In Hollywood jargon, eminently appropriate in this case since the party site was one of MGM/UA’s giant sets, it was an extravaganza. The kind of party our imaginations (and some movies) suggest may be the way they do it on some far-off planet.

Laser beams traced the vast darkness of Sound Stage 27. (Even when you got accustomed to the lights it was hard to recognize a best friend.) State-of-the-art machines of all sizes lit up in dazzling sequences and sounded off in eerie tones. During dinner, centerpieces of lights and white flowers descended from the high ceiling and hovered over silver covered tables.

“Welcome to the 21st Century,” said Ford Motor Co. Chairman Philip Caldwell, stating it neatly for the party he was co-hosting with Ford’s President Donald E. Petersen and Executive Vice President Harold A. Poling to introduce two Ford superstars, the Mercury Sable and the Ford Taurus. It’s the biggest party Ford has ever staged, but not the Detroit auto maker’s first in California. About five years ago Ford gave a party at the home of Harold and Diane Keith to help raise money for the Music Center and in another year got involved in a Thalians fund-raiser. But this one was another story.


“It’s a unique event in corporate life,” explained Robert F. Jani, who staged the party and its special effects. He was referring to the amount of time it took to plan the event (Ford’s David Scott and Rogers & Cowan’s Dick Taylor were the masterminds who collaborated with Regal Rents for tents and props, and Parties Plus for the food) and to the cost (astronomical). But most important it marked, in the happiest way, a changing of the guard at Ford. Effective Friday, Caldwell retires (“I might tackle space,” he joked.), Petersen moves up to chairman and Poling becomes president.

The debut of the four new cars (two four-door sedans and two station wagons ) followed a “Star Wars” presentation of the dessert--raspberries flown in that morning from New Zealand surrounded by chocolate leaves, carried high on trays by 100 waiters dressed in silver mess jackets and black pants. A laser and synthesizer show played against a series of curtains. When the curtains peeled back to reveal the star attractions, Caldwell called it “the first strip-tease introduction of automobiles in the history of Detroit.” He confided that his dinner companion, Esther Williams, had given him the cue to that description.

But Caldwell wasn’t the only one on the set with a fast quip. At one of the tables Danny Thomas kept his tablemates in stitches. That little grouping included Donald Petersen and his wife Jody, Rose Marie Thomas (she announced this year’s St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital gala will take place Aug. 31), the Music Center’s Michael Newton and Times Mirror’s Dr. Franklin D. Murphy (he was celebrating his birthday) and wife Judy. Thomas’ show-biz pals--producer George Schlatter and Jack Carter--stopped by to drop a few more funny lines. Buddy Hackett did his shtick while posing for a picture with Petersen. “Now my wife will know why I left her,” the comedian grinned, rolling his eyes and hugging the Ford executive.

Detroiters Mingle

Plenty of Detroiters mingled with the Hollywood set, which included Eva Gabor with Luis Estevez, Alma and Richard Thomas who reported their triplets are now 3 1/2 years old, producer Howard Koch (his “Hollywood Wives” airs Feb. 17, 18 and 19) and his wife Ruth, producer Allan Carr with his date Denise Herman (‘I love tall blondes,’ the mighty mite reported), Virginia Mayo, June Lockhart, Earl Holliman, George Maharis, Joan Van Ark. And there were Union Oil’s Fred Hartley, Willard and Margaret Carr, Henry and Roz Rogers, Charles and Barbara Schneider, Peter Palmer of Carson Productions, Mark C. Bloome with Lea Romonek, the Robert Petersens, Ronald and Rochelle Jacobs.

The 1,200 guests were well fed--caviar and creme fraiche on plantain chips, minced squab on lettuce leaves among the hors d’oeuvres, veal chop with wild mushroom sauce as the main course--but it couldn’t have been easy. Besides the 100 waiters, Parties Plus’ Michael and Julie Loshin had head chef Robert Willson and 100 assistants distributed among four kitchen setups. The main one was on a fully furnished set (imagine the bruised shins) that was connected to Stage 27 by a man-made tunnel. And Chuck Pick and his crew handled the cars. “It took 2 1/2 hours for dinner,” Pick soothed the waiting crowd at evening’s end. “It’ll take just five minutes for the cars.”