It was hard to tell Sunday night who was having more fun--the kiddies brought in from Childrens Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center by Make-A-Wish (an organization that grants wishes for terminally ill children) at around 5:30 p.m. or the adults (more than a thousand) who arrived after 7:30 p.m.
The giant circus party, hosted by Betty and Alan Levenson (he's president and CEO of Small World Greetings, a company he founded in 1969), on the grounds of their South Pasadena estate, was declared by practically everyone there "the party of the year." And we're not arguing the point.
Standing by the front gate, Levenson, dressed as a circus ringmaster, and Betty, glamorously attired in red satin and sequins by Diana Venegas, greeted every guest. Behind them on the lawn were a pair of 46-foot-long tigers (they were used in Small World's float at this year's Rose Parade) that had been put into place via cranes. And behind that on the spacious grounds were a midway with all sorts of games (adults and children went home laden with toys and boxes of animal crackers); an organ grinder and his monkey; carrousel horses and flowers around a pond; and Rococo's stands with hot dogs, chili, fish and chips, barbecued beef, ice cream and all the fixings, soft drinks, wine, and tons more.
Early in the evening Erik Estrada, white teeth flashing, signed autographs and kidded with the little ones. With him were Peggy Roe and writer-producer Paul Mason. Doug Barr (Lee Majors' co-star in "Fall Guy") worked his way through another part of the circus. Councilman Michael Woo, who was due at another dinner later ("While I'm new on the job," he said, "I'm trying to make as many events as I can."), sat with Lynne Choy Uyeda, a special projects coordinator. And strolling about were Levenson's parents, Sol and Ethel Levenson (just back from India, she was wearing a sari), Small World veeps Ed Levenson and Jack Shaw and their wives and Gloria Rose; Make-A-Wish national director Jack Stanford, who flew in from his home in Hawaii for the party and Michael Lewis, director for the local chapter; KCET president William H. Kobin and vice president Don Youpa and their wives.
"It's magic," marveled Mrs. Michael Fasman as she headed for the palm reader's tent, which was behind the band and the dance floor. "I'm at a loss for words," said Maurice Harwick, outside counsel for Small World and a man who has never been heard to make that statement before. Meanwhile, Harwick's wife, Sue, was busy greeting a lot of their judicial friends--Judges Harold Ackerman, David Horowitz, Burton Katz, Mario Fukuto, Vernon Foster, William Drake and their wives, Judge Vaino Spencer, plus Superior Court Commissioner John Dickey and his wife Virginia and retired Superior Court Judge Harry Shafer. Also enjoying the Big Top atmosphere were Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler, South Pasadena Mayor and Mrs. Sam Knowles, L.A. Deputy Mayor Tom Houston and South Pasadena's Chief of Police and Mrs. Bill Reese. Betty Levenson is an active member of the KCET Women's Council and quite a few of her colleagues were in on the party--Sally Stewart, Nancy Petersen, Carol Henry, Jane Geragos and their husbands; Vera O'Larry; Dottie Kemp, who is head of KCET's volunteers, and Suzanne Marx, who was with son Eric.
A lot of people were wondering how much it had cost to put on such an extravaganza. The estimates ranged from $200,000 to $250,000. A figure somewhere in between was probably close. A great deal of work went into this festive occasion. "We've been on this for a week," the host declared. "And when the sun came out the balloons (there were 100,000 of them on Sunday) exploded." Jeff Williams and his Regal Rents crew had been setting up tents, food stations, etc. for three consecutive days. Jim Hynd of Fiesta Floats supervised the decor. And John Andrews, assistant to the president of Citrus College, said he and the Citrus College Circle K members (all dressed as baggy-pants clowns) had been there "for five days blowing up balloons and helping out."
The chandeliers sparkled over the runway as some of L.A.'s best-known models paraded by, wearing Ruben Panis' fall collection. And having just finished a chateaubriand dinner, accompanied by fine wines, the crowd at Antoine's, the 2-month-old restaurant on La Cienega, was ready for some big applause. Panis has now added some sophisticated afternoon wear to his line, but it was his "big event" evening fashions that received the biggest hand. Hosting the Sunday evening affair were Antoine's Barbara Dale, one of the restaurant's backers, and Panis.
Mayor Tom Bradley was there with his wife, Ethel, who is often dressed by Panis. Later she told the designer that it was the first time the mayor had ever chosen something for her to wear. The mayor's choice? A black gown with white embroidery and fur trim. Among those in the audience wearing Panis creations from previous collections were Dale Snodgrass, Sachi Irwin and Jane Kramer (all accompanied by their husbands), Diane Abramson (with her doctor-husband) and Contessa Cohn, whose escort was William Brining.
Others watching spellbound were Zsa Zsa Gabor, a longtime Panis fan, Barbara Carrera with husband Nicholas Mavrolean, Sally Cobb, Father Maurice Chase, Gloria and Phil Luchenbill, the Jerry Sonkens, and Beebe Kline with Jim Meares.
Panis commentated his own show and then for a finale strolled down the runway arm in arm with Contessa Cohn, who wore a crown and carried a torch and was the spirit of the Statue of Liberty. Egalite and fraternite, aussi .
Gant Gaither drove in from his Palm Springs home the other day to check on his new porcelain tableware designs (four patterns will debut in November) and the dresses Frances Henaghan is making out of his scarfs. Business attended to, he dined quietly at the Regency Club with Wally Cedar, a longtime pal. (It was the night Parisian restaurant owner-chef Michel Pasquet was whipping up his special creations in the kitchen. Later, Pasquet and the club's Axel Dikkers walked through the dining room accepting compliments from Ron and Carol Smith, Laurent Quenoix (the chef at the 7th St. Bistro), Burt Harris and more.)
Gant, who has itchy feet (and loads of friends around the world), is going on to Monte Carlo where he'll be the guest, as usual, of Prince Rainier at the palace. His social schedule there includes a private party hosted by Robert Hauseman, president of Loews Hotels, and his wife; the 10th-anniversary celebration of Loews Monte Carlo and, of course, on Aug. 10 the Red Cross Gala, which this year stars Paul Anka. Before and after he plans to stop off in Marbella to visit with Mala Rubinstein (the great Helena's niece) and Acapulco's Emi Fors. Somewhere along the way he'll also visit with Mary Wells and Harding Lawrence in their La Fiorentina on Cap Ferrat. La Fiorentina was originally built by Lady Kenmore and was completely decorated for the Hardings by Billy Baldwin. Gant (he's been nicknamed El Ganto by Princess Caroline) winds up his European holiday in Salzburg.