Beachcomber Avalon Helps Fight Cancer

Fans of “Beach Blanket Bingo” and erstwhile Mouseketeers, now all grown up and in black tie, turned out for the American Cancer Society’s “A Summer Place” Friday night at the Hotel Meridien in Newport Beach. They were treated to an evening with one-time teen idol Frankie Avalon.

“Think of it,” Avalon said when he took the stage, “we made those pictures more than 20 years ago. ‘Muscle Beach Party,’ ‘Bikini Beach Party,’ ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’ . . . What stories! What plots! What stories? What plots?”

According to dinner auction chairman Jan Vitti, both Avalon and comedian Jack Carter donated their performances, helping the local chapter of the Cancer Society to raise $75,000; 350 attended.

Irvine Mayor Dave Baker conducted the “verbal” auction; among the items he auctioned were kisses with Supervisor Thomas F. Riley. Vitti was one of two successful bidders. “She kisses great,” Riley said.


Florist Chris Lindsay donated the decor and centerpieces, which featured sand, pails, tulips and sea shells. “I just got back from Cape Cod,” Lindsay said. “The party was a great excuse to go do research.” The shape of the shells was echoed in the scalloped squash that accompanied the filet mignon; dinner also included a blue crab salad and, a homage to Frankie, strawberry shakes.

Dinner conversation was lively: Lynn Hirsch, wife of Vitti’s father, Clement, was still fuming about a Charles Bronson film crew that shot a scene that afternoon in Newport’s Back Bay; the couple’s home was in the path of the smoke from boats spectacularly blown up by the film makers.

Guest Ted Birnkrant, 80, said he came out from Detroit to help his “kid brother Hal” celebrate his 70th birthday. The siblings were two of 13 children; eight of the brothers were attorneys. “We had eight names on the door,” Hal Birnkrant said, “Birnkrant, Birnkrant, Birnkrant, Birnkrant, Birnkrant, Birnkrant, Birnkrant & Birnkrant.”

Hoda Anton Guirgis, director of the Cancer Surveillance Program of Orange County, said the program will, for the first time, have complete data on the incidence of cancer in Orange County within two weeks. The program, chartered by the state health department, registers 7,000 new cancer cases in the county a year.


“We’re finding that lung cancer is increasing and that it’s occurring at a younger age in women than men, a very interesting phenomenon,” Guirgis said. “We know that cigarettes are the worst enemy, but there may be other risk factors involved with women we don’t yet understand.”

Carter began the entertainment portion of the program. In his routine, he talked about some of his friends at the gala. Carter called Vitti’s husband, Anthony, “a highly suspected attorney” and Jan Vitti “so convincing she could sell a double bed to the Pope.”

Bandleader Ray Anthony finally introduced Avalon.

“Annette (Funicello) wanted to be with us tonight,” Avalon said of his beach movie co-star as he joined Anthony on stage, “but she’s busy at home making peanut butter sandwiches.”


The ever-young Avalon (“Soooo cute,” at least five women said at the dinner) and Anthony--who Avalon said “took him under his wing"--played dueling trumpets on Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehaving.” Avalon did impressions and sang a bevy of favorites from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

“It’s hard,” he confessed. “I’m old enough that the teeny boppers have stopped screaming, (but) not old enough to get the sophisticated women to stop yawning.”

Avalon and his wife, Kay, who attended the gala, have eight children. “Four boys and four sweethearts,” he told the crowd. “The oldest is 22. Isn’t that amazing? He’s older than I am.” The ages are 22, 21, 20, 18, 16, 15, 13 and 12. “Kay never gets a headache,” he noted.