Taking Horse Jumping to a New High

Times Staff Writer

While growing up, Irvine heiress Joan Irvine Smith always wanted a little piece of land for her horses. Now, years later, Joan has pieced together several parcels (about 20 acres) of real estate near San Juan Capistrano, which she's calling the Oaks. It's her intention to take the sport of jumping from the dust, dirt and flies of the corral and dignify it in order to popularize it with the public. Some say the Oaks Classic she inaugurated last year, with a purse of $70,000 this year, is the Ascot of jumping.

Last year about 700 attended the first classic. For the second affair last weekend in Orange County there were "1,500 here (those paying $100)" and "1,500 over there (those at $5 a head in the bleachers)."

All watched international horsewoman Susan Hutchison (Flintridge's pride--she got her start at Flintridge Riding Club with Jimmy Williams) jump nearly flawlessly on Livius to win the $50,000 Oaks Grandprix--the most prize money she's ever won. The competition was tough; nine riders finished the first round with a perfect course; Susan won in the final.

And such fun. The bleachers were surpassed by the elegance of the tent for desirability of seating: a white tent a block long to screen the sun. Rococo catering provided shrimp and crab and piscine wonders for the first course, Mexican tostadas and tacos for the second, hot fudge sundaes for the third, with cool beverages. But, for all, no dust, no barnyard fragrance--just incredibly close and intimate views of some of the best riders and jumpers in the world.

Joan Irvine hopes to elevate jumping to stardom.

Totally in support is her mother, Athalie Clarke, married to the late James Irvine (Joan's father), then, as a widow, to the late Judge Thurmond Clarke. It would be absolutely correct to say that Athalie held court--no, to say that Athalie was revered like royalty. A soft-voiced, kind and friendly woman seemingly more popular than the Queen Mother (and who always wanted her daughter, one spectator commented, to become interested in clothes), shares Joan's interest and financial costs in jumping.

"If I do say so myself," she said the day of the Oaks, "when Joan used to ride in the Orange County Hunt in Middleburg, Va., she was the most beautiful rider I have ever seen."

Trainer Jimmy Kohn and Martin Cohen, both part of the Oaks organizing committee, are major figures in the effort to create a challenging equestrian competition within a leisurely social setting. The Oaks beauty is unchallenged. California green turf, California oaks (which actually blossomed this year, according to Joan), colorful, pretty jumps of brick and white latticing. Joan personally picked out the geraniums and hibiscus and the trellised trees for the course.

The social crowd was eclectic: Caroline Hunt Schoellkopf of Dallas came (she was in town to see that the Hotel Bel-Air she owns stays "one of the 10 great hotels of the world in the grand tradition"); Bonnie Kremer of Newport Beach, whose husband (former Irvine Company president) was at the Bohemian Grove; Milton and Marian Rothschild of St. Louis; inveterate horse lovers, Bob and Betty Strub; Hal and Betty Ramser and their offspring; Los Angeles Padrino John Bowles; Dr. Robert and Arvella Schuller. And more: Mary Roosevelt, Freeman and Katy Gates, Dr. Jack and Suzanne Peltason (he's chancellor of UC Irvine), Dr. Howard House, Joan Luther, Lois Cannon Driggs and Buzz Aldrin, Barbara and George Karl, Sen. Marian Bergeson, Nancy Fritz and her son Hoddy, John Welborne, Alex and Barbara Bowie and their daughter Becky, Jack and Patricia Groth, Regina and Albert Grasselli of McLean, Va. (He recalled that when Joan and he were 17 they "went shooting ducks" together, "and I felt sorry for the ducks.")

Three of Joan's former husbands also attended--Chuck Swinden, Russell Penniman and Cappy Smith. Two of her three sons were there, the oldest, James Irvine Swinden, and his pretty blond wife, Deborah, and bachelor Morton Irvine Smith, a graduate of the University of Rhode Island. Absent was second son, Lt. Russell Penniman IV, an Annapolis graduate who's an aircraft carrier pilot on the Kittyhawk in the Mediterranean. However, his wife, Carol (who, recently, on short notice, joined her husband in Kenya for a short safari), and their 9-month-old baby, Elizabeth (whom he hasn't seen for five months), attended, wearing matching Laura Ashley dresses.

Another contingent up front at the white railings were the Hermes people from France. Because Hermes is celebrating its 150th year of producing fine leathers, fittings and jewelry for the carriage trade, they undertook the $7,500 Acorn Junior/Amateur Grandprix in the morning. A handsome crowd, they numbered Jean-Louis Dumas, Hermes chairman, and his pretty wife, Rena (the architect who gives each Hermes shop its distinctive cachet); his cousin Patrick Guerrand-Hermes, vice president, as well as Chrys Fisher, the American president of Hermes ("No, I'm not French. I'm from Oklahoma. I'm an Okie, you might say"). And a pretty good-looking one, too.

PAST PERFECT: More than 700 attended the warm and wonderful evening honoring Marion and John Anderson for their gift of $15 million. UCLA will create the John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management in their honor. Said Anderson: "I am deeply grateful this graduate school will bear my name, and we will do everything in our power in the years that remain to justify confidence of the school." He noted that $1 million will go to create the Marion Anderson Professorship at UCLA, and "this chair of Marion's will only be occupied by a woman!" That created cheers. Anderson asked his children to stand: "I think it only important that we recognize them, because their inheritance has been somewhat substantially reduced!" Beaming in the crowd were Sue and Charles E. Young, UCLA chancellor, and Dean and Mrs. J. Clayburn La Force. The dean expects to have a whole new campus by 1992. A successful entrepreneur, whose father was a barber, Anderson is the founder and owner of Topa Equities Ltd., a holding company with more than 20 subsidiaries with annual revenues of approximately $350 million.

KEEPING UP: Richard and Maude Ferry hosted a group of friends at their home in Pasadena to welcome Keith and Margaret Russell, transfers from Hancock Park. He's chief operating officer of Glendale Federal Savings. Among the dinner group, Terrence and Debby Lanni, John and Liz Argue, Don and Joanne Albrecht, Bill and Eileen Zimmerman. . . . Curtis Kent, president of the Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Vincent de Paul, and Diane Downey, Giney Milner, Gerry Frawley, Caroline Ahmanson, Patti Lewis and Ann Miller of San Francisco were among the group meeting at the Vatican in Italy and having the rare experience of celebrating Mass with the Pope in his private chapel. They were joined on various occasions by U.S. Ambassador to Italy Max Raab and his wife, Ruth, and were entertained at a reception by the new ambassador to the Holy See, Frank Shakespeare, as well as by Princess Boncompagni at her palace. Giney Milner flew on to Hong Kong to join former Vatican Ambassador Bill Wilson and his wife, Betty, on a Royal Viking cruise around China and Japan. . . . Club 100 has a celebration luncheon June 10 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. . . . Thursday the Biltmore Hotel hosts an old-fashioned neighborhood party to celebrate the New Pershing Square and salute major donors. . . . Sonance, a support group for the House Ear Institute, plans a "Just for Fun" dining/dancing party Thursday at the Regency Club.

SIGNIFICANT KUDOS: Former Ambassador to England and Mrs. Walter Annenberg will be honorary co-chairmen of the Palm Springs Desert Museum's 50th anniversary celebration beginning in September, according to J. Ralph Stone, trustees president. . . . James K. Agnew, executive vice president of J. Walter Thompson/West, receives the National Humanitarian Award from the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine at the Century Plaza on June 17. It's $500 per couple. . . . Stevie Wonder has been named honorary chairman for the Foundation for the Junior Blind. . . . The UCLA International Student Center's Neil H. Jacoby International Award was bestowed upon UCLA Chancellor and Mrs. Charles E. Young at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

PLAUDITS: Mrs. W. Malcolm O'Donnell has been named director of the Coronet Debutante Ball to be held Nov. 28 at the Beverly Hilton.

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