Joan Irvine Smith Opens Estate to Charity


The curious mixed with the cognoscenti at Joan Irvine Smith’s equestrian center, the Oaks in San Juan Capistrano, for the Arthritis Foundation’s fourth annual Grandprix horse show.

With an ominous blanket of clouds threatening to dampen and muddy the occasion, 1,400 guests arrived at Smith’s estate Sunday to see some of Southern California’s top horses and riders tackle tough high-jump courses in junior/amateur, speed derby and grand prix classes.

Charging $5 for general admission, and $75 for VIP seating and a Mexican fiesta luncheon, the foundation raised estimated proceeds of $20,000, said Betty Jones, executive director of the foundation’s Orange County branch.


“This is kind of a first for us,” said Jones, pausing as she rushed from one end of the grounds to the other, walkie-talkie in hand, solving last-minute crises and keeping tabs on her 80-plus volunteer crew.

“Our three other shows were small, backyard-type deals, with maybe 200 guests and no lunch. This year, we decided that if we were going to do this, we might as well do it right. And honestly, we had no idea what we were getting into--I haven’t slept six hours in the past three nights.”

It was a first of sorts for Smith, too, who is host to an annual horse show, the Oaks Classic, each spring that draws top competitors from around the country. Sunday marked the first time Smith has thrown open the gates of her showplace center for a fund-raiser.

“If charities want to have bona fide horse shows, this place is available,” said Smith, dividing her attention between greeting friends and keeping a keen eye on the action in the show ring. “What I’m interested in,” she added with a wink, “is horses.”

A bona fide horse show is exactly what Arthritis Foundation board member Clifford Locks had in mind when he agreed to be chairman of the event. Stepping gingerly around the shiny flanks and swishing tails of the thoroughbreds, Locks, who acknowledged that he knows “nothing, zero” about horses, said he wanted to have the fund-raiser at the Oaks after he saw Smith’s Classic last spring. “I wanted our Grandprix to have all the things she had, her wonderful sound system, and, well, look at this place!” Locks said, spreading his arms to indicate the well-manicured ring, the potted flowers accenting jumps, the white wooden tables draped with pastel table cloths, the buffet area colorfully decorated with pinatas and serapes. “Mrs. Smith has been very generous to us--she’s helped us with organizational ideas, and in return, I guess, we are providing an opportunity for a lot of people who don’t know anything about horses to get a peek at this whole world.”

Before the afternoon’s grand prix class, the Marine Corps gave a color guard presentation, Roger Axworthy sang the national anthem and thousands of balloons were released into the gray skies.


The top prize went to Rich Fellers of Diamond Bar, who guided Bailey’s Irish Cream to first place in the Grandprix and trotted home with the $5,000 purse.

In a battle of the black-tie galas on Saturday night, the Cystic Fibrosis Guild of Orange County waged a glamorous skirmish at the Newport Beach Marriott that attracted 440 guests and raised estimated proceeds of $181,000, guild president Ann Stern said.

Sound like a success?

“Well, we lost some people to the Town & Country (magazine) party at Crystal Court (in Costa Mesa), and some others went to the George Bush reception (at the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach),” Stern said. “But that’s their loss! If Town & Country could see this, they’d be so sad they’re not here.”

Dubbed “100 Years of Hollywood,” the $175-per-person benefit began with a silent auction and a four-star appetizer buffet featuring steak tartare, sizzling garlic shrimp, smoked salmon, caviar and iced Stoliychnaya pepper vodka.

Under the watchful gaze of legendary film stars, including Elsa Lanchester, Errol Flynn and Jane Russell--pictured larger-than-life in posters lining the ballroom--guests of honor Joseph O’Connell and his wife, Patricia, daughter of the legendary late director Alfred Hitchcock, talked about the Alfred Hitchcock Center for Cystic Fibrosis Research at UCLA. The O’Connells raised $1 million for the Hitchcock Center, which opened earlier this year.

Patricia O’Connell said she became involved with the cause eight years ago when one of her granddaughters was diagnosed with the disease. My father said, ‘We have to do something,’ ” O’Connell recalled. “He was terribly upset about it.”

Unlike her father, who “quietly made donations, but was not active in causes, per se,” O’Connell, who lives with her husband near Sacramento, said she devotes much of her time to lecturing and fund-raising for Cystic Fibrosis.


After a dinner of lobster salad, grilled veal chop and a chocolate gelato truffle dubbed “Hitchcock’s Fantasy,” the O’Connells received the guild’s “Breath of Life” award.