"How about a flying lesson?" asked Voyager pilot Dick Rutan, sweeping into a VIP reception at the Irvine Hilton & Towers.
With that, the aviator who, with Jeana Yeager, set a world record when he circled the earth without refueling, whipped out a tiny balsa-wood plane and sent it swooshing toward a chandelier.
"Oops," he said, watching it flutter into a nosedive. "Needed more forward lift."
And so it went on Saturday night when Rutan and Yeager appeared at a benefit that netted an estimated $35,000 for the Discovery Museum of Orange County.
The duo, who've gone their separate ways romantically, Rutan said, thrilled museum supporters by autographing tiny planes and addressing 450 guests during a multimedia presentation after dinner.
"We're traveling around to help pay off the $500,000 it took to make our flight," Yeager said. "Then, maybe we'll begin to make some money on our own." They were paid $15,000 for Saturday night's appearance.
Yeager has her sights set on helping develop a museum "much like the Discovery Museum. One based on the flight of the Voyager, but also on other sciences, on experimentation." (The Discovery Museum of Orange County hopes to develop and operate hands-on learning facilities to improve, among other things, the scientific literacy of students.)
Rutan is involved in the initial design phase of an airplane that could handle the short hauls of express mail routes. "We (he and his brother, Burt) are going to build the airplane, manufacture it and sell it," he said. "So more cities and towns can be served by overnight package express."
They're also designing an airplane that can compete in the annual air races in Reno. "Any of us in the airplane-manufacturing business should be insulted that 42-year-old planes are winning those races. So, I'm developing Windsong, a high-tech carbon fiber airplane that can beat 'em."
Is he afraid of anything?
"Well, there's an elevator here that runs on the outside of the building. Scares the living . . . out of me."
During the reception, held in the hotel's chic Imperial Room, George Argyros, honorary event chairman, said he wasn't a pilot, but often flew "right seat" in his Lear jet.
"Once in a while," he said, adding: "Do you realize if we could have gotten Rutan to train our AirCal (co-owned by Argyros before its sale to American Airlines) pilots, we would have stayed in the airline business?"
Also on the scene: Lois Driggs Cannon with former astronaut Buzz Aldrin (who, comparing his history-making first moon flight with the Voyager expedition, said: "We were at opposite ends of the spectrum. They were at the low end on speed, cutting one engine down most of the time. We had massive power and expenditure of energy"); Judie Argyros, dazzling in a ruby-red crushed velvet jacket by Oscar de la Renta and a black skirt, who noted she was 5 feet 4 "like Yeager and Nancy Reagan, but they're both thinner than I am"; museum board Chairman Tom Peckenpaugh; museum President Robert Howard; Hyla and Dick Bertea; Catherine and Dr. Delane Thyen, and Betty Hutton Williams.
"Heart-pounding. Utterly mysterious."
David Emmes, artistic director of South Coast Repertory Theater, wasn't waxing ecstatic about "Prelude to a Kiss," the Craig Lucas play with a supernatural twist that had its world premiere at SCR last week. Not yet.
No, the tall, rather shy man who makes bold statements with theater was talking about the prelude to his first kiss. "I was in eighth grade," he said during a pre-theater bash staged Friday for SCR benefactors at the Beverly Heritage Hotel. "It was on the Newport Beach pier. Incredible ."
Guest Dot Clock remembered that she was in sixth grade when she experienced her first prelude to a kiss. "I remember it well. I was 11. His name was Jimmy Stribling.
"He'd just returned from Hawaii with a lei for me. We were at school and he told me to meet him in the art supply room. Pretty dramatic. When he kissed me, I remember thinking: 'Why doesn't this feel as neat as it looks in the movies?' "
About 200 benefactors gathered at the small hotel to clink champagne glasses and rave over a light buffet before going to SCR for the three-act production.
Just before departure time, a beaming Lucas--attending with director Norman Rene--took the podium to thank guests for their financial support. "Orange County is a community where people like to go to theater to hear what new writers have to say," he said.
"Not being a religious person, I think theater is the only place we can go and see something that may not lie to us.
"I'm grateful to you all for supporting a venue where I can try to say something beautiful, funny, true. . . ."
Also on the scene: Jim and Barbara Glabman--who said the prelude to hers and Jim's premiere buss was "nerve-wracking. Jim was so sweet. He just wasn't sure how to approach it"; Olivia and Andrew Johnson ("We kissed on our first date," she said, "after we'd talked for nine hours straight"); Ralph Clock; Ygal and Sheila Prell Sonenshine, and OC Supervisors Harriett Wieder with husband Irv, and Tom Riley with wife Emma Jane.