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A Frolic at Department Store Was a Treasure Trove of Fun

Midway barkers at small-town carnivals and giant Midwestern state fairs used to part likely prospects from their nickels and dimes by chanting, “You pays your money and you takes your chances!” It was ungrammatical, but it worked, especially when an oversized Kewpie doll was part of the lure.

A decidedly more luxurious line of chachkas lured about 400 thrill-seekers to the marble midways of the Neiman-Marcus store Saturday for the third annual “Catalogue Caper,” a tony treasure hunt given for the benefit of the Whittier Institute for Diabetes and Endocrinology at Scripps Memorial Hospital-La Jolla.

In essence, the “Caper” forced titans of finance and society grandes dames to unravel enigmatic clues that sent them galumphing around the department store’s three floors in search of other clues, and, with luck, one of the 250 prizes donated by Neiman-Marcus and its suppliers. It was a great deal more work than hunting through one’s sock drawer for a missing Argyle, but rather more enjoyable as well.

Gala chairwoman Judith Harris said that it was a challenge to create a party atmosphere in a department store, but that the current glut of fund-raisers has forced party planners to seek out novel approaches.

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Among the enticements she chose to offer were New York society chanteur Bobby Short in the Cafe Catalogue, a nightspot carved out of the men’s department; the Dick Braun band at the opposite end of the store; Joe Cool and the Rumblers in a kind of 1950s malt shop on the second floor, and, of course, the treasure hunt.

A Printed Clue

Each guest received a printed clue upon entering the store, and enough brows were furrowed in puzzlement to keep the makers of Retin-A in business for years to come. If the clue card read, for example, “We spent the evening in Las Vegas, serenaded by Edie Gorme,” the guest was forced to frown bewilderedly and consult clever friends until, suddenly, the enlightenment came that “Gorme” hinted at “gourmet,” and that the clue led to the Epicure Shop on the third floor. Here, one traded the card for the right to delve into a box and extract either a further clue or a card bearing a prize number.

Since the boxes mostly yielded clues, the great mass of guests was kept in constant motion, racing from floor to floor and tumbling up the escalators like so many party salmon. A shriek of joy sometimes pierced the hubbub when a player took possession of a gift card. One woman, having voiced the hope that she had won one of the choice dresses in the prize pool, sprinted toward the collection desk chanting a sort of mantra that ran, “Let it be a size 8, let it be a size 8, oh, please , let it be a size 8!”

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Builder and former Chamber of Commerce chairman Mike Madigan not only won a dress--an elegant creation from designer Debra Kuchme--but said that he intended to shave his legs and wear it to the 1989 Catalogue Caper. However, his wife, Jan, who won a weight control program, may persuade him to trade prizes.

If it sounds as if the game was a clever way to take the well-heeled on a protracted tour of the store’s extravagant merchandise, well, bingo! The “catalogue” in the party’s title refered to the famous Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalogue, which has yet to be mailed but which was handed out to guests.

Caterer John Baylin set up caravansaries throughout the store at which those with aching dogs could pause and restore themselves. The grub ran from the artistic, such as trays of piano keys fashioned from cream cheese and caviar, to the basic, as in miniature hamburgers

A First-Class Mood

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The mood in the Cafe Catalogue was distinctly first-class, however, in reference to pianist Short’s home base at New York’s grand Cafe Carlyle. White cloth palms flanked the stage, from which the singer musically informed the audience, “I’ll Never Get Tired of Those Hopscotch Blues,” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You.”

This was the third Catalogue Caper for Neiman-Marcus publicist and special-events coordinator Cheryl Ayers, but the last at which she would represent the store. In late September she will become director of the city’s newly created department of protocol, as well as head of the Downtown Marketing Consortium.

The guest list included store manager Marian Smith with Dennis Muckerman; Robert Singer; Lee and Frank Goldberg; Susan Farrell; David Copley; Jane and John Murphy; Whittier Institute director Dr. Willard VanderLaan and his wife, Eileen; Claudia and Jim Munak; Audrey Geisel; Jeanne Jones; Lea Gray Diamond with David Beek; Joan and Al Arias; Mary Williamson with Ted Graham; Marge and Paul Palmer; Linda and Frank Alessio; Barbara and Karl ZoBell; Jo Ann Fine; Janet Gallison; Ann Jones; Mac and Tim Canty; Linda and Chuck Owen; Ingrid and Joe Hibben; Sally and John Thornton, and Harriet and Dick Levi.

RANCHO SANTA FE--Thanksgiving always falls upon the fourth Thursday of November, and Mother’s Day upon the second Sunday of May. By the 34-year-old tradition of The Country Friends, autumn appears on the second Tuesday of September.

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Sept. 13 was the last Tuesday upon which the countywide philanthropic organization hosted its annual “Appearance of Autumn” show on the lawns of the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, and the event attracted about 2,000 women. The show customarily ranks as the largest outdoor fashion presentation in the country.

Themed “Images of Fall,” the event was chaired by Nancy Podbielniak, a Country Friend of long standing who said that the second Tuesday of September is not only a special day, but a harbinger of change. “The children have returned to school, the tourists have gone home, the weather has begun to change and we’re ready to get back to our charity work,” she said. Among the charities that will share in the $240,000 raised this year by Country Friends projects are Casa de Amparo, the Escondido Community Child Development Center and the Family Service Assn. of San Diego County.

Show Staged by Nordstrom Nordstrom again staged the show, which opened with the presentation of 10 women who have chaired major fund-raisers in the last year. Dressed by such designers as Givenchy, Scaasi and Jean-Louis Scherrer, the celebrity models were Katy Dessent, Lorrie Dunn, Mary Ann Eagleson, Jody Honnen, Dotti Howe, Luba Johnston, Jan Madigan, Sandra Pay, Pat Tapp and Dorene Whitney.


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