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A Fairy Tale of Charity Evenings : How Three Women and Two Glamorous Names Whip Up Support and a Souffle

One brief appearance can be a key to clout in Hollywood. In a complex community--an extended family, really--a brief social moment can be enough to establish (or maintain) status. Movie careers, and power, hinge on such appearances. Grace Kelly knew enough to fly in from Africa and the set of “Mogambo” in 1952 to be at the wedding of her agent, Jay Kanter, to Judy Balaban--and she had never met the bride. (Jay Kanter was then MCA’s powerful young agent; Judy Balaban was the daughter of the president of Paramount Pictures. She was to become Grace Kelly’s best friend.) It’s not only a movie camera that makes a star--it can also be a three-day visit from Africa. As Somerset Maugham put it, you must stay just long enough to make an impact.

In modern Hollywood the exposure that counts is at tactical Charity Evenings; they’ve replaced the private glamour dinner parties of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and they compete ferociously with each other for attention. Right now it’s high season--and the troops won’t tire of the partygoing until Christmas.

Not that there aren’t choices to be made. Audrey Hepburn, for example, finds herself between hard places. She’s crisscrossing South America in behalf of UNICEF, then returning to Hollywood to be honorary chairperson of the Givenchy retrospective dinner Oct. 28 (benefitting the L.A. County High School for the Arts Foundation). The flurry of activity means Hepburn had to say no to the Princess Grace Foundation’s very gala tribute to Cary Grant on Wednesday at the Beverly Hilton. “Audrey was adorable and sad about declining the Princess Grace evening,” said the gala’s co-ordinating co-chairman Judy Balaban Quine. “It was so hard for her, she said, two of her favorite icons--Givenchy and Cary Grant--being honored.”

The ritualized Hollywood evenings are generally carefully spaced--show business doesn’t go against itself. But the charity game works in funny, Byzantine ways. You have to know when to show up and for whom. Major private parties are also ritualized but increasingly rare--and they tend to happen at holidays: the velvet-tented Marvin Davis Christmas party, the Sandy Moss Hyman-Allan Carr Valentine’s Day party, the Simpson-Bruckheimer Labor Day picnic. In the company town, nobody exists in a vacuum; there is a need to be seen, to touch base, however briefly--and the results can be lucrative. (On Oscar night Faye Dunaway turned up at Irving Lazar’s Spago party; 10 days later Lazar had Dunaway a $750,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster for her memoirs.)

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Every Charity Evening seeks the same names--the Lew Wassermans, Gregory Pecks, Paul Ziffrens, Walter Matthaus, Ray Starks, Jack Lemmons, Marvin Davises, Michael Eisners, Barry Diller, among others--as standard bearers. And--as if by osmosis--the names seem to know which events to attend. The rampant rumor that Michael Jackson wanted to perform in honor of Cary Grant at the $1,000-a-plate Princess Grace gala did not--repeat not-- make much difference in ticket sales. Nine days after the invitations were mailed, $675,000 in responses was deposited in the Provident National Bank of Philadelphia.

This is the story of the lasting pull that fairy tales have for us--and how that pull (or power) can be used to lucrative ends. This is also the story of how you try to deliver movie-magic to a group that’s seen everything--and how you use everything to do it. Film clips introduced by 20 stars, the presence of the royal family of Monaco--H.S.H. Prince Rainier, H.S.H. Prince Albert, H.S.H. Princess Stephanie--escorted by Cary Grant’s daughter and widow, an hour of Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli, chateaubriand and fume blanc-- and memory.

But how does it come together? The list of those who lend their names to the Princess Grace Foundation is heavier than a Doris Lessing novel--Kirk Kerkorian, David Hockney, Edie Wasserman, Irene Selznick, Barbara Sinatra, Loretta Young, Quincy Jones, Deborah Kerr, Niki Dantine Bautzer, Ann Getty, Ivana Trump, the Jerry Perenchios, David Niven Jr., Veronique Peck (a neighbor of the Monocan royal family, in St. Jean Cap Ferrat) Gloria (Mrs. James) Stewart, Barbara Walters and Merv Adelson, Placido Domingo, Liz and George Stevens Jr., Harold Prince, the Paul (Joanne Woodward) Newmans, and more.

But this is essentially an evening put together by three people. Athos, Porthos, and D’Artagnan they call themselves, and if they are an unlikely trio--Judy Quine, Barbara Grant and Ruth Berle--an isosceles triangle really, that’s not atypical in Hollywood. Power comes down to two or three people sitting together in a room and making decisions.

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To a certain generation the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel is unthreatening, well-lit, and worth putting on jewelry for. The Beverly Hills Hotel is geographically within a comfort zone for many people in show business. Coincidentally each person interviewed for this story wound up being interviewed at the Polo Lounge. On a recent Wednesday, Ruth Berle spent all afternoon there, in one meeting after another. Mrs. Berle, a.k.a. the General, is a former WAC (in World War II) and public relations woman who has stamina and the kind of fearlessness that lets her call people and ask them for benefit favors: It’s Ruth Berle who makes a lot of the calls to agents, for example, to get stars for the SHARE show, probably Hollywood’s most established gala, now in its 35th year. Ruth Berle’s best instinct may be what she calls “a sense of smell.” It’s as developed as Estee Lauder’s.

“There’s a bad smell when no money comes in. Also you can smell it when you can’t get answers from people,” she said fingering a faux diamond flapper pin given her by three SHARE ladies. “You can smell it when Frank (Sinatra) has to be in Europe, or Jimmy (Stewart) is going to be in Africa. When the elements don’t come together. I always want a yes or a no. I’d much rather get a no today than a yes in two weeks.” So if a star is uncertain about availability--and Ruth Berle needs to get stars--"I simply say, ‘When will you know?’ The answer tells me everything. If it’s vague, if it’s a maybe, I go on to someone else. Face it, very few people call back about a benefit. Who wants to do a benefit?”

That’s why the initial calls are so pivotal: When Ruth Berle calls Robert Mitchum in Santa Barbara to ask him for the Princess Grace gala, she has to be exactly in the right tone of voice (the tone must be appealing.) That’s the favors game. Mitchum, Shirley Temple Black, Robert Wagner, Michael Caine, Warren Beatty, Eva Marie Saint--all together there are 20 of these names who will perform in one way or another on Wednesday.

“Cary Grant was the major star of the movie industry for 50 years,” said Ruth Berle almost righteously. There was also no funeral after the actor’s death no memorial service, at the star’s request--which makes the evening even more of an occasion.

As for a Hollywood “evening,” Ruth Berle “can tell in about 10 minutes. Sometimes you can feel a negativeness in a room. But this gala, with these stars scattered around the room. . . . I mean how can it not smell wonderful? When you have their serene highnesses . . . they enter after everyone is seated, so there’s music and dinner and wine and people salivating and film clips, which Jack Haley has been assembling all summer! And if that’s not enough to make it knockout, they get an hour of Liza and Sammy--and no speeches. I just smell it delicious. I smell it sensational.”

Wheaty Peach

Paul Dreher, the Beverly Hilton catering manager, stood in the hotel lobby with Ruth Berle and Barbara Grant and Vicki Taft, Judy Quine’s assistant, waiting for Judy Quine. The second wine and food tasting for the Princess Grace gala was scheduled for 12:30. The group looked anxious: Each dayas the gala nears there are more details to face. Not that these players are new to the charity game. Together and separately they are what Natalie Wood called “the really reals.” They are worker bees who socially know right from wrong--and they intend everything to turn out right.

When Judy Quine arrived, the group went immediately to the Monte Carlo Room, where a single table was set in the middle. This second tasting was to reaffirm the early choices and to try desserts for the first time. Judy Quine asked what color the tablecloths and napkins would be. “Wheaty peach,” replied Barbara (Mrs. Cary) Grant.

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“Like the napkin you stole at the first tasting,” said Ruth Berle.

“That was dusky rose,” corrected Judy Quine.

“Wheaty peach is the final name of the color,” said Barbara Grant. “And we’re using multiple napkin folds. Like this one.” She pointed to a crystal goblet containing a perfectly pleated white napkin.

As the first course, a salmon mousse, was served, there was a look of displeasure on Ruth Berle’s face. “Is this cucumber? So many people I know hate cucumbers.”

“This time the salmon is oilier, Paul,” Barbara Grant said to Paul Dreher.

Said Paul Dreher with a stab at humor, “Before I met these ladies, I was 27 years old.”

“You have your nudges, Ruth, for Paul--and I have mine,” said Judy Quine. “Paul--I think we want a moussier mousse. Like last time.”

“Uhmm . . . " agreed Barbara Grant. “But I love the salad dressing. It’s mine, from home.”

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“I remember it from two Christmases ago,” said Judy Quine.

Barbara Grant made a note on her Cartier leather pad. “Burt Sugarman gave us a check for $15,000 this morning,” she said matter of factly.

Judy Quine made a mental note to send a personal note to Burt Sugarman. “Each check we get, Vicki deposits to our Philadelphia bank. Every buyer gets a note.” Events Unlimited, the party planning firm, did the initial addressing of 4,500 invitations, but Quine herself does the personal notes. “Events Unlimited could do the notes, too. That seems simple,” an observer said.

“It seems expensive,” said Barbara Grant.

“Ruth and Barbara and I are just not made that way,” said Judy Quine. “It’s characterological. Fine points are important to us. Ruth and Barbara and I all worked--I mean for money. Each of us is a one-man band. None of us could grandstand play, and each of us knows that, because it would be a mess.”

“We try to look at it like a private party,” said Barbara Grant. “As if we were entertaining in our own homes. Judy writes everyone a letter, as the checks arrive.”

“I didn’t get a letter,” said Ruth Berle.

“You think I’d write you?” said Judy Quine, good-naturedly.

“Do we get an office to use?” Ruth Berle asked.

“Parlor C, one room, one table, but we can supply whatever you need,” said Paul Dreher.

“When can we look at Parlor C?” asked Ruth Berle, already halfway out the door.

The Mission

One constant query in the charity game: Where does the money go? “People have asked that question,” said Judy Quine. “The question is usually, ‘Why not AIDS or the homeless?’ Nobody disputes that AIDS and the homeless are more critical, but Grace was setting this foundation up at the time of her death (1982).”

Quine flicked back her great mane of auburn hair and talked about her friend’s mission: “Grace and I shared a consciousness that went back to our youth.” Judy Balaban Kanter Franciosa Quine has a knowingness about her--her father Barney Balaban was a pioneer of the movies, a theater owner who became president of Paramount Pictures. She grew up not in the company town, however, but in New York. Not until she was 22 did she find herself in Hollywood--when she married Jay Kanter, then MCA’s young star agent (when MCA was still in the agency business), and set up housekeeping on North Rodeo Drive. She and Grace Kelly had an instant friendship that lasted until the Princess’ death. (She’s currently in edits on “The Bridesmaids,” a nonfiction account of the seven women who attended Grace Kelly and what happened to them.) It’s when Judy Quine speaks of what Grace felt that it feels real.

“We were young people with some support, not so much really. But her father could keep her in acting lessons and at the Barbizon Hotel for Women. And Grace never forgot the boost she got from her family. When she traveled here in the ‘70s, doing poetry readings, she saw economic differences in this country: A lot of kids no longer could have the support from their families. Waiters and bartenders were holding on to jobs that out-of-work actors used to get. Grace was the kind of person who was matured by her experience. If it wasn’t for who Grace was as a young person, Monaco would be very different. She was forever aware of the difficulties of the artist’s life.”

That’s why the Princess Grace Foundation-U.S.A. was formed: To identify and assist emerging young artists in theater, dance and film. In four years 84 grants--in the form of apprenticeships and fellowships and institutional awards--have been estowed totalling close to $800,000. Apart from individual grants, funds have also gone to the Miami City Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, the American Ballet Theater, and USC Cinema.

(“I was on the end of a pay phone with my mouth hanging open,” said actor Scott Allegrucci, who was the recipient of a Princess Grace Foundation grant in l986 to complete his studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. “When you live from project to project . . . it’s hard to explain what that grant meant. It allowed me to continue my life as an actor.”)

Carpooling

Diversion is a necessity, when you are the new charity in town--when you are not the local hospital or clinic--and so the Princess Grace Foundation got launched in 1984 with a series of “gala weekends.” The Reagans played host at the first gala at the White House; socialite Lynn Wyatt held the second one, in Dallas. This year the package is one complete evening--and there has been no resistance to the fact that neither Cary Grant nor Grace Kelly is alive. ‘I don’t think there have ever been two people in the world who engender such a real sense of make-believe,” said Quine. If the mystique of Grace Kelly is to be understood, it’s necessary to talk to this particuloar bridesmaid.

“An incredible spectrum of people had an attraction for Grace,” Quine said, trying to analyze the appeal. “It’s kind of like what Tip O’Neill said about power. If someone sees an aura around you, you have power. If they don’t see it, you don’t have it. I remember in the early ‘70s a boy from Berkeley with hair down his back standing in my living room--this was a boy who would years later design geodesic domes--looking at a picture of Grace on my mantle. And him saying, ‘She was the best.’ This was a kid who could care less about movie stars.”

Quine flashed to another memory: “Carpooling at the John Thomas Dye School with Nancy Reagan, all of us kind of knowing each other, this is 1956, and then 30 years later being at the Smithsonian where Nancy hosted the unveiling of Grace’s portrait bust. Nancy spoke of knowing Grace at MGM, then the two of them taking different paths. Then she quietly said, ‘Maybe our paths weren’t so different, after all.’ With Grace there was this imprimatur with which you identified instantly.”

The “X factor” of this Princess Grace evening is the gala’s honoree--its first such guest of honor--Cary Grant. Only once in his life did Cary Grant allow a tribute, at the New York Friars Club, at the request of his friend David Tebet, longtime NBC senior vice president for talent and for a decade now overseeing talent for the Johnny Carson and David Letterman shows. (Recalled Tebet: “Cary loved doing his question-and-answer campus dates, and he loved being around people. He just didn’t like making speeches--ever.” It was Tebet who worked with Cary Grant on his Friars Club speech, which had a standing audience in literal tears.)

“Cary turned down the AFI (the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement award) forever,” said his widow Barbara. The X factor of Cary Grant is his draw , the lure of true stardom that remained underexposed even in an era of overexposed stars, or superstars; Cary Grant is not somebody anybody got tired of. As Judy Quine put it, “Both Cary and Grace were ongoing people. On and offscreen they seemed to be giving you messages about how you are supposed to live your life.”

Not Awe-Struck

“It’s inappropriate for Barbara Grant to call people for money,” Ruth Berle said one afternoon. She didn’t mean for a minute that Barbara Grant wasn’t pulling her weight as honorary chair of the gala. As the star’s widow, she lends the proceedings a mystique; along with Cary Grant’s daughter Jennifer (whose mother is Dyan Cannon) she will escort the royal family into the Hilton International Ballroom.

In person Barbara Grant is reminiscent of Merle Oberon at mid-career--impeccable, unflappable, a visitor from another civilization entirely. Born in Africa, raised some of the time in England, the former Barbara Harris was working as a publicist at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London when she met Cary Grant. People who knew them as a couple claimed Barbara Harris was the first of Cary Grant’s five wives with whom he was truly playful. That they understood the art of pinching in public, especially at Hollywood Park or at parties.

“Anyone who knew us knew that about us,” Barbara Grant agreed, in the clipped British accent her husband perfected for the world. “He used to say he was younger than I was. I never felt swallowed up. I suppose it had a fairy-tale quality. I’d never been to California, really.” She came finally in 1978 as Mrs. Cary Grant after a visit the year before to meet some of the actor’s friends.

“I knew the time was precious,” she said with some difficulty. “The age difference never frightened me. I just had a sense of living each day to the full. I knew what was likely to happen. In childhood I’d moved every two years, so I knew about moving. I was independent. You either are or you aren’t. In love you are always dependent, but mutually. I was here (in Los Angeles) to be with Cary, so the decision wasn’t so big. We talked about everything.”

Had there ever been any the possibility of Cary Grant making a comeback--after all he retired 20 years before his death? “Oh, he’d quit once before, in the ‘50s, but (director Alfred) Hitchcock asked him to come back (for “To Catch a Thief”). Look, he was brilliant about career, but he’d had enough of the film industry. He sought a balance in life.”

It was a true search, Barbara Grant implies: “That’s why, I think, he talked openly about his experiences with LSD. It helped him with conflicts. But he was monitored and it was legal and he was quite prepared never to suggest anyone should try it. . . . This is so painful. He is alive but not alive. One must live with the reality.”

A final description then of her husband? “Young at heart,” Barbara Grant said crisply. “And remember--there are no other Cary Grants!”

The Press-Shy Prince

When Prince Albert of Monaco smiles he becomes something of a star in front of your eyes. It’s a remarkable wide smile that changes his whole demeanor. It’s also genetics, being the son of Grace Kelly--it’s her smile--and it’s a lightness of spirit.

“I don’t know if I feel that light,” joked the 30-year-old heir to Prince Rainier. He’d been up late the night before in Las Vegas, where he went quietly at the invitation of Don Rickles. Of the three Kelly-Rainier offspring (H.S.H. Princess Caroline, 31, and Stephanie, 23, are his sisters) Albert is the most press-shy, the least tainted by newsprint, the least photographed. He could be a media darling but doesn’t think one has to be.

“People who want attention and don’t get it--now they can be bitter,” Albert said with understanding. “For myself, I don’t want to give up anything to satisfy people’s curiosity. A press person probing deeper into your private life to expose it? I don’t like that. Everyone is entitled to their own private garden, so to speak.”

Prince Albert has been coming to America regularly since age 2--to Philadelphia (his mother’s birthplace), to Hollywood (to see family friends and his own friends)--and being half-American he exhibits duality. He could be cast easily as a clean-cut American, a blond Gregory Peck in “Roman Holiday,” say.

“When I’m here, I don’t consider myself a foreigner,” he said comfortably. “I would say I’m doing a balancing act between two cultures and it’s very interesting.” In America he can walk around “relatively unknown” although he’s usually accompanied by the Monacan equivalent of Secret Service, along with a friend or two, creating a modern entourage (two or three people maximum).

Ask him his first impressions of Hollywood and he lights up: “Summer was the first time I visited. Nineteen-sixty-seven. I remember the Universal Tour, and a beginning of understanding this community. Ever since then, since being on the movie sets, I guess I’ve had an appetite for the film industry.”

His mother had a willing listener in Prince Albert when she discussed Hollywood. There’s a distant, almost idealistic look in Albert’s face when he talks about Princess Grace. “I asked her a lot of questions about it, about how movies were made. ‘Rear Window’ would be a favorite topic. It’s a very tight movie.”

The Kellys were a theatrical clan (Grace Kelly’s Pulitzer-winning playwright-uncle George Kelly wrote “Craig’s Wife”)--so why wouldn’t the bug strike the son too? He didn’t pause a second when asked if he’d like to be an actor.

“I’ll be honest with you. I’ve thought about it, sure. It would have been real neat. And probably a real thrill. But I can’t set aside my . . . (duties). It can’t be a reality.” His laugh was shy and young. “Being an actor would be a good role to play in life. It’s ‘the lights go on’ and. . . .”

And yet the prince never rebelled against duty to the South-of-France principality."No, not in an extravagant way or a violent way. I always kind of took it in stride. But I would ask myself a lot of questions, which I guess is normal. In my early teens I said ‘Wait a minute!’ And then you just adopt a certain attitude, call it a style, that fits your personality, that gets you through the difficult moments.”

The moments have already been diverse: An undergraduate period at Amherst, in Massachusetts, a stint on Wall Street as a junior broker (“fast-paced, aggressive”), then back to being a prince. But Prince Albert looks at you in such a way as to say it’s not all bad: “Tiring and demanding, yes, but you shift gears.You have to understand the dark side, which are the obligations. But in return there’s a lot of know-how about life. I’m very privileged.”


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