Music Center WinterFest Educates in a Competition

Think of this as a story of a benefit in search of a beneficiary. Or, perhaps better: same name, different benefit.

For two years, the WinterFest at the Music Center has been a kick-off fund-raiser for a week of free holiday performances on the Plaza and other decorative and dramatic touches. But this year, WinterFest becomes a fund-raising vehicle for the Music Center’s Education Division, as well as a performance competition by talented high school seniors. And, for the first time, no black tie. It all seems a sensible switch, especially in a social season where one more black-tie event is more likely to produce social frostbite than festivity.

This time, it’s a more loving-hands-at-home atmosphere.

“I’m going to set up a committee in my garage to do the centerpieces,” WinterFest Co-Chair Peggy Parker explained over lunch with her gala co-chair Keith Kieschnick and Parker’s steady beau Walter Grauman, who is producing the entire event. (In a shopping bag at her side--a sample centerpiece made up of Christmas boxes with small teddy bears attached and bright ribbons.)


Grauman said he was enthused about the chance for talented high school seniors to compete for scholarships to continue their arts education and to have the chance to perform in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Already, he pointed out, more than 200 prospective competitors--in drama, dance, instrumental music and voice--had applied for the first rounds of competition.

Ten finalists will appear the night of Dec. 5--and the ticket prices, at an astonishly low $5 and $7.50, mean that hundreds and hundreds of students will be able to be part of the audience that night.

The money-raising part of the night comes from tickets that are priced at $300 a person--and that includes admission to a post-performance party as well as the chance to pay an additional $2,000 for a table of 10 and contribute one of the scholarships. The organizers are hoping for at least $40,000 to be raised for scholarships, as well as $75,000 to be netted from the rest of the evening.

Parker pointed out that Helen and Peter Bing have signed on as the first scholarship contributors--and also stressed that for many of the young people, participants and audience members, it would be a “chance to get to know the Music Center.”


Already some well-known names have signed on as judges, Grauman said, listing dancers Paula Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Gerald Arpino and Bella Lewitzky, along with actors Karl Malden and Eva Marie Saint and composer Henry Mancini.

Another sign of the approaching holiday season, Kieschnick was telling Grauman, was the publishing of the annual Neiman-Marcus catalogue. This year’s features her and her husband, Bill, posing with motorcycles and N-M’s John and Bridget Martens and Wolfgang Puck and Barbara Lazaroff.

“I’ll order her,” said Grauman, pointing at Kieschnick.

Now that’s Puckish.

IMAGINATION INC: The documentary, produced by David Wolper, is titled, “Imagine,” and it focuses on the life of Beatle John Lennon. But the producer of Thursday night’s “Imaginary Feast” kickoff was Wolper’s wife Gloria, and the dozens of people crowding the screening room of the Wolpers’ Bel-Air home heard about real problems and real solutions.

For the fourth year, People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) was setting out to raise money by not having a fancy dinner. Instead, people may contribute and, as a reward, take a night off. Although similar attempts by charities to raise money through such non-events haven’t proved very successful, PATH has obviously got the system down pat. Last year’s non-feast netted $103,000--and nobody had to put on black ties, period.

This year, as the mounting numbers of homeless show, the need is even greater. At the kickoff, the Rev. Robert Rivers of St. Paul the Apostle church in Westwood and chairman of the past board, stressed that private and ecumenical efforts were increasingly necessary “in the absence of any public policy” dealing with the homeless.” PATH director Michele Smollar explained the history of PATH--how it has expanded to include a day center, a temporary shelter, a long-term shelter and now a program to provide permanent low-cost housing.

There was no headline entertainment, but the Rev. Steven Marsh, assistant pastor of Bel-Air Presbyterian Church, certainly stole the spotlight. He announced that he was turning over a check for $30,000 as his congregation’s latest contribution to PATH.


Longtime Backers

In the crowd were longtime supporters and some new recruits, including athlete Rafer Johnson, community activist Sooky Goldman, Altovise Davis, producer Peg Yorkin, “Bird” star Jo de Winter, Joan and Herman Rush and Cathy and Ken Kragen.

Perhaps board member Penny von Kalinowski best brought home how widespread the concern about the homeless is becoming. She told the group that at her husband Julian’s law firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, it was common practice to give red carpet treatment to prospective hires from prestigious law schools. That included the law students being housed in top hotels during their L.A. stays. But this year, she said, a letter came from Harvard Law School asking that its students be given more moderate accommodations and that the money saved be contributed to a homeless project of the firm’s choice.

Or perhaps the concern is best expressed by the invitation to the imaginary feast, urging people “to partake of a feast that offers fulfillment and touches the soul. . . .”