On Feb. 25, Nancy and Ronald Reagan will be welcomed home by about 200 friends at a party given by Mouaffak Al Midani at his sprawling Beverly Hills estate.
Don't be embarrassed if Midani's name doesn't ring a bell.
Midani is a native of Syria who is sometimes identified as a Saudi Arabian, perhaps because he reportedly owns electric and telephone companies there. He has emerged in a faint social spotlight here only a few times in the past several years--once for a party to celebrate the sister cities of Beverly Hills and Cannes.
Why Midani was singled out with the honor of hosting a major party to welcome the Reagans home remains unexplained.
"I don't know why he was singled out for this. . . . There are just personal friends oftheirs who are invited. . . . Mrs. Reagan has met him (Midani) before, but I don't know the circumstances," Reagan spokesman Mark Weinberg explained. He said he did not know whether the former President had ever met Midani. "All I know is that this is a private dinner to honor them and welcome them back to California."
Certainly there are dozens of socially prominent Angelenos who would have traded the family silver for this laurel--and certainly there are many local types who have a closer relationship to the Reagans. The wealthy industrialist has not, as goes the hot Beverly Hills rumor, contributed to the Nancy Reagan Center for Drug Abuse-Phoenix House--at least not yet.
Weinberg said he did not know whether Midani was planning a contribution to the Phoenix House or the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" Foundation: "That is his personal business."
No one connected with Midani or the party will discuss details of the event, but some facts are known. It is "Nancy's list," with 200-plus "international and American friends" invited. Apparently no expense will be spared, as a large platform is being built on a rolling hill in the back of the massive home, once the residence of Burton Green, the founder of Beverly Hills. Guests will dine in security and seclusion, since the home sits on a nine-acre spread on Cove Way--in Beverly Hills' most expensive tract. Reports are that the tent decor will "re-create France," not an easy thing to do, even in Tinseltown.
"You don't see Midani. You deal with other people. There's lots of security and walls," said one tradesperson who has done business there in the past. One of the few Beverly Hills residents who knows Midani asked that he not be identified by name--then went on at great length about the "generosity and warmth" of the international industrialist who once owned the Dorchester Hotel in London, then sold it to the Sultan of Brunei.
When Midani bought the estate from its then owner, Eugene Klein, about seven years ago, he began a massive renovation that supposedly cost $40 million, including the acquisition of nearby lots and what one source said was the "marble-ization" of the once Tudor-French home.
LUNCH BUNCH--Former First Lady Nancy Reagan went out to lunch Tuesday afternoon, arriving a little late to join Mary Jane and Charles Wick and their guest, Washington Post chairman Katharine Graham.
Onlookers at the Bistro Garden tried to appear suave and not stare. Before Mrs. Reagan got to her table, Eva Gabor jumped up from her lunch with Lilly Zanuck, George Peppard, Gretchen Elizabeth Carlson, who is the current Miss America, and others for a big hug and a hello to the former First Lady.
Mrs. Reagan, in a bright yellow suit and with her hair in a casual soft style, held the attention of everyone as she stood in a tight embrace with Kay Graham.
The other four at the table, including a younger woman only identified as an employee of the Washington Post, chatted as Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Reagan bent over in a close and smiling tete - a - tete, punctuated by Mrs. Reagan several times patting Mrs. Graham's hand.
Others of Mrs. Reagan's friends were absent from their usual Bistro haunt because they were having a lunch at Betsy Bloomingdale's house a few miles away.
KUDOS, ETC.--What do you say about a party that raises $800,000, that celebrates the benefit sale of art that raised $625,000, and that is the "largest charity party ever given at a private home in Los Angeles"--and all to fight AIDS?
You say: "Wow. What a great time, what a wonderful success." Especially when you wind up with Robin Williams performing and Little Richard singing as guests danced among the dinner tables.
It was such a great time that Mayor Tom Bradley cautioned the crowd: "We could almost lose sight of why we are here. Let's not do that. . . . Let's fight this insidious disease. . . . As each of them has died, each of us is diminished by their deaths."
Everyone turned up among the 850 guests who paid $1,000 or $500 each to attend the Art Against AIDS Los Angeles benefit at Susie and Ted Field's Green Acres Estate Sunday night, a party so well done that it could have been choreographed for one of Field's Interscope movies.
There were moguls--Disney's Michael and Jane Eisner (benefit co-chairs), along with producers Lee and Angela Rich, Norman and Lyn Lear and Tony Thomopoulos and Cristina Ferrare. And there were political types--Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) arriving with Orion's Mike Medavoy and his wife, Patricia Duff Medavoy, who has now become the West Coast contributing editor at Vogue. (Fashion notes would have to include the monogram inside Kathy Hilton's fur coat--the Hilton Hotel "H.") Just transplanted from Chicago was Democratic heavy-hitter Richard Dennis, chatting with Ron Brown, the soon-to-be Democratic national chairman.
Joan Nicolas (the party's co-chair with Lynda Palevsky) tabled-hopped among groups of friends of hers and her husband's, although Fred Nicolas kiddingly complained that the event had kept her so busy, "I haven't seen her in a week." The vice chair of AIDS Project Los Angeles, David Wexler, was there with David Beckerman, as well as APLA board member Roberta Bennett with Diane Abbitt. Board members of APLA and the American AIDS Research Foundation (who will split the proceeds) were out in full numbers, with Mathilde and Arthur Krim coming in from New York and Rosemary Tomich and Bishop Oliver Garver from closer to home.
Artist David Hockney came with his dachshund, Stanley, "named for Stan Laurel," and indeed, when the dog begged for more of Rococo's lamb chops, he resembled both the skinny comic and a hot dog in search of a roll. Good trick, Hockney was told, but he and Stan took it in stride.
"He's a Hollywood dog," Hockney opined.