Stag Dinner Lures Rich for Charity

What becomes a legend most?

Black-tie stags when “Guggie” plays host.

That’s right, “Guggie,” as in Robert Guggenheim, held court Tuesday at his legendary Gourmet Dinner, a party crammed with 250 of Orange County’s rich and on-the-way-to-becoming-famous.

The annual blast that benefits Big Brothers/Big Sisters is this area’s best-kept for-men-only secret. And, sans women, certainly a party with a “brave old world” agenda.

But the $350 per-person event that boasted Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, Orange County Republican Chairman Thomas Fuentes, Irvine Co. Executive Vice President Gary Hunt and Municipal Judge Calvin P. Schmidt on its guest list actually worked. A whopping $100,000 was netted from the raffle and auction held at the Irvine Hilton and Towers.

Here’s the secret: First and foremost, you received an invitation to the stag only if you were a somebody or you were invited by a somebody. (Example: hunky and spunky George Argyros Jr. represented his Forbes 400 pop, who was living it up in Istanbul.)

Second, you arrived with your pockets stuffed to buy raffle tickets (three leggy ingenues hawked them at $50 a crack) and your checkbook wide open for the auction.


Then it was “Have you heard this one?” time, or “Let’s talk business” time, or old-boy-network time around a groaning board of delicacies. For starters, sea urchin and sturgeon caviar, smoked salmon mousse, smoked eel and quail eggs. And there was the petit tenderloin of beef stuffed with Stilton cheese, the Alaskan king crab, the roast duck, the shrimp, the clams, the oysters. All of this and dinner too.

Why a black-tie gourmet dinner for men only?

“Snob appeal,” said Guggenheim, who left his wife, Shirlee, at home in Newport Beach cozied up to a Peter Sellers movie. “Twenty-five years ago I wanted to do something to help raise big money for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the charity closest to my heart. And a night out with the boys seemed to be the way to do it.

“Now, don’t get me wrong. We all love women. We just decided not to have them here until we were forced to.” (A few years ago, Guggenheim whispered, a man bought a table and said he was going to “bring some women.” He was asked to withdraw his donation.)

“Women would inhibit us when we started bidding big bucks on big prizes,” said school bus manufacturer Jack deKruif, referring to the new Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Cadillac sparkling on the ballroom floor. “Men are more liberal about auction bidding. Some of our items go for $25,000 to $30,000!”

After cocktails, the men settled down for dinner at tables covered with shell-pink tablecloths and matching napkins, and listened to remarks by Gary Hunt, right arm to Irvine Co. owner Donald Bren. “Quiet, quiet , gentlemen, or we’ll (the Irvine Co.) increase your rent!” quipped Hunt, trying to calm the crowd.

Hunt, staid at fund-raisers when he represents the Irvine Co., proved he has what it takes to be a laugh-a-second emcee. “Make sure Supervisor Riley gets a prize,” he piped, as raffle gifts were awarded. And of recreation vehicle manufacturer John Crean: “He’s the only man who uses a motor home to drive to his house.”

Also on the scene: co-emcee Gordon Bowley, a Johnny Carson look-alike who heads Rainbow Magnetics (who whispered that his wife, Carol, was out to dinner with Sandy Shepherd, wife of Allergan Pharmaceutical President Bill Shepherd); Doug Jacobs, board president of Big Brothers/Big Sisters and a managing partner of Arthur Andersen & Co.; Clement Hirsch (the founder of Kal-Kan dog food, a company he launched by selling horse meat door-to-door); and Warren Hancock, inventor of the Hancock Heart Valve, a device that keeps blood flowing in about “200,000 people,” Hancock said. (And, once, in the heart of John Wayne).

Benefit canceled: The fund-raiser for the American Cinema Awards Foundation set for Oct. 14 at the Disneyland Hotel has been canceled, chairman John Crean announced recently. The event, Crean said, was planned last summer, when he was unaware that so many other worthy charities had planned parties for the same night. “I don’t want to take money away from local causes,” Crean said. “So we’re going to reschedule it.” A new date has not been set.