'Big Splash' Bash Reels In $180,000 for AIDS Effort

Ken Jillson called it "pure money."

"You've got to roll up your sleeves and do some work to get it," he said.

Sleeves rolled--and tap shoes double-knotted--Jillson and Al Roberts hosted a party at their Laguna Beach home on Sunday that netted more than $180,000 for the AIDS Services Foundation.

As in years past, the fifth annual "Big Splash" bash was a combination homemade musical revue, back-yard barbecue and fund-raiser. The sold-out 475 tickets ranged from $50 for general admission to $10,000 for eight poolside seats and dinner. With Jillson and Roberts covering party costs, gross receipts equaled net proceeds--a mother lode of "pure money" to help care for the county's estimated 660 people with AIDS.

"This is our largest single fund-raiser," said Joel Miller, executive director of ASF. The Irvine-based foundation manages a food bank, a six-person residence and a range of counseling and practical assistance programs serving 275 clients, Miller said.

Although it is now the county's largest agency for the ongoing care of AIDS patients--with a $1.6-million annual budget, a staff of 15 and volunteer corps of 150--the foundation began modestly five years ago.

"Ken and Al had just built their pool," remembered Mel Lewis, a cast member in this year's "Splashin' Down Broadway" revue and owner of the St. Maarten hotel in Laguna Beach.

"They put on a little show for friends, and someone said, 'This would be a great way to raise money,' " Lewis said. "It was around the time one of the first men in Orange County died of AIDS. A friend of his had sent Al a check for $500 with a note that said, 'You'll know what to do with this.' We all got our address lists together and decided to develop a support organization."

The little pool party of '85 has grown into a semi-pro extravaganza--complete with set, costumes and props.

Written by co-host Jillson, the hour-long production featured 30 lip-syncing, tap-dancing, outrageously mugging players and six "Aquanettes" paddling the pool in time to songs from "Gypsy," "The Sound of Music," "Phantom of the Opera," "Evita" and "Bye, Bye Birdie."

Local tap teacher Brenda Kalatzes coordinated the footfalls of what she called "enthusiastic . . . but remedial feet." Jack Herzberg and Scott Zucker shared direction and choreography credits. When the applause died down, caterer Andrew Newell fed the masses on barbecued chicken, fried corn, squash, Chinese chicken salad and fresh fruit.

Enjoying the camaraderie and sparkling ocean view, ASF's Miller said it made him feel proud of the gay community in Orange County that a back-yard party could boast such a sizable profit.

"I've never heard of a private party anywhere in the country raising this kind of money for AIDS," Miller said. "It says a lot about Ken and Al that they give so much of their own time and money, and it says a lot about everyone here that it's such a success."

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