Audience Comes Alive at ‘Awakenings’ Preview

There were no searchlights at this Columbia premiere--no stretch limos, no mugging celebs, not one autograph hound. But the excitement was there just the same for Orange County’s benefit preview of “Awakenings” last week at Edwards South Coast Plaza Theatre.

The movie starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro had hundreds of supporters of the South Coast Institute for Applied Gerontology and the Alzheimer’s Assn. applauding, guffawing and weeping shamelessly.

Williams plays a shy and intense research doctor whose attitude toward life is changed after he helps transform a catatonic patient into a walking, talking human being. De Niro plays the middle-aged patient whose spirit--hidden for decades behind the mask of catatonia--briefly comes alive for all the world to see.

The movie’s message about the indomitability of the human spirit was not lost on the audience, many of whom have relatives with memory disorders resulting from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and stroke.


The Institute for Applied Gerontology operates two local adult day-care centers for people with memory disorders. “They saved my sanity,” said premiere organizer Anne Mudgett, wife of David Mudgett, senior vice president in charge of retail development for the Koll Co.

“The day-care center was a life saver for me when my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, lived with us for two years. I’m very concerned about how to take care of people who have the disease.”

Mudgett wanted to give something back, she said. “I want to help raise funds for the centers to make sure they’ll be available to others the way they were available to me.” Proceeds were estimated at $10,000.

The smash of the season: Suzanne Pierce said it all when she gushed over Bob and Beverly Cohen’s bay-side splash on Monday night: “I don’t recognize Newport Beach anymore. It’s gotten so glamorous .”

It was glamorous and then some at the $500 per-person “Champions for Children 1990" benefit for Parent Help USA, an anti-child-abuse organization founded by Sally Kanarek and Ruth Purdy.

A forest of Christmas trees, ablaze with twinkle lights, graced the Cohen dock. Red satin coverlets hid the chairs set up on the Cohen patio--all the better for the 200 guests to watch the opening night of the Newport Harbor Boat Parade in style.

Butterfly orchids--thousands of them--graced the mansion that once belonged to John Wayne. They floated with flickering votive candles in the turquoise pool. They bloomed with fragrant pine branches atop the white marble fireplace. And they were teamed with holly sprigs in the bay-side room reserved for desserts alone.

Newport Beach hasn’t seen such an elegant, open-to-the-public party in years. In fact, the Cohen manse was the only place to be on Monday night if you consider yourself a social mover.


The tab seemed stiff, until you considered the cause. “Ninety-five percent of the prisoners on Death Row were abused as children,” said Frank Yorita, the orthodontist who is board chairman of Mothers and Others Against Child Abuse (the parent organization of Parent Help USA.). “How do you stop crime? By reaching people before they’re abused.

“Parent Help helps families who are at risk of abusing their children. They may be stressed because of being unemployed, hungry, homeless, single, jobless. The organization helps them move in the right direction . . . at no charge.”

Sheila Simon, a former Orange County resident who came from Arizona for the affair, said: “Without the help and encouragement of Sally Kanarek, I think I would have committed suicide. Sally met me when I was in a battered women’s home. She encouraged me--became my volunteer, my teacher, my mother.”

Before the party was over, guests--who included Donna and John Crean, Buzz and Lois Aldrin, singer-songwriter (“Rocky”) Carol Connors and actress Connie Stevens--had dined on a groaning board of fare cooked up by Le Difference of Westwood, watched the Colony Kids Carolers, heard Connors and singer David Reign and had keepsake photos taken.


The evening’s highlight? Watching the dynamic Beverly Cohen--dazzling in black sequins and a glittering “reindeer” belt--tell the party-goers: “You can go home tonight and sleep beautifully because you have really given of yourselves.”