‘Off the Wall’ Street Dance Is a Hit Again

Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, or, the unintended consequences of a campy high society spoof given in 1983 (“The Coffee Cup Caper”), resulted in an attendance of more than 2,000 at Sunday’s ninth annual “Off the Wall” street dance.

A sophisticated takeoff on a traditional neighborhood block party, the benefit for the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Medical Center has its roots in a three-day escapade in which about 20 socialites took over all duties at The Coffee Cup, a no-nonsense cafe on this two block-long street, so the staff could take a brief vacation in Mexico. Local response to that temporary arrangement inspired Off the Wall, which on the fourth Sunday of every August now lines Wall Street and a stretch of Herschel Avenue with food and game booths, and erects three stages for continuous live music.

The event, which backers describe as intended to “build a bridge” between the community and the medical school, traditionally ranks among the higher grossing fund-raisers in the county. In 1990, $500,000, the proceeds saved from several Off the Wall events, was contributed for a new trauma operating room at the medical center.

Chairman Bette Biddulph Smith, who reprised the role she played at three other Off the Walls and announced the intention to take the helm again next year, estimated net proceeds from Sunday’s installment at $80,000, an amount that she said was down from previous years, but nonetheless a solid figure “given all that’s gone on in the world and the economy this year.” (Since January, this assessment has become a sort of mantra recited by most chairmen of major annual benefits.)


On the fourth Sunday of August, rock ‘n’ roll rules Wall Street, as it did again this year--but to add a little Lawrence Welk leavening to the rock routine, the committee placed bubble machines at the entrance. Once through the gate, attendees found themselves faced by the usual overwhelming assortment of diversions, which this year included clowns and face-painting for the junior set as the event increased its efforts to become more family-oriented. Quite a number of guests carried around padded, Off the Wall-logoed sports bottles as hard-won trophies of triumph at the challenging horseshoes, ring toss and Ping-Pong Fling booths.

It remains possible to make a splash in La Jolla for $1. This sum purchases the right to throw tennis balls at the lever that controls the ever-beloved dunking booth erected at the corner of Herschel and Wall, traditionally reserved for some of the town’s more popular characters. The list changed somewhat Sunday--UCSD Chancellor Richard Atkinson understandably bowed out after putting his unquenchable grin to the test several years in a row--but self-billed “unknown celebrity” Bill Hippe took the plunge wearing a Richard Nixon mask, a ploy that increased ticket sales during his spell in the booth. Among others who attended the event in bathing suits were San Diego Chargers defensive lineman Burt Grossman, tennis pro Jack Kruger and perennial favorite Manny Silva, maitre d’ at the clubby Whaling Bar at the La Valencia hotel.

The chance to indulge seriously in food and drink, especially in the offerings of many noted La Jolla eateries, always is one of Off the Wall’s chief lures. The cuisine Sunday included “No Problem Burgers” prepared by a group that unremorsefully called itself The University of Light Hearts; chilled avocado soup from the Marine Room; gnocchi Bolognese from Sante; fish tacos from Alfonso’s; Sammy’s Caesar salad; stuffed clams from the Avalon; pasta salad prepared by Top O’ the Cove; Sluggo’s hot dogs and George’s at the Cove’s rock shrimp fettuccine.

Some guests worked off the fare to a band rather appropriately named Haute Chili; others stepped out the hot Sixties numbers of Dr. Feelgood and the Interns of Love.


Jean Johnson chaired an immense committee that included Rudy Rehm, Jim Laing, Deirdre Dooling, Randy Cutting, Pam Mueller, Gina Hixson, Rosina Beaver, Arleen Konor, Melissa Elliott, Jody Fletcher, Dotti Howe, Blake Biddulph, Sally Grewe, Martha Ehringer, Melanie Cohrs, Maryl Weightman, Ken Smith, Sandy Atkinson, Joe Basquez, Lisa Gilmore, Dave Ish, Susan Stone and Carole Mayo.

SAN DIEGO--Celebrity true confessions reverberated through the moonlight at Saturday’s “Tropicana Night ’91,” given for the benefit of the Scripps Memorial Hospitals’ McDonald Center for the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. Proceeds from this second annual summer gala were earmarked specifically for the center’s adolescent long-term treatment facility.

Actors Desi Arnaz Jr. and Margaux Hemingway, who teamed with jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., as celebrity hosts--and, interestingly enough, met for the first time on the stage at the outdoor nightclub constructed on the tennis courts of Fairbanks Ranch Country Club--both recounted their own tales of recovery to the audience of 600.

Arnaz, introduced by emcees Bill Griffith and Laura Buxton as “someone who was famous in the womb,” (his birth in 1953 to parents Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz provided a number of scripts for the “I Love Lucy” television program), graduated a decade ago from the Scripps substance abuse program; his father went through the McDonald program four years later.


“Recovery is starting a whole new life, learning to love life again,” said Arnaz. “A young person has to put inner happiness first in his life, and that’s what a long-term recovery program helps him to do. Tonight gives young people the opportunity to reclaim their lives.”

The dark-browed Hemingway, whom Buxton thanked for “bringing the eyebrow out of obscurity” told the audience, “I remember the day I chose to be awake and aware, the day I chose life over death. It was the best thing I ever did for myself. The children need your support.”

Actor and horse owner Jack Klugman, hauled up on stage to lend another celebrity presence, applauded his fellow horse owners in the remnants of a voice worn by cheering that day’s races at Del Mar.

“I’ve always been proud to be part of the thoroughbred community, and the fact that we’re supporting something this worthwhile makes me even prouder.”


Yet another celebrity--his reticence so pronounced that he did not appear on the guest list, much less the stage--was Jackie Cooper, dressed like most of the crowd in the turf club regalia specified in the invitation.

The racing community, including top jockeys Eddie Delahoussaye and Gary Stevens, turned out in force for Tropicana Night, which was given a horsy theme by stable owner and event chair Audrey Skirball Kenis. Kenis said that proceeds would exceed $100,000.

The gala shared two motifs, that of a 1950s, Latin-style nightclub and a racing theme carried out by the subtitle “A R-A-C-E-Y Affair” and by the mock horse races run as a fund-raising stunt. The menu, catered by the club, took a Caribbean tone with such dishes as Havana-style filet of beef and red snapper with papaya chutney. Pop singer Gary Puckett performed following the live auction, which offered such items as 10 bottles of 1971 Chateau Margaux (a donation inspired, it seemed, by the presence of Margaux Hemingway); the riding whip used by Laffit Pincay, Jr. in more than 100 races, and an African cruise and safari.

Among committee members were Jane Johnson, Phyllis Magerman, Doug Morris, Paul Cooper, Lita Starr, Clara Weitzenhoffer, Charles Kenis, William Jacobs, Susan Dean, Persida Drakulich, Rita Gittes, Eric Seibert, Gene Locklear, Carolyn Paschal and Katherine Downs.