Here's to Ed McMahon! : Far-From-Retiring TV Personality Tabbed for Award

"Then there's the one about Frank Sinatra . . . "

Ed McMahon--wine connoisseur, gourmand, for almost 30 years Johnny Carson's aide-de-camp--is talking about the toast he gives every time he hails the grape, "To the festival! To the incredible festival of life!"

The salute is so well known, McMahon says from a phone in his Beverly Hills home, it's almost a password among pals.

Take the time Sinatra called during a telethon McMahon was hosting. He wanted to give away $25,000, but nobody believed it was Ole Blue Eyes.

The organizers asked McMahon, 'Would you recognize Frank Sinatra's voice?' "

"I told 'em 'sure. I've known him for 40 years.' "

Grabbing the phone, McMahon tested the caller with: "Raise your glass on high and what do you say?"

Sinatra roared: "To the festival!"

For McMahon, life is a nonstop hoot, a celebration. No wonder Ritz-Carlton Vice President Henry Schielein plans to give him the hotel's Bon Vivant Award next month.

"I wanted to honor somebody who enjoys the great things--food, wine and good company," says Schielein, who will bestow the award upon McMahon during the Ritz-Carlton's annual World of Wines Festival. "Ed is fun, a wonderful man."

When McMahon learned he would receive the nod (awarded last year to television personality Robin Leach) he asked his manager what bon vivant meant.

"He told me it meant 'good liver.' I told him, 'Thank God I've got a good liver.' "

The good life begins with making something memorable out of the smallest occasion, McMahon says. "Even if it's cranking up the barbecue for the first time in summer. If you make life an occasion it will be an occasion."

And during tough times? "Johnny (Carson) says it perfectly: 'You've got to have a sense of humor. All it is is another incident in your life and you move on.' "

Life after "The Tonight Show," is going to be just fine, McMahon says. "Johnny and I aren't retiring. We're just giving up 'The Tonight Show.' "

The World of Wines Festival begins on Nov. 21 with a Celebrity Chefs gala to benefit Olive Crest Abused Children's Foundation. There, at a reception and gourmet dinner co-sponsored by the Ritz-Carlton and Bon Appetit magazine, guests will dine on fare cooked up by top chefs from San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles.

Festivities continue Nov. 22 with a caviar-tasting seminar, luncheon with Michelin-star-awarded chefs and a sampling of wines from Spain.

On Nov. 23, participants--the public is invited--can enjoy everything from a "Cigar and Cognac Experience" to a "Best Wine List Awards Luncheon."

On Nov. 24, McMahon will receive the Bon Vivant Award at a brunch featuring champagne from vendors including Laurent Perrier, Perrier Jouet, Mumm, Louis Roderer and Moet Chandon. (That night, at a black-tie dinner, Robert Mondavi will present the World of Wines' Lifetime Achievement Award to wine journalist Robert Balzer.)

"I'm looking forward to the festival," says McMahon, who calls the Ritz-Carlton a favorite haunt. "I love it there--the casual elegance.

"In fact, I've always loved the South County area. In the old days, when everyone else was heading for Malibu, I was heading for Laguna Beach. It was a long drive, but worth it. It still is."

Rose parade: Waving long-stem burgundy roses, 13 of Orange County's most available men swept into Saturday's Grand Gala Bid for Bachelors at Parker Hannifin in Irvine and made about $55,000 for the Orange County chapter of the March of Dimes.

Deafening squeals and thundering applause greeted the bachelors--all of whom had dreamed up the exotic date packages auctioned off by Tom Bay during the festivities.

About 700 guests watched bachelor Chuck Lia fetch $5,250 for his dream date for two to France to ski and watch the Winter Olympics.

If guests weren't bidding on bachelors, they were cruising food stations, bidding on silent auction items, or just plain gawking at each other. This was young and restless country.

"This is my first bachelor bid," said willowy Sloane Pedersen, 22, of Huntington Beach. "I have about $350 to spend. I think I'll charge it." Her pal, Jennifer Rosenberg, 21--also of Huntington Beach--said she was looking for someone "blond, tall and handsome."

Among guests were benefit chairman John Clement and his fiancee, Victoria Baldewin "We just got engaged during a trip to Paris," said Clement, a bachelor-bid alum. "I tell you, the training for this auction sure teaches you how to do things." Baldewin was sporting a stunning diamond and emerald sparkler.

Tony Orlando to perform: Singer Tony Orlando ("Tie a Yellow Ribbon") will entertain guests at the annual St. Joseph Hospital benefit on Saturday at the Anaheim Hilton and Towers. Tickets are still available for the event, which will include a sit-down gourmet dinner and dancing, says chairman Joseph Barsa (call (714) 771-8211). Two patrons of the gala--Southern California Edison and SensorMedics--are sponsoring "hero" tables at the affair. The tables will be occupied by the St. Joseph Hospital employees and service personnel who served in Operation Desert Storm.

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