Angels of Arts: A Decade of Flying High

Their celebrations have ranged from a "Gone With The Wind"-themed bash at William Lyon's Tara-like mansion in Coto de Caza to a Sun Valley ski trip.

And there have been holiday luncheons at the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point for the Angels of the Arts, the exclusive women's support group of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. And limousine rides--replete with appetizers and French champagne--to Los Angeles for dinner at the Regency Club.

In May, when they celebrate their 10th anniversary, the Angels hope to share a private moment with singer Liza Minnelli during her center engagement.

But don't look for these events on the society pages.

The Angels avoid publicity as passionately as some seek it. "The Angels are not anxious for publicity because theirs is a by-invitation-only group," says a center insider. "They are sensitive to appearing elitist."

Members include prominent arts leaders Arden Flamson, Marilyn Nielsen, Nora Hester, Renee Segerstrom, Willa Dean Lyon, Susan Strader, Judie Argyros, Deeann Baldwin, Elizabeth Tierney, Dotti Stillwell and Carol Wilken. Karen Betson is president.

To fly with the Angels, a member must be sponsored by two active members, pay a $12,500 initiation fee and annual dues of $2,500. (Initiation fees are placed in the center's endowment fund. Dues are used to help defray the center's operating costs.)

Since the group was founded in 1983, the Angels--whose bylaws stipulate that membership cannot exceed 125 women--have donated $3.5 million to the center. (By comparison, the center's 2,700-member Guilds support group has donated $6 million since it was established in 1978.)

"We have always had as our mission to help support the center," says Barbara Bowie of Newport Beach, once president of the Angels' board. "It's a lovely group of women--a very solid support group."

Says member Jolene Engel of Newport Beach: "The Angels is a close-knit group of wonderful ladies who have lots of fun."

But there are hints of trouble in paradise.

In recent months, membership has dropped from 125 to 90. "The center is not recession-proof," explains a center employee.

"It's a pricey arrangement," says one Angel.

Former Angels' board member Janice Johnson of Laguna Beach, an arts activist, decided not to renew her membership because she disagrees with the way the group spends a portion of its dues money.

In past years, up to 20% of members' dues were used to sponsor their private parties, she says. (Now, 10% is used, says the center.)

"To see a group of women donate money to the center is a good thing," Johnson says. "But to see them use so much of it to entertain themselves is another.

"It's no longer the '80s. Today, nonprofit organizations have to be very conscious of what's going on in the rest of the economy.

"Money for the arts just isn't there . If we want the arts to survive, we've got to be more responsible."


Pam and the Phantom: "I was a nervous wreck," said Davis Gaines after his appearance in Segerstrom Hall on Saturday night in "Giants of Broadway" with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

Gaines, the longest-running Phantom in the Los Angeles production of "The Phantom of the Opera," didn't have much time to rehearse for "Giants," he said. "And some of the songs I sang were new to me, so I'd been busy cramming the words. . ." Could've fooled members of the orchestra's Maestro Society. They welcomed Gaines and co-star Pam Dawber with deafening applause at a post-performance party in the Center Club. "That was the best show I've seen in years," rhapsodized symphony philanthropist Wally Schroeder.

With Don Pippin (a Tony Award-winner for "Oliver") conducting the orchestra, Gaines and Dawber sang selections including "Rhymes Have I" from "Kismet," "If I Loved You" from "Carousel," "Barcelona" from "Company," "Tonight" from "West Side Story" and "All I Ask of You" from "The Phantom of the Opera."

Dawber soloed with "Ice Cream" from "She Loves Me," and Gaines brought the house down with "Music of the Night" from "Phantom."

Sweeping over to the Center Club in her black silk organza stage gown, the reed-thin Dawber said Gaines' voice was the most "incredible instrument I have ever heard."

"And I've sung with a lot of wonderful singers," she added.

Was the soprano intimidated? "No, because I think we blended well. And we like each other. The whole thing was fun. I'm glad everyone enjoyed it."

Escorting Dawber was her husband, actor Mark Harmon. (Harmon was reluctant to pose for a picture with his wife. "This is her night," he pleaded. Piped Dawber: "Aw, c'mon, honey; you're my husband!")

Among well-wishers were Gaines' parents, Pendleton (Pen) and Stella Gaines. They flew from their home in Orlando, Fla., for the performance. "I cry every time I see him on stage," said Stella Gaines.

Said Pen Gaines: "Since kindergarten, he wanted to go on stage. But he didn't take any formal voice training until college."

The couple will watch their son perform in "Phantom" on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. And they'll come from Florida for his final Los Angeles performance when the production closes on Aug.29.

"('Phantom') has been the most exciting experience of my life," said Gaines. "It's going to be sad not doing 'Phantom' anymore. But all good things must end."

Gaines is uncertain about what the future will hold, but one thing he knows for sure. "When I was on that stage tonight, I looked at the orchestra and thought: 'This is what I want to do for the rest of my life--sing these beautiful songs with this kind of orchestra.'

"It was incredible."

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