A Starry Night <i> Before </i> the Telethon : The Muscular Dystrophy Assn. of O.C. holds its inaugural gala kicking off the Labor Day weekend show.

A cuddly puppy, a wedding cake and $10,000 worth of cosmetic surgery were among the more unusual items on the auction block when the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. of Orange County held its inaugural gala to kick off the MDA’s Labor Day weekend telethon.

More than 250 guests turned up for the “Starry, Starry Night” dinner and auction Friday, which took place on the terrace of the Waterfront Hilton at Huntington Beach. The $75-per-person gala was expected to net about $25,000 for the MDA.

Stars Come Out

“We’ll be under the stars--if we don’t have a marine layer,” vowed Pat Shipley, event chairwoman and owner of ERA Sterling Real Estate in Huntington Beach, dinner sponsor. The weather cooperated, and by nightfall guests were dining by the glow of tiki torches. The fare included stuffed chicken breast with cilantro cream sauce and a dessert of raspberry mousse in a chocolate shell.


Pre-telethon celebrations have been held in Los Angeles for almost two decades, but this was a first for Orange County.

“Our company has always supported MDA, and when they asked us to do this, we said OK,” said Shipley, who attended with her husband, Jim.

The real star of the starry night turned out to be a golden retriever puppy that was put up for bid during a live auction. Alex Fisher, the 14-year-old Orange County MDA poster child, fell in love with the dog and spent much of the evening cradling it on his lap. Honorary committee member Frank DiBella, president of Planet Hollywood, and others from the restaurant bought the dog for Alex for $650. The cosmetic surgery went for $3,900 to an unnamed bidder.

Race for the Cure


Many guests went out of their way to praise MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis, whose telethons have raised more than $1 billion for the MDA. Lewis and the telethons have also drawn protests from some disabled people who say Lewis’ methods demean them by making them objects of pity to attract donations.

Joann Brown, a local MDA executive committee member, has two sons, 8-year-old Jeff and 6-year-old Scott, with muscular dystrophy.

“The telethon is a cure for the disease, and I’ll support it 100%,” Brown said. “Jerry Lewis is really committed to finding a cure.” Brown helped get actress Michelle Pfeiffer to serve as one of the gala’s honorary chairwomen. Although she did not attend, Pfeiffer made numerous donations to the auctions, including a signed “Russia House” poster.

“We used to hang out at the beach together,” Brown said. “I wrote a letter telling her about my boys, and she’s been real supportive.”

Rick Rosen, vice president of the MDA executive committee for Orange County, said: “Our attitude is we’ll do whatever we have to to help find a cure. We can’t afford not to. Every day, kids are getting weaker. Every day, kids are dying.” Rosen and his wife Anne have a 9-year-old son, Jeff, with muscular dystrophy.

“Three years ago they told us our son would die by the age of 20. Now I think Jeff won’t die from muscular dystrophy. That’s (because of) MDA research. We’ve gone from having no hope to possibly having a cure in a few years.”

MDA includes 40 neuromuscular diseases that can have devastating impacts on patients and their families. Duchenne is the most common and fatal form of muscular dystrophy.

“It primarily affects little boys. It puts them in wheelchairs. Their muscles die away. They usually don’t survive beyond their 20s,” said Linda Moore, district director of the local MDA.


Proceeds from the event will be used for research and patient services.

Others attending the pre-telethon gala were actor Bruce Fairbairn, emcee Gordon Jump, Barbara Ash, Tony Cantalice, Lynn Effinger, Doris Harmon, Russ Kidder, Sheila Mazzeo, Alyse Rankin, Ted and Marlene Schell, Jenny Shipley, Marge Simpson, Pat Tawney, Kim Trigon and Lori Williamson.