May Flowers as Towers of Art Spring Up : The 33rd annual Damas de Caridad Bal Masque gives rise to a 'Kaleidoscope' of headdresses.

Even Carmen Miranda in her largest fruit-laden headdress would have been no match for the eight women who modeled towering floral headdresses at the 33rd annual Damas de Caridad Bal Masque.

A crowd of about 500 guests showed up at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim on Saturday to view what has become a one-of-a-kind parade featuring living floats--a spectacle akin to a Rose Parade with legs. The $185-per-person gala was expected to net $70,000 for St. Jude Medical Center's Care for the Poor Mobile Pediatric Clinic.

Balancing Act

Each headdress weighs about 30 pounds, including seven to nine pounds of fresh flowers, and measures six feet tall by six feet wide. While the models, or "mannequins," look like they're balancing the weight on their heads, the float is supported by a rod that runs down their backs and onto their hips.

"If the floats are balanced, it's like wearing a hat; if they're not balanced, it's a chore," said Sandee Johnson, production chairwoman and former mannequin.

Floormen are stationed along the runway to catch the mannequins if they fall. No mannequin has lost her headdress in the history of the ball. Except for one scary moment when mannequin Grace Hunt looked like she would topple under the weight of a float bearing huge butterflies, the parade was trouble-free.

Each mannequin performed a dance routine while wearing her huge headdress. Some made it look easy. Corky Winters shimmied and shook as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike lip-syncing to "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" while supporting a frothy pink headdress with large diamond shapes. Her float, "Diamonds in Motion," the sweepstakes winner, was the work of florist Andrea Miko.

Polly Hairabedian performed a lively boogie as the "Neon Queen of the Night." Her eye-popping float with its hot pink and green zigzag shapes, the creation of Randy Duncan and Rob Mitten, was first runner-up and glowed in the dark when the lights went out.

Second runner-up Carol Rodriguez, a professional dancer, had no trouble managing the "Strictly Ballroom" float designed by Jillian and Percy Browne. She twirled under a faux mirrored ball that spun above her head.

"At first it's a little intimidating, but once you get used to the headdress you control it," she said. "Then you just take off."

Human Floats

Organizers chose "Kaleidoscope" as the ball theme to give floral designers freedom to use whatever shapes and colors they wanted in their floats.

"Kaleidoscope can be any vision you choose," said Nancy Dahl, ball chairwoman, who sported a gown with a kaleidoscope of multicolored faux gems.

Among the interpretations: a massive sunburst called "Celestial Kaleidoscope" modeled by mannequin Joni Hutain; a float that changed from ice-blue winter to flaming hot summer called "Seasons" modeled by Sharon Haight; an abstract float of intersecting geometric planes called "New Age Coming" modeled by Judy McFadden and--the people's choice winner--"Come Fly With Me," a hot air balloon worn by Maria Xanthos.

The ballroom reflected the kaleidoscope concept; it was decked in flowers of all types and colors on the tables and along the runway. Dinner--beef bordelaise and filet of salmon with tiramisu for dessert--was served at tables adorned with colorful masks in keeping with the ball's masquerade heritage.

Founded in 1961 by Marcy Mulville, Bal Masque began as a way for Damas de Caridad (Ladies of Charity) to drum up support and awareness for St. Jude hospital in Fullerton. Proceeds provide medical care, inoculations, checkups, referrals and other services to children in North Orange County via St. Jude's mobile pediatric clinic.

In the early years, women modeled much smaller hats, the size of a Miranda headdress.

"I remember when they were 12-inches high. As florists ideas have grown, so have the headdresses," said Beverly Swanson, president of Damas de Caridad.

Other participating florists were Lynn Levine, "Come Fly With Me"; Anna Davidson and Mary Jo Brett, "Earthbound"; Donna Wallace, Janet Bustos, Jerry Wang, Cindy Sichting and Ruth Carlin, "Celestial Kaleidoscope"; Erni Olson, Jeff Shadic and Barbara Kishiyama, "Seasons," and Mark Massad and Bill Davis, "New Age Coming."

Faces in the crowd included: Wayne Wedin, master of ceremonies, and his wife, Doretta; Sandee Johnson, production chairwoman; Dee Dee Madrigal, choreographer; Sandra Wessel, Phil Rulloda and Michelle Lofthouse, judges; Patricia Maysent, president and CEO of St. Jude Medical Center; Robert and Dorothy Beaver, David and Beverly Bates, Pat and James Blake, Jim Charter, Mike and Vicki Crow, Sam and Judy Doolittle, Robert and Peggy Harbour, David and Emily Johnson, Carl and Margaret Karcher, Shirley Kerstner, Gene and Nadine Leyton and Mel and Susan Shaw.

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