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Mission Possible, Thanks to Art Discovery

Little did Gerald Miller know that a discovery in a dreary basement would lead to one of the brightest parties of the summer social season.

A year ago, the administrator of Mission San Juan Capistrano found a stack of dust-covered paintings--Impressionist works depicting the 200-year-old mission--stashed behind the furnace in the building’s cellar.

Miller brought them to the attention of heiress Joan Irvine Smith, whose own collection of Impressionist works includes paintings of the California missions.

Why not combine the paintings discovered by Miller with her own, Smith suggested, and stage a mission art exhibit?

And so “Romance of the Bells: The California Missions in Art” was born.

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“This show marks the first time in California history that these paintings, from the period of 1890 to 1930, have been brought together in a show of this magnitude,” Miller said.

Now, every art exhibit needs its launching party, and the sunny, Saturday morning reception--attended by guests such as Marilyn and Thomas Nielsen, chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center--was an answer to a prayer.

“I prayed and prayed that [Friday’s] rain would stop ,” said Miller, as he welcomed guests into the mission’s sun-dappled courtyard.

Everywhere guests looked they saw beauty--on the old mission walls, where the paintings were hung, and on the mission grounds, where roses and cacti bloomed and hummingbirds flitted from flower to fountain. When guests looked up, they saw the old mission tower, where the bells once called people to chapel.

Guests sipped wine and plucked canapes from silver trays as they strolled through the exhibit, which contained “Mary Pickford’s Wedding,” painted in 1924 by Charles Percy Austin, and “Mission Cloisters” by Alson S. Clark--a work that Smith keeps over her fireplace.

“This mission has had a soft spot in my heart for years,” Smith said. “When I was a little girl, my mother and grandmother used to bring me here from Los Angeles to feed the pigeons.

“Over the years I have loved to come back and walk through the mission because of its beautiful architecture. It’s such a marvelous feeling . . . going back 200 years in time.

“Our California missions are one of the most precious historical landmarks we have,” Smith said. “They deserve to be, should be , preserved. Look at the East Coast! They make a great to-do about their historical locations. There isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t do the same.”

Beginning Wednesday, the exhibit will be on display at the Irvine Museum at 18881 Von Karman Ave., Irvine, where it will continue through October.

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In tune with Tommy: Yes, he will attend the cast party after he opens in “Stage Door Charley” on June 27 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, but don’t look for singer-dancer-choreographer Tommy Tune to do any other social gig while he’s in town.

“Every day, we rehearse from noon to 5,” Tune said during a telephone interview from San Francisco. “And the material we come up with that day, we use that night. It doesn’t leave a lot of time.”

The new musical by brothers Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman (they wrote “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”) is about buskers, entertainers who perform on the streets of London.

“It’s a milieu that hasn’t been explored in a musical,” Tune says of the show that will open at the St.James Theater in New York on Nov. 2. “The original title was ‘Busker Alley.’ But then we realized Americans didn’t know the word.”

Charley, played by Tune, is an entertainer who performs outside a theater while people wait in line to see a show.

“He never goes inside but dreams of being indoors someday,” he says.

Tune recalled that, years ago, after opening in “Me and My Girl” in Segerstrom Hall, he and fellow cast members enjoyed a hotel Jacuzzi party till the wee hours.

“The family that plays together Jacuzzis together,” Tune jokes. And then, on a serious note, he adds, “You get close. Behind the curtain, before it goes up, we stand in a circle and hold hands to unify ourselves.”

How does he do it, push himself on stage, year after year, before thousands of people?

“I pray,” he says. “It sounds corny, but I know whence [courage] comes, and it doesn’t come from me.”

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Bathtubs only, please: “It’s true that I don’t take showers,” writes Janet Leigh in her new book, “Psycho,” a detailed account of the making of the 35-year-old thriller flick directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

During the film, in a horrifying scene, the young Marion Crane--played by Leigh--is stabbed to death in a bathroom shower at the Bates Motel.

But it wasn’t playing the scene that gave Leigh her phobia.

“It was seeing the film in its entirety, later,” she writes.

If Leigh finds herself in a situation in which a shower is the only way to bathe, she makes sure all of the doors and windows in the house are locked and leaves the bathroom and shower door open so she has “a perfect, clear view.”

The movie has so many surprising and terrifying twists that Hitchcock demanded that patrons who arrived after the movie had begun not be admitted.

Leigh, mother of actress Jamie Lee Curtis, will discuss “Psycho” on Thursday at the monthly luncheon meeting of the nonprofit book club, Round Table West, at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach. Information: (714) 645-5000.

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Cooking up a storm for Julia Child: In Newport Beach to promote her new cookbook, “In Julia’s Kitchen With Master Chefs,” Julia Child rubbed elbows with the Associates support group of KCET Channel 28 at Villa Nova restaurant last week.

Villa Nova owners Charlene and Andy Crean are supporters of KCET. When they heard Child would be in town--hawking books at the KCET Store of Knowledge in Fashion Island Newport Beach--the couple decided to toss a book-signing party for her.

Before she spoke to guests, Child dined on Pomodoro Basilico with angel hair pasta and pagliafino , a traditional Italian dish that combines white and green fettuccine with peas, mushrooms, shallots and prosciutto.

“Delightful,” said Child, who sat in one of the bistro’s cozy red booths.

Was Villa Nova chef Sonny Mergenthaler nervous about cooking for one of the world’s great French chefs?

“Not at all,” he said. “I’ve watched her on television, and I know she enjoys cooking as much as I do.

“Her heart is just like mine is. When she saw all of the food I’d cooked up for the event, she squeezed my hand and said, ‘This is quite a spread!’ ”

Privately, Child said that her book’s recipe for a dessert of fruits served up with crystallized rose petals would be perfect for summer entertaining.

A specialty of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten--owner of J.J. and Vong restaurants in the Big Apple--the dish combines fruits topped with vanilla ice cream sprinkled with ground white peppercorns.

“Unusual, yes?” said Child.


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