R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Nell Polish : TV, Stage Star Sparkles at Benefit That Raises $122,000 for St. Joseph Hospital

The annual Benefit for St. Joseph Hospital has become known for its star power, attracting entertainment luminaries such as Bob Hope and "Phantom" Davis Gaines. On Saturday, it was singer and actress Nell Carter's turn to shine.

Carter, who won a Tony Award for her performance in the musical "Ain't Misbehavin' and two Emmys for her TV role in "Gimme a Break," charmed 630 guests at the Anaheim Hilton and Towers hotel. The $300-per-person gala netted $122,000 for the renovation of St. Joseph Hospital's Emergency Care Center in Orange.

Dinner Theater

"We chose 'Hurray for Hollywood' as our theme because entertainment has always been a big part of this benefit," said Beth Collins, event chairwoman.

Organizers brought out the stars to illustrate the theme. Stars from spotlights illuminated the walls of the darkened ballroom. An ice sculpture of an Oscar statue presided over a table stocked with hors d'oeuvres.

Crystal stars adorned the centerpieces of each Mylar-covered table, where guests dined on lobster Wellington and beef medallion. During the meal, some couples spun around on the dance floor to the big-band sounds of Kent & Miller.

Party-goers didn't start misbehavin' until Carter took the stage. Looking regal in a sparkling burgundy gown, Carter energized her audience.

"Good evening--wake up!" she told them, before launching into a program of show tunes, blues numbers and jazz favorites.

Carter got party-goers to clap their hands to the music, sing

out "hey, hey" on cue during a Bessie Smith song, and howl for more. She even stepped off the stage and wandered among the tables.

"Don't touch me," she teased one man in the front row.

She also made fun of her less-than-petite size.

"It amazes me how people will have surgery to enlarge things, and I'm so natural," she quipped.

Real-Life ER

Proceeds from the 23rd annual gala cap a $5.5-million campaign to renovate St. Joseph's emergency room. The ER, originally designed to handle 40 patients a day, has been overwhelmed by an average daily caseload of more than 140 patients.

"For many people, the emergency room is their primary health care," said George Holmes, chairman of the St. Joseph Foundation board. "The sisters [of St. Joseph] never turn anyone away."

The new facility is designed to treat 300 patients a day and is scheduled for completion next fall. Now that its campaign to expand the ER is complete, the St. Joseph Foundation will begin a new campaign for St. Joseph's cancer center.

Among the faces in the crowd were: Larry Ainsworth, president and CEO of the St. Joseph Hospital Board of Trustees; Pat Buttress, chairwoman of the underwriting committee; Melvyn and Sandy Lieberman, Eugene and Susan Spiritus; Peter and Mary Muth; Jim and Nancy Morgan; Phil and Beth Schimmel; Ken and Kitty Bellis; Keene and Tania Bridgeman; Joe and Arline Barsa; Kenneth and Carolyn Cosgrove; Robert and Mary Beth Eagan; Pat and Betty Kelly; Brad and Lila Olson; Charlie and Milly Kovac; Paul and Carole Viviano, and Ira Toibin.

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