R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : In the '40s Mood : 'The USO Show at the Hollywood Canteen' Does Its Part for the Art Institute Effort

About 200 guests took a sentimental journey to the 1940s when Designing Women staged "The USO Show at the Hollywood Canteen" for the Art Institute of Southern California.

Dressed in '40s formal wear or military uniforms, the party-goers turned up at the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach on Saturday to salute America's war heroes. The $150-per-person dinner-dance was expected to net about $30,000 for Designing Women, which supports the nonprofit art institute in Laguna Beach.

Their Patriotic Duty

Many guests looked like they had stepped straight out of the '40s. Women sauntered around the ballroom in pillbox hats, mink stoles, hair nets, turbans and satin gowns. Many men, and some women, wore military jackets that shone with bars and medals.

"I collect military uniforms," said Caren Chatham-Heller, who showed off a Marines band jacket. "I love the USO, and I play '40s music at my house all the time."

Those who could remember the war years talked of rationing, brownouts and making do without butter, rubber, gasoline and other necessities. Despite the war and its hardships, they looked back on the '40s with nostalgia.

"There was a lot of unity in those days that you don't see anymore," said Jackie Jacobson, Designing Women president, who sported a Betty Grable-style hairdo, a frothy tulle-and-chiffon hat she made herself, a vintage dress and a fur wrap. She attended with her husband, Arthur.

A few guests wore their own military uniforms, some dating back to World War II.

"It's really kind of haunting to see the uniforms again," said Charlie Belasco, who served in the Marines during World War II.

Mary Ann Dreher dressed in the uniform she wore during World War II as a member of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots. George Grupe, a military historian, presented Dreher with a certificate of appreciation from Designing Women.

"They [WASPs] could really fly," Grupe said. "They were beautiful and very patriotic."

Grupe also saluted two recipients of the Medal of Honor from Orange County who attended--Col. William Barber of the Marine Corps and Walter Ehlers of the Army.

"A tribute to the military is very important today," Heller said. "We need to acknowledge their contribution to our freedom."

Canteen's Glory Days

Event organizers did their part to re-create the Hollywood Canteen, decorating the hotel ballroom with flags and patriotic posters proclaiming "Designing Women Want You." At each table stood a cutout of a woman in a military jacket.

"I was trying to get the Vargas girl look," said Doretta Ensign, who created the posters and cutouts.

The program began with a military escort provided by the ROTC Cadets of Rancho Santa Margarita High School and formal presentation of colors by the color guard from the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

At the original canteen, stars would entertain enlisted officers.

"It was a very interesting place--commissioned officers weren't allowed in," Grupe told the audience. "It's where they kept all the beautiful stars and starlets for the servicemen."

Dorothy Jo's Happy Hoofers and the Swingin' Hep Cats staged a USO-style show, tap-dancing and lip-syncing to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and other '40s favorites.

During the show, guests dined on corn chowder, sliced tomatoes with hearts of palm and basil vinaigrette, veal chops and a "delectable bombe " dessert--a dome of chocolate mousse with a caramel center. They ended the evening by dancing cheek-to-cheek to Dean Bottorf's Sounds of Swing band.

Since 1974, Designing Women has raised funds to support students attending the art institute, a four-year college of art and design. The support group also hosts its annual "Color It Orange" art exhibition for all Orange County students.

Among the party-goers were Gerry and Milly Muzzy, Jo Ann Killingsworth and Doug Payne, Leon and Molly Lyon, Sylvia McGregor, Boyd and Bibi Davis, Robert and Juin Foresman, Oscar and Alison Frenzel, Stan and Jane Grier, Jerry and Maralou Harrington, Harry and Nancy Lawrence, Janet Manderson and John Aust, Richard and Ruth Montgomery, Tony and Suzanne Valentino, and Bob and Beverly White.

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