The Year in Toasts, Boasts and Roasts

Oh, how we partied. But as the year comes to a close once again, your Social Climes writers hang up our tuxes and leopard print mini-dresses. We contemplate what we have seen much too much of in recent months: the bodyguards, the martinis, the peekaboo belly buttons. We swear off herb-crusted roast beef and horseradish mashed potatoes catered by pricey restaurants and served in tents with chandeliers. We become lost in reminiscence. Here are some of the highlights--and lowlights--of the year gone by.

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Most Awesome Crasher: When Hollywood Pictures premiered "The Rock" in June at the prison on Alcatraz Island, startled party-goers watched the Park Service apprehend a man clad in a wet suit over a tuxedo who had windsurfed into the scene. The man, who gave his name as Willie Brown in apparent tribute to San Francisco's new mayor, was cited for illegal landing and disturbing the wildlife; he was taken away by a Coast Guard cutter. Then the 500 invited guests got on with their tour of the grim cellblock, where smiling waiters offered white wine from trays.

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For Love of Jackie: All we could afford to buy at the auction of the century in March was the tasteful, $90 catalog with the plain white cover. Still, let's not forget that the sale of the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis marked the time Sotheby's realized that New York is not the only center of the universe. For the first time in its 250-year history, the international auction house initiated an open audio link from New York to Los Angeles and Chicago for the event.

"I said at a meeting, 'Look, there's a lot of interest in the Kennedys in L.A. too. Don't leave us out,' " Sotheby's Andrea Van de Kamp said at the time. "I've had people stop me and say, 'Andrea, I will pay anything to own something she owned.' " Boy, was she right on the money.

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About Venues: For most wonderful / terrible event decor, we couldn't decide between the real Alcatraz and the faux scene at the party for "Twister" in May. An amazing amount of effort, including sound effects, went into making the courtyard of the UCLA Armand Hammer Museum resemble a Midwest town hit by a tornado. Street lamps and bicycles hung from trees, broken neon signs blinked from the bushes, and askew Coca-Cola machines, smashed hair dryers and other rubble filled the floor. It was, said actor Hank Azaria, "the creative use of debris."

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And One More Venue: How to describe it? Actor Taylor Negron did that for us. The March 5 premiere of "The Birdcage" in Westwood was "like something from the last season of 'The Love Boat,' " he said. A hangar-size tent done by Party Planners West in a Miami / South Beach-style riot of pink and turquoise featured an 1,800-square-foot beach with 5 tons of sand, a Caribbean salsa band, a small orchard of fake palm trees, parrots, fortune tellers and a 40-by-60-foot swimming pool with bikini-clad drag queens dancing on submerged Plexiglas platforms.

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The Art of the Entrance: At the American Civil Liberties Union's Torch of Liberty dinner in March at the Century Plaza, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening made their conspicuously inconspicuous power couple entrance at 8:45 p.m., well after the dinner hour, looking like members of the Armani National Guard, so austere and morosely fashionable were they.

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Best Freebies: Guests depart many charity benefits with a small shiny paper bag with the name of a cosmetics manufacturer on it. But after an evening of stargazing and general lavishness, the 1,300 guests lucky enough to get tickets to Marvin and Barbara Davis' Carousel of Hope in October left the Beverly Hilton with three soft canvas suitcases stuffed with loot. It's safe to say that few of the recipients are accustomed to carrying their own luggage. (The gifts, along with everything else for the ball-dinner-auction-stage show were donated, and the event raised $6 million for children's diabetes charities.)

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The Freebie We Left Behind: Each year, inexplicably, at least one party gives out construction worker hard hats as gifts. This year, it was the American Cinematheque's Moving Picture Ball. Few guests realized that the plastic helmets were symbols of the organization's new facility being under construction. Jackie Collins said it was a welcome shield from "ego fallout." An industry wit guessed it was for "protection from falling grosses."

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When the Drama Is Backstage: At the MTV Movie Awards in June, we bemusedly watched an impostor in a headband who claimed to be fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. With a film crew in tow, he greeted guests, air-kissed celebrities (Faye Dunaway was thrilled to see him) and pulled off the deception--until he got to Whitney Houston. She embraced him, suddenly realized it was a con and definitely was not amused. Neither was her bodyguard with attitude. In lieu of having his head unzipped, "Isaac" handed over his videotape and slunk away.

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Mayoral Hospitality: Yes, we know he's running for reelection and all, but we still should recall that Mayor Richard Riordan has gotten into a wonderful habit of opening his home--his home-home, not his official home--for philanthropic events, including two recent ones for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's multiple Art of the Palate fund-raising dinners and the inauguration of the UCLA Humanities Consortium. We think getting a peek at the mayor's glorious Brentwood estate is incentive for coughing up money for a cause.

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Philosophers of the Music Industry: Record producer David Was surveyed the scene at MCA's post-Grammy Awards fiesta at the Four Seasons in March and remarked, "Chilled crustaceans and chicks in low-cut gowns. That's what the Grammys are all about." At the same party, a nose- and eyebrow-pierced young woman named Ainjel Emme told us why bands die: "I used to have an Egyptian punk band, but then we got sick of each other." We believed her.

Over at the A & M PolyGram bash at Chasen's, the much nominated but Grammyless Joan Osborne did win the Pollyanna award. "At least I was the biggest loser of the night," she said. (Alas, the Grammys have gone back to New York for the foreseeable future.)

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So Hot and Yet So Cool: How else to describe the newly trendy golf? At the party for "Tin Cup" in August, set on a Westwood garage roof done up to look like the West Texas badlands (festive indeed), the film's writer-director, Ron Shelton, explained it all for us: "You have to convey to the audience that the things that golf is about are really things in their own lives. It's about taking chances and playing under control and knowing when to take risks and gaining control of your life and letting go at the same time. These are non-golf issues. Golf is simply a ritual to act those out." Okaaaay.

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Waterworld, the Musical: The buzz at the opening gala in September was that, finally, our own Los Angeles Opera got the legendary more-is-more designer-director, free-spending Franco Zeffirelli, to come here and throw around a lot of its money. The production of "Pagliacci" in September with a 150-member cast was so lavishly detailed it reminded screenwriter Jeff Burkhart of the time he worked with Zeffirelli on a film adaptation of "Dante's Inferno." The film was never made. "It would have been great," Burkhart said. "It also would have cost about $300 million."

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Farewell: Yes, we know 1996 was a banner year for Wolfgang Puck and Victor Drai, whose respective restaurants are multiplying like bunnies. (Well, one bunny for Drai, whose Drai's Cafe opened in Beverly Hills in late October.) But let us not forget the passing of one of the greats, the Bistro Garden in Beverly Hills.

The beautiful outdoor eatery was the site of thousands of lovely lunches for ladies who do those things, glam dinners and oodles of divine parties during its 18-year run.

We should add that reports of the death in 1995 of the venerable Chasen's were greatly exaggerated. Once a fossil of Old Hollywood, it now has a post-closing afterlife as a hip, for-rent venue where ghosts at the bar sip gin.

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Quoted: At the Academy Awards night party on March 25 at Georgia, Jim Brown commented on the Oscar boycott proposed by Jesse Jackson to protest the lack of opportunities for African Americans in the film industry. "I never really made it in America by protesting anything," Brown said. "I made it by kicking ass."

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What Movie Stars Eat: Oscar night featured the politically correct food du jour. At the Vanity Fair party at Morton's, free-range chicken was on the menu. In the giant Governor's Ball tent over at the Music Center Plaza, Wolfgang Puck dished up free-range veal. Over at Georgia, the former lifestyle of the catfish that was served went blessedly unremarked.

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A Tongue Like a Palette Knife: At the August debut of "Basquiat," the Julian Schnabel-directed film about the life, exploitation and addiction of Jean-Michel Basquiat, artist Charles Arnoldi had a word about the casting of Gary Oldman to play Schnabel. "I didn't figure that Julian would be able to keep his ego out of the movie . . . and, well, I was sort of surprised he picked such a thin actor to play him."

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Herbert, We Hardly Knew You: A letter written by a publicity firm about a celebration of Ronald Reagan's birthday at Chasen's on Feb. 6 read, "Mr. Reagan will become only the ninth president to have surpassed the age of 80. In doing so, he will join James Madison, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, J. Edgar Hoover, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford . . . " J. Edgar Hoover?

How to Be More Irish: At the party at Chasen's in October following the premiere of "Michael Collins," Michelle Lynskey of the Irish band Buzz-world said the essential elements of the melancholy ballads she sings are love, love lost, disputes with parents and emigration. As in: I had a lover. My father killed him. We buried him. I left for America. She said the traditional way of listening is "to stare into your pint thoughtfully."

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Serendipity: We did not expect to be charmed at the opening of the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show at the Convention Center in January. Then we came upon "Yugo Next," an art show featuring the ill-fated, ill-rated Yugoslav-made subcompact redesigned into toasters, showers, movie theaters and confessionals.

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We Learn Which Comedian Is Fearless: In November, there were two charity events that put Disney executives Michael Eisner and Michael Ovitz (then still Disney president) in the spotlight. And we couldn't help but notice the different approaches to the famously powerful odd couple by the two comedians working as emcees.

At the Century City Bloomingdale's opening, a fund-raiser for the UCLA School of Medicine's Aesculapians, for which Ovitz was benefit chairman, Jerry Seinfeld uttered nary a joke about the duo. A few days later, at the National Conference of Christians and Jews award event, where Eisner and Ovitz were dinner chairmen, it seemed as if Tim Allen wouldn't stop with the Eisner-Ovitz humor.

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