Milestones, Gems and Other Polished Performances

Natalie Cole came late, Elizabeth Dole left early, Donald Bren did a walk-through and Luciano Pavarotti stayed 'til the wee hours at benefits staged in Orange County in '96.

In a year packed with celebrity appearances and institutional milestones, Orange County's social set joined forces with supernovas as effortlessly as it did with community volunteers to raise money for charities.

And there's plenty to look forward to in 1997:

* The Orange County Museum of Art opens its newly renovated galleries in Newport Beach with a black-tie gala Jan. 23.

* The Philharmonic Society of Orange County stages a Viennese Ball on March 1 and brings the Vienna Philharmonic to Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa on March 4-5.

* Actress Lauren Bacall speaks at a luncheon March 26 on behalf of the Pacific Symphony.

* Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner speaks Jan. 30 at a benefit for Cal State Fullerton.

But back to '96 and some of its highlights.

There was the 10th anniversary of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa and the 60th anniversary of the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana.

The Nicole Brown Simpson Foundation staged its inaugural gala, and baseball great Rod Carew--after losing a daughter to leukemia--put his name on a golf tourney to benefit pediatric cancer research.

Speech-making also had its moments. During a benefit for Children's Hospital of Orange County, golf wunderkind Tiger Woods told the crowd: "One of the great things about being an athlete is that you can give yourself to a cause. If you care, you share from your heart. That's what life is really about. "

At a benefit for Cal State Fullerton, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell told thousands at the Pond of Anaheim: "As we struggle with a world that is changing in ways we never expected, we must continue to think as a family, believe in each other, love each other."


Singer Natalie Cole was expected to schmooze with event underwriters in a lofty hotel suite before attending a gala where she was honored last month.

But underwriters were already in their ballroom seats when Cole's limo finally arrived at the Anaheim Marriott. Still, she charmed the crowd at the benefit for Chapman University: "The memories you have sustained for my father are incredible," said the daughter of Nat King Cole. "The fact that you have transferred that love and respect to me is . . . overwhelming."

An exhausted Elizabeth Dole ducked out after the salad course during a $10,000-per-couple dinner for the California Republican Party in October. Guests at the Irvine affair were dismayed but sympathetic after they learned Dole had been up since 3 a.m. Dole was standing in for her husband, Bob Dole, who was in Florida preparing for his debate with President Clinton.

Shy billionaire Donald Bren made a cameo appearance at the grand opening of Bloomingdale's at Fashion Island Newport Beach in November. The CEO of the Irvine Co. rubbed elbows with Bloomies bigwigs and was out the door.

Tenor Luciano Pavarotti not only came early, mingling with opera buffs at a September reception for Opera Pacific, but he also stayed late--signing autographs until the wee hours at a Newport Beach dinner benefit. "I've never seen such a big star spend so much time with his fans," noted one guest.

Lawyers Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden joined TV personality Geraldo Rivera on stage in July at the premiere gala for the Nicole Brown Simpson Foundation.

A somber Clark told the crowd at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim: "It's a natural thing to suffer from tragedy. I know everybody in the Brown and Goldman family did. . . . But it's supreme to bring something beautiful and positive from that tragedy. I commend all of you for being here tonight."

Darden gave a tribute to the Brown family: "A lot of people [who endure tragedy] just climb inside of themselves, lock the door, close the shutters," he said. "When I think of courage, I think of the Brown family. They are true American heroes."


More than 1,000 people attended the 10th anniversary celebration of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in September that raised $550,000. Net.

Observed Thomas Kendrick, the center's founding president: "It's wonderful to stand here and think, after all the skepticism about whether it would be built, and if it was who would come, that it is now 3,000 performances and 6 million attendees later."

Center Chairman Mark Johnson told guests that the center has given Orange County "a focus and a soul it never had before."

At La Fiesta, the 60th anniversary celebration of the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, museum president Peter Keller had his eye on the new millennium: "In the year 2000, this event will feature an exhibit of the Imperial Court costumes of the Forbidden City," he said. "And we're expanding our facilities--we'll have a few new buildings by then."

Philanthropist Judie Argyros got one of the biggest laughs of the season when she stood before a 400-strong crowd at the South Coast Repertory gala in September.

The gala committee planned the event around SCR's "missing" Tony Award.

"Somebody asked me if I have it hidden in my hair," deadpanned Argyros, whose strawberry blond locks were swept up in a generous roll. "My hairdresser will not be pleased."

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