Distinguished Artists Got Early Starts

A common thread runs through the careers of the six Distinguished Artist honorees at Monday's Music Center gala: They got early encouragement. As they accepted their awards, Joel Grey, Eva Marie Saint, Dawn Upshaw, Mark Morris, Herbie Hancock and Joan Boyett each gave credit to their teachers and an early exposure to arts education.

Grey, whose award was presented by Carol Burnett, said, "I was 9 when I made my professional stage debut. I earned respect because I knew my lines and followed direction; they even called me 'Mister.' I learned that the theater is a place where passion, ethics, manners and excellence matter most."

Choreographer Morris, who accepted his award from designer Isaac Mizrahi, noted, "I'm here because of my teachers. School field trips to performances had an enormous effect on me. When I was 8, I saw Jose Greco. Right then I decided I wanted to be a flamenco!" And Saint, who received her honor from James Coburn, said she had planned to become a school teacher until she tried out for a school play on a dare. She won the role and changed her major to theater arts.

Hancock, who accepted his award from jazz aficionado Tipper Gore, said, "I got a piano for my 7th birthday and performed Mozart with the Chicago Symphony when I was 11."

Ernest Fleischmann, artistic director of the Ojai Festival, presented the award to Upshaw, who also expressed her gratitude to her family and her musical partners. "My parents and my sister showed me that making music is such a purely natural thing," she said.

Disney exec Tom Schumacher and Caroline Ahmanson, who co-chairs the Education Council, introduced the final honoree, Boyett, founder of the Music Center Education Division. Retiring this month after 22 years, she has overseen the program that has reached 14 million children since its inception.

"I too had the advantage of growing up with the arts and going to public schools with strong arts programs, Boyett said. "Most of us can't remember our algebra, chemistry or Latin, but what we know about the world we've learned from literature, architecture and the arts."

The gala, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, was emceed by Mary Hart and featured performances by Tommy Tune and Music Center Spotlight Award winners Jennifer Tivens, Gerald Clayton and Miles Mosley. It was sponsored by Club 100, a support organization of the Music Center.

Jennifer Diener chaired the gala committee, which included Club 100 president Kim Peterson and Cynthia Gibb-Kramer, Brindell Gottlieb, Carol Mancino, Maggy Martino, Diane Morton and Gail Campbell-Newman.

Descanso Gardens Blossoms

Rain sprinkles started just an hour before guests were set to arrive for last weekend's lavish al fresco gala at Descanso Gardens. "Raindrops on roses are not among my favorite things!" moaned Linda Mitchell, development director at the gardens. But within minutes, the skies cleared and things again looked rosy for "Descanso in Full Bloom," the first black-tie bash sponsored by SEEDS (Supporting Education and Excellence at Descanso).

Members of the 50th anniversary class of the La Canada Thursday Club's Les Fleurettes were on hand to welcome guests before they strolled to the International Rosarium, where more than 4,000 rose bushes were at their peak. There, in an outdoor ballroom, Peggy Dark's chefs served fresh pea soup with crab, roasted halibut and champagne-laced lemon sorbet. Wayne Foster's orchestra played for dancing.

"This is a big step for Descanso," said benefit chairwoman Amy Lamb. "Not only are we sold out, but we had $100,000 in the bank before the invitations were in the mail. People love this place."

Eric Haskell, professor of French and humanities at Scripps College, served as honorary chairman of the evening. He praised the garden as "a paradise regained" in a strip-mall culture.

Created 64 years ago by E. Manchester Boddy, publisher of the now-defunct Los Angeles Daily News, the 160-acre botanical park annually hosts more than 14,000 school children who participate in field studies. Additionally, 300 children with special needs attend weekly sessions.

Among the more than 300 guests who turned out to smell the roses were Sir William Pickering and his wife, Inez, Sandy and Richard Schulhof, Barbara and John Crowley, Sharon Thralls, Neil Papiano, Betsy and Sid Tyler, Helen and Jerry Stathatos, Susan and Bill Baribault, Nancy and Bill Burrows, Warren Hillgren, Polly McCaslin, Elsie and John Sadler, Jim Watterson, Pam and J.C. Massar, Elizabeth and Casey Fitzpatrick, Dawn Frazier and Ross Selvidge, who was dashing in his kilt in the Campbell tartan. All found pink fondant "roses" on their dashboards as they departed.

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