Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

The Crowd: ‘Moulin Rouge’ evening to aid cancer victims

Consider this.

You are in your doctor’s office and the tests have come back. The news is not good. The doctor tells you that you have cancer; surgery is essential followed by weeks of chemotherapy, radiation and potentially more treatment.

You take a deep breath. Mortality is not on your mind. Your own health and the struggle you face is secondary. What you fear most is the survival of your family, your children’s expenses in school, the payment of your mortgage, credit card bills, and food being on the table.

Why? You have some savings. Your job is secure, yet a leave of absence would curtail income flow. You even have medical insurance. Yet the cost of cancer treatment, which can incur over months, possibly years, can, will and does wipe out most Americans financially.


Last Saturday evening in Newport Beach, a unique cancer foundation known as Beckstrand gathered its donors, organizers and a glittering contingent of famous Hollywood faces for a major fundraising gala at the Balboa Bay Club & Resort.

They called it “An Evening at Moulin Rouge,” the 2011 Diamond & Pearl Ball. Funds raised, a whopping $1.3 million in donations, will go to funding life essentials for people fighting cancer. Monies will pay rent, buy food, keep kids in school and in general assist cancer patients from facing total financial ruin as they fight for their lives.

It was an amazing event, even by Newport standards. Presenting sponsor Lugano Diamonds, represented by Moti and Idit Ferder and Stuart Winston, partnered with Beckstrand Executive Director Lil Spitzer to produce the event of the season on a French theme complete with can-can dancers galore.

Spitzer and staff, including Renee Leeson, Sarah Unke and Kaerie Ray, worked to support the phenomenal gala chair Renetta Caya, who is surely Newport’s party planner extraordinaire. Caya’s committee included Joni D’Amato, Cheryl Goldberg, Cindi Morales, Michaele Hall, Thomas Savage, Sophia Paliov and celebrity fashion designer Oday Shakar, to name a few. Shakar also dressed many of the stunning women in the crowd.


But it was not just the glamour of the party, or the fabulous menu or even the extravagant auction that helped to bring in the donations that made this event soar.

It was the love in the ballroom. The crowd opened their hearts and gave with their wallets because they got the message.

Enormous donations came from George and Eden O’Connell, Jay Hamrick, Dave and Holly Wilson, Patricia MacNamara, Mary Ellen Moschetti, Mike and Jan Salta, Keith and Mara Murray, Eva la Rue and Joe Cappucio, and chair Renetta Caya and husband Blaine.

Guests raised their hands and gave. The numbers were staggering: $10,000, $25,000, $50,000, $100,000 and more.

Every dime matters. Beckstrand funds a multitude of programs including individual patient financial assistance, a relief holiday program, psychosocial pediatric program, art therapy, and a national scholarship program. That program assists young people in school who are both cancer survivors, as well as the children of parents fighting the disesse and facing financial hardships.

To focus attention on the cause, famous faces have lined up to offer support. On hand, the beautiful actress seriously dedicated to Beckstrand, Eva La Rue, co-star of the television series “CSI: Miami,” serves as national spokeswoman for the organization.

La Rue was joined at the party by the gorgeous and hysterical comedic star Fran Drescher, star of “The Nanny” and the new TV series “Happily Divorced,” which was created with former husband Peter Marc Jacobson and airs on TV Land. Drescher is a cancer survivor herself and penned a memoir of her personal struggle in a 2002 book titled “Cancer Schmancer.”

The stars joined a lineup of honored local guests in the Beckstrand “Hall of Fame” such as ex-football player Rich Saul, Dr. Robert Dillman, Taylor Carol, Dr. Neil Barth, Dr. Simon Tchekmedijian and founder Dr. Grant Beckstrand. Also honored posthumously was SoCal businessman Tom Riach, who lost his cancer battle in 2006, and the beautiful young Mater Dei volleyball star Andi Collins, who died at just 16 from a rare form of breast cancer.


The incredible success of the event would not have been possible without the financial support of additional sponsors such as Fashion Island, Aston Martin, Donati Vineyards, The David S. Ascher Charitable Foundation, McCarthy Building, John Jory Corporation, Standard Drywall, Inc., James (Kimo) and Alison McCormick, Don and Mary Foster, among the generous.

Spotted in the crowd were Shelly Straight, Elisabetta Graff, Judy Klimek, Alana Lee, Grant Anthony and Tracy Di Giorgio. Actors front and center were Gilles Marini, Regina King, Adam Rodriguez, and Omar Benson Miller and one most exceptional young woman, Nicole Schulz, sharing her courageous personal cancer struggle and bringing the crowd literally to its knees. To learn more about the work of Beckstrand, please visit

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.