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Our Laguna: Mixing it up with the stars at gala

The Festival of Arts rolled out the red carpet Saturday for the 12th Annual Gala benefit, which raises money improvements and renovations to the city-owned facility.

About $200,000 was raised, in no small part due to the celebrities who attend, some of them year after year.

“When Joe Montegna first Twittered that he was bringing the cast of ‘Criminal Minds’ to the gala, we sold out the next day,” said Sharbie Higuchi, festival director of marketing and public relations.

“Criminal Minds” cast members A.J. Cook and Matthew Gray Gubler were in the audience this year. Gubler was without the crutches he needed last year after a fall on a dance floor, but with a new short haircut, which makes him look even younger than he does in the show, and his brother.


Gubler plays Spencer Reid on “Criminal Minds.” He is also professional model and was the voice for Simon in “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.”

Montegna said Saturday that he first came to the Pageant of the Masters in 1983.

He was involved in a show that summer that had a connection to the Last Supper. Someone suggested he attend the Pageant of the Masters, which closes with the Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”

Shortly thereafter he was cast in a Broadway play, which Montegna said changed his life.


“I connect this place with good things,” said Montegna, who has served as gala host in the past.

The gala was hosted this year by Mario Lopez, who began his career as one of the main characters in the hit teen series, “Saved By The Bell,” is the star of “Extra,” a popular daily TV entertainment news show, nationally syndicated. He also hosts MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew.”

Lopez made it to the finals of the ABC’s hit show, “Dancing with the Stars” and many people at the gala, Martha Lydick for one, thought he should have won.

As a memento of the his gig as gala host, festival artist David Milton presented Lopez with a print of his watercolor of the Hollywood sign.

Lopez first became familiar with the pageant in the early 1990s during a segment of “Name Your Adventure” hosted by him.

“I think the Pageant expresses something I’ve always believed: that art has something for every one of us,” Lopez told the gala audience.

Lopez said the commitment to the arts shown by the volunteers who make the pageant possible is nothing short of inspirational.

“I also had a chance to experience the excitement and enthusiasm of all the volunteers backstage and the incredible team effort that goes into making this truly a one-of-a-kind show,” Lopez said.


Festival President Wayne Baglin couldn’t have agreed more.

“Equaling the unique nature of the Pageant of the Masters show is the fact that it exists because 550 people volunteer countless hours in set and performer preparation, rehearsals and performances,” Baglin said. “I can think of no other business model that is so dependent and successful based upon volunteers.”

Baglin also took a moment before the curtain was raised to express appreciation for the gala audience, some of whom paid $350 for a ticket.

“Your support of tonight’s Gala results in tangible improvements to the Festival of Arts grounds, because the revenue goes into the capital improvements fund,” Baglin said. “This year’s guests have praised the improvements to the exhibit grounds and pageant performers appreciated the remodeled dressing rooms — all accomplished because of funds generated by the Pageant of the Masters Gala evening. Thank you.”

Among the other celebrities at the gala: Ron Rodecker, former Laguna Beach art teacher and creator of “Dragon Tales” on PBS; Marg Hellenberger, who plays Catherine Willows on the original “CSI"; Sarah Drew, who plays Dr. April Kepner on “Grey’s Anatomy"; Richard Karn, new host of “Bingo America,” but most famous for his role as Al on “Tool Time"; Drew Tyler Bell, winner this year of the Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama; Kate Linder, for 28 years the housekeeper on “The Young and the Restless"; Vicki Gunvalson, a real Orange County housewife; Chip and Kim McAllister, winners of the fifth “Amazing Race"; Cassie Fliegel, star of “Locked up Abroad"; Iva Franks, who has had recurring roles in “Space Above and Beyond and “Las Vegas"; Joseph Mascolo, winner of three Soap Opera Digest Awards for 18 years on “Days of Our Lives"; gala perennials Jerry Mathers, forever known as “The Beav"; and Donna Mills, who set the standard for television femme fatales on “Knot’s Landing:" and Lydia Cornell, winner of a People’s Choice Award for her role on “Too Close for Comfort,” who said she appeared in very action show in the 1980s, including “A-Team” and “Hunter.”

“I am a recovering sex symbol,” Cornell said.

She is recovering by writing books with titles like “How to be a Virgin Again” and creating a talk show for Kelsey Grammer’s network.

Cornell was accompanied by Stacy Di Saia, who cast all three ‘80s shows.


They were seated at diner with Festival Board member Fred Sattler, his wife, artist Jan Sattler and their daughter, Allison.

Also at the gala: Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, Michelle and Councilman Kelly Boyd, Faye Baglin, Coastline Pilot City Editor Cindy Frazier, Katherine Rodecker, Laguna Beach Scholarship Foundation board member Marge Earl, Jim and FOA board member Pat Kollenda, Joan Gladstone and festival artist Julita Jones, whose home burned last week—the good news is her studio was saved.

Besides a performance of the pageant, the gala included an opportunity to wander around the artist’s booths, the music of Bill Cantos, dancing, food catered Tivoli Terrace restaurant and Chef Molly’s Culinary Artistry, a silent auction and the raffle of a 2010 Acura ZDX, won by Ed Laser of La Jolla.

The gala was sponsored by Acura, which donated the ZDX, Fidelity Investments, KOST 103.5 FM, the Ritz-Carlton of Laguna Niguel, Orange County Register, Cox Communications, Kendall-Jackson Estate Wines, and Montage Resort & Spa.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or email