The Valley Line: Zoo hosts summer's best party

Here in La Cañada Flintridge we were showing our patriotism with many families honoring our nation's 234th birthday by flying their flags. It was really lovely to see "Old Glory" decorating so many people's houses.

Of course I get a little more revved up about this holiday because I have at least nine ancestors who fought for our freedom in the American Revolutionary War. Because of my extensive research I know which battles they fought in. In some cases I have copies of documents where they have recounted their war experiences and the officers and other soldiers they fought with.

On Sunday night I had dinner with friends who live on a lofty mountaintop with a practically unobstructed view of the Rose Bowl. Sitting on their backyard patio, we pulled up our chairs in a row and watched the fireworks show far away from the crowds and smoke. We could also see fireworks from about five other cities and small parks — it was quite a spectacular show!

Exciting things have been happening near our community recently: First and foremost, there is a theater experience not to be missed. Playing now through July 25 is the Tony Award-winning musical "In the Heights" at the historic Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.

It's a little bit of "Westside Story" and "Rent" all rolled up into a spicy feast of dancing and singing. The set is absolutely breathtaking, with the silhouette of the Brooklyn bridge front and center. The story is lively with plenty of laughs and even a few tears but altogether engaging.

The best party of the summer was recently staged at the L.A. Zoo by the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association with La Cañada Flintridge resident Connie Morgan as its president. John Lewis, also a resident of the foothills, is director of the zoo. A whopping $1,191,461 was raised that evening.

It was a lovely summer eve as nearly 1,000 guests, many wearing safari-inspired fashions, came to talk to the animals, listen to music and taste amazing food prepared by some of the best restaurants in the L.A. area.

Besides all of the above and also having an opportunity to bid on amazing live and silent auction items, by their attendance party-goers were there to ensure the zoo's mission to nurture wildlife and enrich the human experience with the animals when they visit the zoo.

Caretakers were doing "walk-abouts" with many of the zoo's resident small animals, which is always a fun meet-and-greet activity.

My favorite chat with a zoo creature was with a beautiful Hawaiian short-eared owl. Its caretaker said this beautiful bird was a stowaway on a ship that arrived in L.A. Harbor from Honolulu.

Susie Kasielke, curator of birds at the zoo, has named her Halakehiki (the Hawaiian word for pineapple). Susie said this bird is a subspecies of the short-eared owl that is found here on the mainland, and is the only owl that inhabits the islands.

The belle of this ball was actress Betty White, a longtime zoo supporter, who was honored that night. This was White's very own "Saturday Night Live" performance in a place that has become a second home to her — the L.A. Zoo.

White, who is thoroughly enjoying a resurgence in her long career as an actress, said her 46-year partnership with the Los Angeles Zoo is one of her two loves in life, alongside show business. In 2006 she was named Ambassador to the Animals of the City of Los Angeles by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

In presenting White with her award, Morgan said, "Betty White is synonymous with the Los Angeles Zoo. Her heart and her advocacy for the animals that share our Earth help drive us to excellence. Hers is a peerless example of leadership from the Hollywood community, and honoring her is our great joy."

Pauley Perrette, who plays the role of Abby on the television show "NCIS," was the master of ceremonies for the evening. Celebrity auctioneers were KNBC-TV weatherman Fritz Coleman and comedian Jimmy Pardo.

One of the most popular live auction items the guys were pitching was a pre-opening tour of the zoo's new Pachyderm Forest led by White. After the behind-the-scenes tour, the guests will enjoy an intimate catered dinner party at the zoo. This was such a popular bidding item that it was sold twice!

The Beastly Ball, now in its 40th year, remains the most sought-after ticket in "Tinsel Town." I'm already looking forward to next year's edition.

JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada social scene. E-mail her at

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