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There are certain charity galas where glancing around the room at any given point you wonder to yourself, What are these people doing here? Under what circumstances would you find the actor Victor Garber, Devon Aoki, John McEnroe and Regis Philbin at the same event? The cynic in me comes up with two words: Public Relations. But the angel on my other shoulder—and in this case the correct voice in my head—reminds me that certain diseases are so widespread in their impact as to produce such uncanny black tie partners.
From left: Joy Philbin, John McEnroe and Regis Philbin
Such was the case Tuesday evening when the Alzheimer’s Association held its annual Rita Hayworth Gala, this year sponsored by Rolex. The theme was Hollywood Glamour and aside from the actor and starlet mentioned above, there were odes to this dictate amongst the hundreds of guests: sequins, sparkle, fur and—let’s be honest—cleavage were plentiful.
During cocktails, guests could peruse a silent auction that boasted a range of lots from dinner for four at Rao’s (starting bid $500), a Dennis Basso chinchilla capelet valued at $25,000 (starting bid $5,000) and a bespoke suit.
“He’s pretty!” said one woman to her husband of the blonde model showing off one of the results. Ahh, the power of advertising. . .
In another room, there was even a customized Savoir luxury bed up for grabs (valued at $20,000) and a photographer whose soul job that evening was to snap curious bidders in, umm, bed.
“I don’t think we’ll give our names,” said one man after he and his date posed. “That didn’t work out so well last time.” I’ll take your word on that.
Aoki and her fiancé James Bailey were rather adorably inseparable throughout the evening, beginning with her wiping his lips multiple times post step and repeat shots and his refusal to let go of her derriere. When they headed into dinner—held in a room canopied with black and white strips of fabric, to match the black and white striped tables, complete with black umbrellas—they danced to the live band playing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” (it’s probably more fun to do that when he DID put a ring on it).
From left: Devon Aoki and James Bailey; Victor Garbor and David Hyde Pierce
The actual meal boasted dishes inspired by classic Hollywood moments—Iceberg lettuce with buttermilk dressing and bacon from Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier’s wedding menu; Beef Wellington from Joe’s Brooklyn Restaurant in Rita Hayworth’s 1944 film Cover Girl—but before guests could even finish their appetizers, the proceedings were under way. First, Patty Smyth performed “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” and “The Warrior.” Then Garber and David Hyde Pierce saluted the Claudia Cohen Initiative (Garber lost both of his parents to Alzheimer’s). And Hyde Pierce announced that an anonymous donor had agreed to match the first $50,000 raised that night.
Patty Smyth performing
The charity’s founder Princess Yasmin Aga Khan (also Hayworth’s daughter) introduced Somers Farkas who was honored with the Rita Hayworth Award, first with a video salute from her fellow Virginian Senator Mark Warner (he did so with an American flag in the background). Mindy Grossman of HSN won a Corporate Award. And somewhere along the way the beef wellington showed up in front of us.
Charles Askegaard and Georgina Pazcoguin performed to “Putting on the Ritz” (somewhat bafflingly on a small stage versus the larger dance floor) before gala chairs Anne Hearst McInerney and Jay McInerney oversaw a live auction of two special lots, guitars from Roger Waters ($13,000) and Glen Campbell ($8,000).
“I really want a drink, but I’m afraid to put up my hand because if I do I’ll end up with a guitar,” said one of my tablemates.
From left: Patricia Clarkson; Mindy Grossman and Somers Farkas
The dancing commenced soon thereafter before dessert was even served, much to Patricia Clarkson’s delight. The actress, in a red tartan Douglas Hannant gown that she proudly told me they had to take in off the runway model’s measurements (honestly, that alone deserves an award. I am dead serious.), was having a ball taking in the panoply of interpretative moves going on in front of her.
“I love watching rich people dance,” she said, without a hint of sarcasm.
Photos: PatrickMcMullan.com / Adriel Reboh