Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Reynolds, MacLaine, Lansbury on stage at gala

A record number of 1,650 guests, including emcee Debbie Reynolds and celebrity presenters Shirley MacLaine and Angela Lansbury, turned out for the Desert AIDS Project's 12th annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards Saturday at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Jazz and Broadway singing stars Ann Hampton Callaway and her sister Liz Callaway were flown in from New York at the last minute to perform their classy show, "Sibling Revelry."

They provided seamless companionship to the already star-studded roster of HIV/AIDS supporters.

It was MacLaine's second appearance in Palm Springs in 40 years after breaking the drought as an honoree at last month's Palm Springs International Film Festival. Besides coming from her home near Santa Fe, N.M., to support a good cause, she said she was well treated on her last visit.

"I've had contour wraps and massages in places I didn't know I had," MacLaine said.

A simple and elegant cabaret themed room of black, white and red d├ęcor provided a sense of intimacy. A sea of black and white tuxes and flashy ball gowns lent a touch of New York to the highly-anticipated annual event that raises money for people in the Coachella Valley living with HIV/AIDS.

"The best part of this evening is the fact that every penny, for everything from staples to stamps, was underwritten by generous people," said co-chair Bill Jones, owner of Carousel Catering. "We will raise an unprecedented $700,000 tonight, all going directly to DAP client services. We live in a community that has the most incredibly generous people I have ever seen in my life. They give of themselves and their money and their time unlike I have ever seen. Without them, this evening would never happen."

These underwriters include Wells Fargo, Earl Greenburg and David Peet, Private Bank of North America, Harold Matzner, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Tom Bombardier and John Fowler, Walgreens, John Bowab, Tim Hanlon and Anthony Klatt, Jim and Jackie Lee Houston, Bill Jones, Bob Jones of Davey's Hideaway, Virginia Milanovich, Joseph Roman and Mark Wilson, and Union Bank of California.

Co-chair Tim Hanlon, who is the president of Wells Fargo Foundation, said "We at Wells Fargo wanted to cement our relationship with DAP and build on our already successful partnership with the organization that houses the Wells Fargo HIV Health Center."

The fundraising didn't stop. At two points in the evening, surprises were announced. Susan Unger, a DAP board member, announced the inception of DAP's 100 Women donor club, which is made up of women leaders across the valley that include Peggy Cravens, Dr. Wendy Roberts, Edra Blixseth and Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia. A check was presented to roaring applause as members of the 100 Women Founders Circle stood throughout the room.

Reynolds set the jovial tone for the evening when she appeared to welcome guests while they dined on bleu cheese salad wedges. As she introduced co-chairs Bill Jones and Hanlon, photos of the two men flashed on the screen, only Hanlon's was a photo of his drag queen alter ego Summer. "Oops," said the voice of god from the wings.

This set the tone for the night, which was all about a diverse community of gay and straight gathering together in hopes to combat the chronic disease of HIV/AIDS with humor, dedication and companionship.

Lansbury presented the Arts & Activism Award to Tom Viola of New York's Broadway Cares. Russ Russell, DAP board president, gave the award to Partners For Life honoree Dr. Burt Fogelman who volunteers daily at the organization.

Bill Jones introduced the Warner Engdahl Community Service Award to Marv and Carol Sholl, saying, "Marv is the kindest, gentlest man I know married to the classiest broad I have ever met in my life."

The Sholls, whose son Barry died from complications from HIV/AIDS, have been involved with DAP as volunteers and donors for more than a decade.

A dinner of Asian braised short ribs was followed by a performance by Erasure. At a VIP cocktail party the night before the Chase at the Palm Springs Art Museum, Erasure lead singer Andy Bell mentioned that he had watched AIDS devastate his close community of friends, and that he was thrilled to be in Palm Springs donating his time for the organization's efforts.

"Andy and Paul (Hickey) and Vince came all the way from London for free to be here tonight," said Bill Jones.

The band performed their best-loved hits "Chains of Love," "Savannah Song" and "Respect" to a cheering crowd.

MacLaine then took the stage to award Dr. Mathilde Krim with the Science and Medicine Award. Krim is a founder of amFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

The Callaway Sisters topped off the gala with a performance as guests mingled and drank coffee before heading home.

Also in attendance were Michael Childers, Mayor Ron Oden, EQCA Executive Director Geoffrey Kors, Patrick Mundt and Mike Hutchison of Contempo Homes, Denise Brown, Jaime Kabler, Arlene Rosenthal, comedian Bruce Vilanch, actors Stefanie Powers and Tippi Hedren and Palm Springs Art Museum Executive Director Janice Lyle.

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