Wednesday, November 16, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Raising the Roof

Aileen Mehle aka Suzy and Norman Parkinson at Suzy's Gold Ball, 1985. Photo: Mary Hilliard.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Manhattan Raises the Roof — and a Cool Million — for Dr. Jane and Worldwide Orphans.

“I WANT to introduce the most, dynamic, hopeful, optimistic, engaged, truthful and inspiring person I know ...”

Zachary Quinto playing host at the Worldwide Orphans 12th annual gala, “Playing for Peace.”
That was actor Zachary Quinto on Monday night at Cipriani Wall Street, playing host at the Worldwide Orphans 12th annual gala, “Playing for Peace.”

Those were a lot of adjectives to be thrown at somebody.  Was Zachary just being “actory?”  Who indeed can be rightfully showered with such praise? 

Well, it was the lady who then ascended the stage, dressed in pristine white, beaming: Dr. Jane Aronson, former pediatrician, founder of Worldwide Orphans.

Having met this phenomenon only a short time ago, through the auspices of my friend, director/writer Linda Yellen, I can attest that in any circumstance, Ms. Aronson is indeed “dynamic, hopeful, engaged, inspiring.” And that's even when she's not talking about her work. (She’s dynamic and inspiring over Moroccan meatballs!)

I have never attended a benefit for Worldwide Orphans, and I have to say, the embracing vibe was just what some shell-shocked Manhattanites needed. To get our minds (and hearts) off ourselves, our real or perceived “problems” — many of which we can do nothing about, and no use “moping” in the words of our current Commander in Chief.  
Dr. Jane Aronson and Zachary Quinto.
When Dr. Jane, as she is affectionately known to all who know her, got to the podium, she said, laughing, “I was afraid I was going to trip on my dress!”  It was a girlishly youthful exclamation, and as she said moments later, “There is still something of the little girl in me.  And I believe we should all take care of the little girl and the little boy inside of us, as it reminds us to take care of little children of the world.
“I’ve come to understand the true meaning of a child’s life.  It’s not just about breathing in and out every day. It’s not just about food and shelter and medicine. It’s about our needs as humans, to laugh, to connect, to love. We must have intimacy and closeness.  We believe in the whole child.  Not just the body we can heal, but the soul we can inspire.  We believe that giving access to a soccer team is just as important as providing HIV medication.

“We believe that vulnerable children don’t just need a safety net to catch them.  They need a trampoline to launch them into life!”
Abbi Jacobson, Dr. Jane Aronson, Zachary Quinto, and Ilana Glazer.
TO BE honest, after Dr. Jane’s remarks, I felt the night could have ended — we’d been evangelicalized!  But there was more, of course. Powerful short films; honorees Kate Engelbrecht and Jed Walentas — whose tale of adopting a little girl from Haiti is both harrowing and profound — the boundless resiliency of a child is nothing short of miraculous. Also recognized, the Chicago Public Library’s Elizabeth McChesney.  
Honorees Jed Walentas and  Kate Engelbrecht.
Elizabeth McChesney.
Entertainment was provided by Jessica and Santino Fontana, Kyle Guglielmo and John Lander.
Santino and Jessica Fontana.
Kyle Guglielmo.
However, those accomplished adult professionals had to take second place to the performance put on by a group of girls (and one boy) from Orange, New Jersey. The deep commitment, elegance, fierceness of purpose that these youngsters projected put the Cipriani ballroom into an astonished, reverent hush. You are made better by seeing something like this. You realize the beauty and importance of children — you do want to provide their trampolines, their “launch into life.”
The performance by a group of children from Orange, New Jersey.
The fundraising/auction part of the night, which under even the best and most worthy circumstances can be draining, embarrassing and awkward, was brilliantly conducted by one CK Swett. Yep, that’s his name and since 2010 he has been one of the most successful and charismatic auctioneers on the charity circuit. He’s helped raise more than $35 million dollars for hundreds of organizations.

Auctioneer extraordinaire CK Swett.
I’ve seen a lot of great auctioneering in my time, including the marvelously aggressive Sharon Stone, but Mr. Sweat was really something else!

I met CK, before the event, in what might be called a “green room.”  He came in, dressed in jeans, with a big duffle bag and I assumed at first he was a photographer, a sexy, smart photographer.   He has a massive head of thick shoulder length hair, which he wore in what can only be called a formidable man-bun.  Then as we talked, joined by the two very attractive stars of  TV’s “Broad City” (Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer) CK took down his hair, brushed it, fought it, re-bunned it, only smaller, neater.  I said, “That’s some job.  Why don’t you just wear it long?”  He laughed, “I would, but you know, I’m going out there to ask people for money, and they shouldn’t be distracted!”

(They weren’t.  They gave to the tune of one million plus.)

When it was all over, Dr. Jane, radiating a life force, said, “Well, that was great.  Now, what about next year, any ideas how to make it greater?
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson.
As a matter of fact, yes.  We’ll be in touch.  And may I suggest for all of you out there who are still wondering “what to do?” — aside from an energized political awareness and involvement due to recent events — call 973-763-9961 or visit wwo.org. Get on board with Worldwide Orphans; find out what they do, where they do it, how they do it.
P.S. The "cute" factor of the night was provided by the  table decorations — Lego-like toys, and replicas of Dr. Jane's trademark round blue eyeglasses.  (Also pretty cute:  Zachary Quinto's boyfriend, artist/model  Miles McMillan. The attractive pair were at my table, I had a good view!)
FLAME-HAIRED MGM goddess Arlene Dahl was given a Life Achievement Award last week at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival.  Instead of showing her most famous roles in “Three Little Words’ with Fred Astaire or ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ with James Mason, the festival showed a nifty RKO film she made that is rarely seen. Titled ‘Slightly Scarlet’, it is notable as one of the only “film noir” movies shot in color, by cinematographer John Alton and directed by Alan Dwane. Also notable is Arlene’s role as a nymphomaniac, kleptomaniac, ex-con. (Her “three little words” in this one were, “I want more!”) The film also stars Rhonda Fleming and John Payne. 
After the Festival, Arlene and her husband designer, Marc Rosen rushed back to NY to catch her son Lorenzo Lamas’ closing night in “The Fantasticks.”
AS IF this year hasn’t been bad enough (for some of us) there I was the other night, irritated and impatient as my cab driver attempted to navigate lower Manhattan and deliver me to my free meal and entertainment, when over the radio came the news of  PBS journalist Gwen Ifill's death, at the very young age of 61. I stopped complaining to the driver and let that information sink in.

Damn! Is every year so sadly studded with the deaths of famous people, or has the general mood of 2016 been  fraught to the extent that each passing seems like some sort of personal blow?
Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Nancy Reagan, Gary Shandling, Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Harper Lee, Doris Roberts, Frank Sinatra Jr., Leonard Cohen, Edward Albee, Natalie Cole, John  McLaughlin, Arnold Palmer, Patty Duke, Gary Marshall, George Kennedy, Merle Haggard, Ernestine Anderson, Robert Stigwood, Abe Vigoda, Bill Cunningham, Anton Yelchin, Ken Howard, Theresa Saldana, Alexis Arquette, Maurice White, Umberto Eco, Peter Shaffer, Morley Safer, Chyna, David Gest and that’s the short list.
Some of these people I knew, some I knew of. Some of the passings I wrote about. Others I didn’t. (I had intended to pay tribute to the wonderful Alan Rickman; still kicking myself over that.)

Now Ms. Ifill, and Aileen Mehle, aka the glamorous columnist known as “Suzy.” 
One of our constant and always perceptive readers, Charli Schauseil, sent this note about Aileen, which sums her up as well as anything could: 

“Very sad about Aileen Mehle. What a life! She was the last vestige of a world that no longer exists. There's no elegance today. And she was all about elegance. Although in a "tongue-in-chic" way. She loved the parties, the people, the job. But it was just a job. What she really loved was time with friends. And she was a wonderful friend. Unless you were another columnist. I always laughed about that. But she had a point. Why sit with the competition and have to run home to be the first to print the scoop?”  

Oh, my — the days of “running home” to file a scoop. Now, the celebs themselves and the omnipresence of social media, scoop us all.

Photographs by Getty Images for WWO

Contact Liz here.