Alzheimer’s Association Imagine Benefit: An Evening of Song and Storytelling

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Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall provided a scene within a scene for Alzheimer’s Association Imagine Benefit.

In keeping with the Thanksgiving spirit, there were exclamations of gratitude at the Alzheimer’s Association Imagine Benefit. Thank G-d we can dress up and hug each other was the gist of it. Gala Founder and General Chair Princess Yasmin Aga Khan donned a turquoise sequin jacket by Vice Chair Naeem Khan. “Glitter and more glitter,” said the princess. “What could be more fun?”

CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association Harry Johns, with Imagine Benefit Founder and General Chair Princess Yasmin Aga Khan.

Also fun: bonding with Paulina Porizkova with Patrón in hand. In my hand, that is. She was generous with her compliments, but admitted accepting them (can we assume there have been plenty!) has been harder than giving them. “At this point in my life. I’m giving myself permission to simply say thank you,” she commiserated, when I talked about my own tendency to deflect praise.

Peter Thomas Roth and Paulina Porizkova.

She was there with friend and host committee member Peter Thomas Roth. (We all went home with his sunscreen.) These were two serious beauty experts. “I learned not to share my own thoughts about improving a woman’s looks early in this business,” he told me. “I might think a mole should be removed. But, she might love it.”

Take note, plastic surgeons. No surgeon has touched her face, said Paulina. Would you if you looked like her? She showed Alice Lutz “the walk.” It reminded me, many years ago, when she showed Janis Kaye “the pose,” who showed me. I’ve been twisting that way for photos ever since.

Rita Hayworth put a face on early-onset Alzheimer’s and that image became a rallying call to fundraise, thanks to daughter Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. And so, the evening began with a video tribute to Hayworth, who had glided across the screen with the greatest.

She was the daughter of two dancers, a Ziegfield Follies girl, and a second generation Spanish dance teacher. “My mother grew up playing the castanets,” Yasmin recalled. “When I was little, she would play them and dance for me at home.

Rita Hayworth still lighting up the big screen.

“My mother was very gentle, soft, loving, caring and just really sweet,” Yasmin continued, in her own gentle voice, when I asked for more remembrances from her early childhood. “She loved music and sports. We’d go swimming, to play tennis, to the golf course, where I watched her. I wasn’t a golfer at that point, but I am now. She was a make your bed, clean your room kind of mom. Then, at night, I would stand in front of the mirror with her while she put on cream. ‘Make sure you hydrate your face and your neck,’ she would always say. ‘Your skin is important!’

Mom and daughter.

“She was really a working mom, and at home she was very simple. She, no doubt, had a difficult life but she really didn’t discuss it with me ever, never burdened me with her problems. We all have them in life, right? And she always kept a wonderful friendship with my father. He’d come to California and visit. Then, I would go overseas and stay with him. So there was never tension, which was so helpful.”

When Yasmin came of age, she went to Swiss boarding school. By the time she was in college, Yasmin said, her mother’s behavior became “odd,” her memory, erratic. It took more than ten years before Yasmin found the doctor who diagnosed Alzheimer’s. “I had never heard of it before,” she recalls.

“Eventually, I became her conservator and moved her into the apartment next door to me in New York. I think it’s so important to be with your loved one suffering from the disease. I shared my thoughts with her, cared for her, held her hand. When my son was born, I brought Andrew into her arms. You just don’t know what comes through. When the neurotransmitters caused her to fixate, become angry or upset, I changed the subject. It was hard, but that’s our responsibility as children. It’s the life cycle.”

Yasmin also has always felt a responsibility to use celebrity for the greater good. “When my mother was diagnosed, I talked about it,” the princess continued. “I did an interview with Barbara Walters, who was wonderful. Even President Reagan had it. Yet, denial is still a big problem. It’s often hush hush — hide your loved one. Tuck them away. Don’t talk about it. I’m not sure why. I’m not going to mention names, but there are people in Hollywood that have family members with Alzheimer’s, but will not get involved. It gets me really upset. Do you know how much they could do for the cause? For public awareness? They’re in a place where people look up to them. They could do so much good. Because we need to stand up to find the cure.”

Oliver Kennan, Brooke Kennan, Steven Kobre, Joseph Boitano, Karyn Kornfeld, Harry Johns, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, Deanna Rockefeller, Martha Webster, and Nicole Sexton.

Those who stood up that evening included CEO Harry Johns, Alexandra Soffer, a member of the Alzheimer’s Association New York City Chapter Board of Directors, talking about her late father, and Karyn Kornfeld, remembering her grandmother. Kornfeld co-chaired with Steven Kobre, Deanna Rockefeller and Gregory Smith. Joseph Boitano, Brooke and Oliver Kennan, Naeem Khan, David Hyde Pierce and Brian Hargrove, Nicole Sexton, and Martha Webster were benefit Vice Chairs. Sharon Bush, Diandra Douglas, Emily and Jon Gelb, Louise and Stephen Kornfeld, Anne Hearst McInerney, Robin and Roger Meltzer, Peter Thomas Roth, and Jennifer and Lonnie Wollin were the Host Committee.

CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association Harry Johns.
Alex Soffer.
Karyn Kornfeld and Steven Kobre.
Deanna Rockefeller and Gregory Smith.
Imagine Benefit Founder and General Chair Princess Yasmin Aga Khan.

Also there: President of Alzheimer’s Association Joanne Pike, Krystal Joy Brown, Tamar Greene, Meghan Picerno, Oliver Kennan, Caitlin Sullivan, Chele Farley, Ubah Hassan, Michele Herbert, Lucia Hwong Gordon, Francine LeFrak, Andrew Roosevelt, Kara Ross, George Yancopoulos, Jean Shafiroff and Hunt Slonem.

They enjoyed performances by Broadway talent from Hamilton, Phantom and Wicked. Billed as an “Evening of Song and Storytelling,” it featured Krystal Joy Brown (currently Eliza Schuyler in Hamilton), Tamar Greene (currently George Washington in Hamilton), Meghan Picerno (currently Christine Daaé  in Phantom of the Opera), indie-soul artist/singer-songwriter Oliver Kennan, a classic string quartet including Caitlin Sullivan, Alex Fortes, Katie Hyun, and Kyle Armbrust, and former Juilliard Jazz students of Wynton Marsalis, all under the music direction and accompanied by Dan Micciche (currently Music Director and conductor for Wicked).

Katie Hyun, Alex Fortes, Caitlin Sullivan, and Kyle Armbrust.
Tamar Greene.
Krystal Joy Brown.
Meghan Picerno.
Oliver Kennan.

Josie Natori designed and curated the gift bags which included products from Peter Thomas Roth and Ubah Hassan. Rolex Watch USA underwrote the event, which raised more than $600,000 for Alzheimer’s Care, Support and Research Programs.

Brooke Kennan (center) and Deanna Rockefeller.
President of the Alzheimer’s Association Joanne Pike, with Ellen and Mark Oster and friends.
Mike and Alex Soffer (right)
Oliver and Brooke Kennan with friends.
Ubah Hassan and Nicole Sexton.
Lonnie and Jenn Wollin with friends.
Steven Kobre, Joseph Boitano, Harry Johns, and Karyn Kornfeld.
Naeem Khan and Victoria Wyman.
Kevin Richards, Janna Bullock, and Arnold Rosenshein.
Roger and Robin Meltzer.
Roger Meltzer, Blaise Labriola, and Kevin Richards.
George Yancopoulos, Kara Ross, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, and Harry Johns.
Naeem Khan and Gregory Smith.
Cheri Kaufman, Jean Shafiroff, Paulina Porizkova, Michelle Herbert, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, Janna Bullock, and Lucia Hwong Gordon.
Kevin Richards, Janna Bullock, and Arnold Rosenshein.
Paola Rosenshein, Naeem Khan, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, and Peter Thomas Roth.
Berna Huebner, right, with friends.
Sarah Tam, Josie Natori, and Joseph Boitano.
Michelle Herbert with friends.

Photographs by Ilya S. Saven & Craig Barritt/Getty Images 

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