The History of
Friends of Oscar (1980)
Academy of Friends (1990)
by Kile Ozier
THE FIRST ONE
The very first party took place in 1980 at the
Bedford Arms Hotel on Sutter Street in San Francisco. The actual
occasion was an anniversary party I threw for my then-lover, Donald
Alex. He loved the movies (still does, though he is generally
wrong about who will win the Awards), and so I decided that this would
be a good focus around which to build a little bash. There were
about twenty or twenty-five of us in attendance, we were all pretty-much
the only people that any of us knew in San Francisco at that time.
Most of us had moved to The City within the previous year, and this
group represented our entire circle of friends.
I borrowed six televisions, so that I could put
at least one in each room of the suite I had rented. Judith Beldin
calligraphed all the invitations, which were in the shape of oversized
theatre tickets. She also produced most of the hors d'oeuvres for
the Event. Everyone came in Black Tie and brought a bottle of
champagne. I remember that Suzy Vannucci paraded through the
party, doing her Loretta Young imitation most of the evening. She
was quite a hit. I have about four photographs of this Event; all
blurry, all showing a group of pretty fun people having a pretty grand
Actually, the description of that evening most dear to me comes from
that on the back of the invitation to the Parties in 1986 and 1987:
"Seven years ago, twenty-five good friends -- many
new to The City -- put on their best clothes and gathered in a small
hotel suite in San Francisco to celebrate the Academy Awards. Some
brought champagne, some brought food; all brought a sense of good fun
and not a little mischief. Needless to say, the evening was quite
festive (some needed days to recover) and is remembered with fondness by
all who attended. That was the beginning of Friends of Oscar."
Late in 1980, Donald and I ended our
relationship. As I am fond of saying; "He took the crystal, I took
the Party." Though we went our separate ways for a year or two, we
have since become very good friends, and he is generally in attendance
at the Event, every year.
There was no party this year. In fact, this
was the year that Reagan was shot. Trust me, we didn't forgo the
party due to that; circumstances simply did not lend themselves to
having a party, that year. I had just separated from Donald, moved
twice since October, and was in transition. This problem was soon
The Second Party
The following year, my friend, Jim Quilty
suggested that we do the party again. We had had so much fun the
year before, that Jim thought it should be continued, "And let's call it
'Friends of Oscar'," he said. So, we did.
The party took place in my home on Southern
Heights Avenue on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. This is a place
that I shared with my roommates, Jerry Silverman and Judith Beldin (in
1980) and with Kate Nauman and Scott something-or-other (in 1981).
Jim and I provided the food, and asked everyone to bring a bottle of
champagne. I borrowed about 12 television sets, in order to put
one in every room. TV's were perched atop milk-crate towers
(draped, of course) in the middle of the food, on Dressers in the
bedrooms, and even on the back of the toilet in the loo. No matter
where one stood in the apartment, a television screen was in full view.
Decoration was provided by Steve Silver, who
loaned me his eight, eight-foot tall golden Oscar props (adorned with
sunglasses) from his Beach Blanket Babylon Goes to the Stars show.
These standing grandly about my apartment were all that was needed to
create the right atmosphere.
Attendance these two years grew to about 40 or 50
guests. Everyone had such a good time each year that they would
bring a friend the following one. (Actually, it seemed that so
many couples would break-up and re-form into two new ones, rather
amoeba-like, that the party just naturally grew with people who not only
liked one another's company, but had probably slept with one-another at
one time as well . . .)
1982 was the year, I think, when Suzy Vannucci
discovered poppers in my freezer; and Jim Quilty showed her how they
worked. I remember that they spent much time in the kitchen near
the refrigerator, laughing wildly throughout the evening. It
certainly kept the party on a festive track!
The Third party
Up 'til now, the invitation had always specified
"Black Tie", I think. About a month prior to the 1983 Event
(again, at my house on Potrero Hill), I ran into Graham Bigelow and
Homer Parkin at brunch on Saturday at the Patio Cafe on Castro Street.
At my statement that I wanted to do something different that year,
Graham suggested togas! From that came our decision to specify
"Designer Toga" on the invitation.
Pictures of the party reveal that approximately
40% of the guests really went for the theme, the rest opted for Black
Tie. Some of the togas, though, were extremely creative (while
others were extremely revealing!). We had the work of
"Judeo-Christian Dior" on Pete Johnson and Kate Kiley, my toga was black
with satin stripes down each side -- the formal look, and my close
friend, John Twomey looked as though he had just stepped-out of the
Roman Senate in his long, flowing toga with lustrous purple accents.
Quite a scene, that.
This was the first year that I added a ballot
(the only remaining copy of this and of the 1983 invitation have been
appropriated to the "official" archives in the this organization's
offices), allowing guests to vote on their predictions for the Big
Five categories, plus a Tie-Breaker. (The "Big Five" being, in
this instance; Actor, Actress, the two Supporting's, and Best Picture.
I don't remember the Tie-Breaker for that year.) As I recall, I
asked people to pay $1.00 to vote, and the winner got the money.
Though, again, I provided the food for the party;
this was the first year that I ran out of Champagne. I rapidly
took-up a quiet collection and sent Rick Hunts and Brad Needham out for
a case o' the stuff. "As God is my witness," I swore, "I'll never
run out of champagne, again!"
. . . and we haven't!
The Fourth Party
This was the first year that the Party was a fundraiser.
Barbara Daitch, whom I knew through the famous
Trinity Place Restaurant, and her lover, Brooke, had just purchased a
new restaurant down on North Point Avenue. They re-named it Mame's
Palazzo, and asked me if I would hold my Oscar Party as their Opening
Night Event -- thus, exposing their target clientele to the new place
and taking the Event to a slightly higher level.
Mame's promised to keep the bar prices low, and
assured me that there would be abundant hors d'oeuvres throughout the
evening that they would provide at cost for the Event. Even so, it
was clearly more than I could afford to throw the party for the
projected attendance. So, it was time to begin charging for the
party. Thinking about it, I decided that, if I were going to
charge these people to come to a party they had helped to grow, it might
be more palatable if the "proceeds" went to some worthy charity. I
selected St. Anthony Dining Room as that charity, and the price to
attend was $15.00.
Again, I borrowed about twenty monitors,
augmented by a projection screen in the "Grotto" Room. People were
asked to come in Hollywood Formal attire; and we had outfits
representing every Era and attitude and many ladies (yes, real women)
with delightful hats . . . complete with feathers and glitter.
There are stacks of Black and White photographs in the archives, taken
by Tony Plewik, showing all of us looking very young and very excited.
This was my first "public" party/event, and it was a smash (as were many
guests). It could not have been pulled-off without, again, the
stalwart assistance of my good friend, John Twomey.
There were 110 guests at this event, with three
large and singularly different rooms on the main level of the
restaurant. The front room was the basic restaurant and bar, with
red velvet booths and much woodwork. This was a room that most
readily accommodated the members of the group for whom the Oscars were
secondary to who was there, how each individual looked, and what "dish"
was available on those who weren't in attendance. Next to that was
The Grotto, complete with stalactites and stalagmites, a projection
screen and theatre seating. The more seriously interested remained
in this room for the first part of the evening. (You will see the
rapt expressions on their faces as you check-out the photographs of the
In the rear of the restaurant was the Cabaret;
complete with a real Italian Gondola that floated in it's own canal
along the side of the room, offering exotic romance for a few brief
moments for each couple. As I recall, there was some exotic stuff
going-on upstairs between John Witherow and Roger Chew; as they kept
disappearing and reappearing throughout the evening. There were
several small offices and unused rooms up there, that were discovered by
several for the brief tryst, I am sure. . . )
After the broadcast, the crowd adjourned to the Cabaret for the
announcement of the prizes (who had correctly guessed the Oscar
selections -- ballots had been sent and used as the return card) and a
series of brief performances by local cabaret talent and stars of Beach
Blanket Babylon; including Michael Levesque and Tom Anderson (who is now
the Toast of New York, I understand).
That year, about $400.00 went to St. Anthony Dining Room.
The Fifth Party
Well, now I was on a roll. This year, I had
made the acquaintance of Chip Sullivan (a good story, but one best saved
for another time . . .), who was the manager of one of San Francisco's
newest Hot Spots, Lily's -- in Embarcadero Center. Chip was very
amenable to holding the 1985 party at his location; so, on to the next
level . . .
Over 200 people in pretty serious Black Tie
attended this Event. Guests entered under a huge, Black-and-Silver
Balloon Arch donated by Don and Marie Cheeseman (The Balloon Lady), and
were welcomed at the door by Me, John Twomey and waiters with champagne.
(The mylar balloons were a stunning complement to my own shiny braces.)
People began to show up even before the 5pm start time. Men and
women who worked in Embarcadero Center had changed clothes in the
bathrooms of their respective companies; entering in their daily
business attire, and emerging in Black Tie or Sequined,
spaghetti-strapped gowns. Photographs of this party reveal how
good we all looked; the men handsome, the women stunning . . . The
Lily's Party boasted a healthy mix of men and women from The City.
This year, some came from as far away as Los
Angeles. . . . And this was the first year that we had actual
press after the event. One of our guests was dancing around
Embarcadero Center with one of the Beach Blanket Oscars (again, loaned
by Steve Silver), and ended up with his picture in the Examiner, the
At that time, I was working for FM Productions;
and was able, with the extensive help of Eric MacDougall, to pretty
extensively decorate the place with props, curtains, lighting and a
mirror ball at marginal cost. McCune Audio/Visual provided several
monitors -- on draped stands -- for labor only (this was the first year
that they were involved) so that I no longer needed to borrow
televisions from friends. Chip and his staff did an incredible job
on the food and running the evening, and -- as the guests left that
evening -- I knew that this was something that could grow and become
something much bigger than heretofore envisioned.
Left over after all expenses were paid was about
$400.00, this time for Airlift Africa (remember "We Are The World?").
It didn't seem like much, after all the work that went into putting the
This Event had taken quite a bit out of me to
throw. The next day, Mr. Twomey and I had an elegantly protracted
lunch on the scene, periodically joined by several friends who
dropped-by to congratulate us on the success of the party. (This
lunch has since become tradition.) As we drank our way through the
afternoon, suddenly I completely lost it and began to cry. A lot.
I now attribute it to complete exhaustion (and, not a little champagne);
but, I could not stop crying. John Twomey and John Witherow took
me home and put me to bed.
At that point, Twomey was of the opinion that I
would be crazy to do it again. (Nowadays, of course, I am quite
accustomed to being accused of this trait. I think it is the key
to my own success.) I must admit, that I was seriously taken-aback
with the physical manifestation of the exhaustion of doing this thing
single-handedly from start to finish. As the next year began to
loom on the foreseeable horizon, and people were asking me where the
Oscar Party was going to be held, I became perplexed as to what to do.
The potential was there to be realized, but I was not sure that I was up
to the task.
One evening during the fall of 1985, I was having
dinner at the home of my good friend, Dan Bunker; and the subject of the
Oscar Party came up. I shared my misgivings with Dan, and
expressed much frustration at the amount of work it took to bring this
thing off. Dan thought for a moment, then looked me right in the
eye and brightly said, "Well, why don't you form a Committee?" An
obvious suggestion, that I had not even seen! Good ol' Dan. . .
The Sixth Party
So, as the 1986 Event loomed, I began to approach several individuals
in the same business as myself in order to put together a manageable
team that could pull this off.
Since food is the single most important element
of any event of this genre, I first approached an acquaintance, Timothy
Maxson. Timothy was the proprietor of the most "Important" and
successful catering company in San Francisco, Taste. He and I had
met through Charlotte Mailliard and Rita Barela, and I felt that I could
reasonably approach him. My pitch to Timothy was that, were he to
manage the food, then everything else could be covered; but that I
needed to look to him to source the raw materials through donations, and
for his company to elegantly prepare the abundant hors d'oeuvres at
extremely low cost. . . or even free!
After Timothy, I went to Russ Alley; local Bon
Vivant and Man About Town. He also knew all the columnists and
several other journalists in San Francisco. He enthusiastically
joined the group. After Russ, came several friends and
acquaintances, each with expertise in some area of Event Production;
Laurel Burch - design and esthetics, Rita Barela - Major Event
Production (Black & White Ball), Michael D. Miller - Tents (HDO),
Charles H. Duggan - Theatrical Production, Kirk Frederick - Graphics and
Press, Chip Sullivan -- Catering, style and
Black-as-the-new-neutral-color-for-the-with-it-wardrobe, Michael R.
Murphy to see to it that standards were set and maintained and -- of
course -- my friend and partner-in-crime, John Twomey, for creative
solutions to the unforeseen and guest-list expansion.
Concurrent with the formation of the Committee
was the addressing of another overriding concern, and that was money.
These donations, as I mention above, seemed piddling in the face of the
effort it took to produce these parties, and the number of people in
attendance. The only answer to this, I extrapolated, was to manage
to have the Event underwritten, so that 100% of the ticket price paid by
the quests would go to the selected charity, and the question of
"proceeds" (meaning, of course, profit) would be eliminated. Every
cent paid to attend the party would be "profit," and thus would we have
With this in mind and the Christmas season
approaching, I found myself at a Holiday Party in the home of Kevin
Corcoran and John Twomey, and face-to-face with my first prospect, Mr.
Larry Colton. Larry is the first person from whom I ever requested
a monetary donation. I explained to him the potential for
generating funds as contribution that I perceived in the Friends of
Oscar Party, and my hope that I could get the entire event underwritten,
so that I could guarantee that all of the ticket price would go to
charity. I further explained that, if he could see his way clear
to give me $500.00 to start this fund, that I thought I could use his
participation as a lever with which to encourage others to make similar
Larry gave me the $500.00, and another milestone
in this organization's history had passed! Following Larry, I was
successful in eliciting contributions from Charles Duggan, Kevin
Corcoran, Laurel Burch and a few anonymous underwriters.
I knew that the party would likely surpass 300 in
attendance, based on previous experience. Therefor, I set about
seeking yet another location. Lily's wouldn't be big enough, and I
wasn't familiar with any other restaurateurs, save Dan Smith -- and Alta
Plaza was already too small for the size group I foresaw. Someone
-- I think it was Russ Alley -- mentioned a wonderful mansion adjacent
to the home of Mel and Lia Belli (at the time, anyway, they lived in the
same house . . .), owned by a gentleman by the name of Edward Estreito.
One night, shortly after that, I happened to be in Alta Plaza speaking
to Jay Morton and mentioned the Estreito mansion. Lo and behold,
Jay was well-acquainted with Mr. Estreito, and had done business with
the man. He promised to facilitate a meeting.
Doing better than that, Jay arranged and hosted
an intimate luncheon at Rick's Restaurant on Fillmore Street. In
his own inimitable style, Jay laid the groundwork with a glowing
introduction of me and of the Event, and opened the gates for me to ask
Ed for the use of his home for the Event. Ed took us back to his
house and gave a tour: one look, and I knew it would infuse an elegance
and style the party deserved. We shook hands on the deal.
Shortly thereafter, Michael Miller, Russ, John
Twomey and I returned to the house to plan the Event. This was the
beginning of Mr. Millers crowning glory; in that he proposed to tent the
atrium of the house, creating a room of the courtyard and ensuring that
there would, indeed be plenty of space for the party to take place.
This was the first time the atrium had ever been tented (and, I think,
it has only been attempted once since that time).
Henry Janowsky (who has since found a lover and
moved to Washington, D.C.) designed the invitation for this year.
The design was reversed (from Black-on-Grey) and used again in 1987, (in
Gold Foil on Solid Black). It more-or-less became the "look" of
Friends of Oscar through 1988; during this greatest period of growth.
It is important to look-over the invitation to see who contributed
toward seeing these realized at no cost. I approached Kirk
Frederick, whom I had met through Steve Silver at Beach Blanket Babylon,
to oversee the typesetting and printing. First California Press
(whom I had come to know through my work for the Mayor's office,
beginning in 1984) printed the invitations for free, and continued to do
so for several years. Golden State Embossing -- a contact of
Laurel Burch -- entered the scene in 1988, when we added the Gold Foil
to the design. As the project grew, Kirk involved several other
suppliers and craftsbeings in order to keep the burden light.
Admission, this year, rose to $35.00
It was pretty clear that AIDS wasn't going-away,
and the decision that stood to be made was which of the few (at that
time) agencies in San Francisco were most in need -- and deserving -- of
assistance. One afternoon, I received a telephone call from Russ
with the information that he had met a wonderful woman who was
responsible for Development at something called Coming Home Hospice in
Noe Valley. Her name was Debra Friedland (in later years, Debra
Kent Friedland and is now -- as of this writing -- Debra Kent), and the
Hospice had received little notice in the shadow of other, larger
organizations in The City.
I liked the idea of assistance given to an organization
not, perhaps, in the main stream of people's consciousness. One
that could use a little publicity and the potential for the building of
a Donor Base through the Oscar Party. Thus, Coming Home Hospice
became our beneficiary for that year, as well as the first AIDS agency
to receive funds from Friends of Oscar. (Addressing, stuffing,
sealing and posting of the invitations were to fall to this organization
in exchange for the contribution, as well.)
Well, the party was FABulous, of course; and was
already setting a standard in San Francisco, out-distancing any other
event taking-place that evening. Shiny, fancy cars and limousines
were lined-up at the Valet (our first year for Valet parking -- Flying
Dutchman), and over 500 guests flowed through the gates to the party,
most of them -- again -- arriving between 5 and 6pm.
As people arrived at the door, they were handed a
glass of champagne (donated by John Scharffenberger and poured free and
freely throughout the evening); and, for everyone who had responded to
the invitation, a hand-calligraphed (by Lisa Jear, a friend of Laurel's)
envelope containing the program was waiting (as the indication that they
had already paid), which they could pick-up and enter the party.
Guests walked past a receiving line consisting of The Committee.
My philosophy behind this was to insure that everyone would see at least
one familiar face as they entered the Event. This de-stressing
facet of our evening has, I remain confident, continued to make a
substantial difference in people's experience of our work.
For that first hour, Peter Mintun performed (as a
donation) in the now-canopied atrium on a White Baby Grand Piano
(donated by Russell Kassman). Michael Rayner and his team of six
independent florists had done a truly spectacular job with the flowers
-- white daisies and stuff were everywhere -- and the food was unique
and truly abundant, served from corners of every room! Again,
television monitors were everywhere (I had returned to borrowing at
least fifteen of the monitors -- all cabled together) with a projection
screen in The Big Room, provided by Photo and Sound Company.
The shellfish were the big attraction, with a
very impressive display in the courtyard that did not run out of Shrimp
until well-after ten pm. In addition to that, there was fresh
pasta being served by FAZ, incredible sweets by that sweet ol' Michael
Butusov, and a plethora of delights for the eye and mouth throughout the
Thanks to a little legwork by Russ Alley, two television stations had
entertainment reporters out front at the opening of the party, and one
station broadcast the late weather from the spot.
One anecdote: I had been after Allan Rosen, a
friend of mine since 1971 (and, later, a Board Member) to come to this
party for years. This year, he and a (female) friend flew up from
Los Angeles to stay at the St. Francis and come to the Event. They
flew-in, raced to the hotel, changed into Black Tie and grabbed a cab to
come to the Party. As the doors closed, and Allan was searching
himself for the invitation to tell the Driver where he was going, the
cabbie took one look at the two of them and said, "Don't tell me, I
already know; it's that big Oscar thing out on Broadway. The only
thing happening in town, tonight!" This, before the sun had even
After the Event, people in Black Tie poured out
of Pacific Heights and showed-up in bars and cabarets all across The
City (though, for the most part, in certain areas of town . . .)
The mood was too infectious for people to go right home, and their
presence and demeanor later that night was the best advertisement such
an event could have with regard to continuing to increase participation
in coming years. (I only wish I had gone out, that night.
Kevin Corcoran convinced John Twomey and I that everyone would go right
home to bed, as it was a "school night." Apparently, we were the
only two to believe that one; some people are just old before their time
. . .)
The next day, John Twomey and I returned to
finish the clean-up. Most striking, of course, were the remains of
the shellfish centerpiece from the evening before, now a pile of
extremely ripe refuse in the center of the atrium courtyard. Ed
was not pleased. We cleaned-up, the HDO people came to take the
canopy, and several individuals dropped-by to pick-up their televisions.
After delivering six or seven of them to their rightful owners, and
after the others had left with their units, there were still three sets
left at the house. We put them in a closet, in case their owners
should come by for them.
Remaining unclaimed for a few weeks, these
televisions languished in the closet until John Twomey, Michael Miller
and I decided to give them to Coming Home Hospice as part of the
Donation. No inquiry has ever been made as to these televisions,
and I have no idea who brought them to the party. The epitome of
the anonymous donor.
The Event had graduated to an exceptionally
professional and well-produced party. All who attended had a great
time, and the level of participation from the community was of great
significance. Restaurateurs, Technical support companies,
wholesalers, florists and decorators, all sorts of suppliers with whom I
had preciously come into contact through my own work or who were friends
or acquaintances of other members of the committee took part in support
of a cause that was still shrouded in the most bleak and darkest of
mysteries. These people participated openly and to the fullest
extent, laying the foundation for what the organization and Event has
become and -- I am confident -- setting the standard to which many, if
not all, other organizations still aspire; surpassed only by Friends of
Oscar/Academy of Friends each year.
It was very clear to me, as the dust settled,
that we had something here; something that could continue to grow and be
of use to the community, as well. Several individuals were made
aware of Coming Home Hospice for the first time through this Event.
Further, this was a segment of the community not only unfamiliar and
uncomfortable with giving money away (they didn't like to pay to go to
any Party, unless it was the Galleria on New Year's Eve); as a group,
they were very resistant to the idea. This year's Event was a
turning point, I think, in the collective consciousness of our
community. The simple magic of numbers multiplying the individual
$35.00 contributions into a many thousands of very public dollars
greatly enhanced that newfound consciousness. Arm-in-arm with this
new state of mind came a developing sense of responsibility to one's
fellows and one's community.
This is not to say that Friends of Oscar was,
necessarily the only impetus toward this new consciousness, or even the
first. We were, however, a significant and incontrovertible factor
in these metamorphoses.
Realizing this, I also appreciated the value of
the mailing list which, up until now, consisted pretty-much of my own
address list. This was around the time that other producers and
charities began to ask me to loan the list to them for their own
reasons. I decided that my commitment to those on the list was
part discretion and part insurance. Anything that I had any
responsibility for someone receiving an invitation should also have my
guarantee of quality. I didn't see an over-abundance of quality in
the business of Event production at that time. I still don't.
The Seventh One
As I recall, the Committee met once or twice over
the summer, just to touch base and do preliminary planning for the 1987
Party. The Friends of Oscar Committee had grown, by this time, to
fifteen people. In addition to the previous year's group, I had
invited Dan Bunker (the Committee was his idea, after all), Darlene
Darata (with whom I had become acquainted through FM Productions),
Rhonda Beran (whom I had met and befriended in Newport, Rhode Island --
she is tremendous at all-around organization, and significantly raised
the group's Glamour Factor) and Larry Hashbarger (for obvious,
historical reasons Of Great Magnitude And Portent).
[Soon after the first of the year, Laurel stepped-down from the
Committee, due to pressure from her business, but has remained a
supporter both financially and in spirit since that time.]
As Fall approached, the club scene South of
Market began to hit the first of several resurgences of glamour,
spearheaded by the mysterious Dr. Winkie. Russ Alley (of course)
knew Dr. Winkie, and suggested that we hold the Event at his new Club
DV8. In fact, Russ handled the negotiation with the good Doctor,
and arranged for us to continue our tradition of pouring free champagne
throughout the evening. (This ultimately proved a better deal than
we had originally anticipated; as Dr. Winkie failed to lower his bar
prices that evening as he had promised -- keeping them at the $4 - $5
level and teaching us a lesson about negotiation in the process.)
Benefactors/underwriters for this year's Event
grew to ten in number, with a fundraising goal of $5,000 being exceeded
by $2,500 for a total of $7,500. The entire party cost less than that!
(Those days are certainly gone . . . !)
The beneficiary was, again, Coming Home Hospice.
In the meetings and months prior to the Event, and after much
discussion, we decided to go with the Hospice for one more year.
With this support, we could provide the funds needed for completion of
the Dining Room in the facility, and it would then be named, the
"Friends of Oscar Dining Room." Cool. They still needed the
help, and the other major AIDS agencies in town were getting plenty of
Press and attention, so we set aside our precedent of yearly change (or,
change with each event) in order to more-or-less finish the job we had
initiated with Coming Home Hospice.
I think we had between 600 and 700 guests that
year. The place looked incredible. Photo and Sound donated
20 monitors and support technology and crew, and Macy's added about ten
to that. Bob Hartmann's columns returned with even greater style
(he re-painted them for the event in colors specified by Larry
Hashbarger and Michael Miller); and DV8 never looked quite as glamorous
as with our touch. Again, Peter Mintun played the white Baby Grand
on a stage until six, at which time the projection screen lowered to
hide the stage until raffle time, following the broadcast. The
programs were re-shaped so as to fit in a coat-pocket or purse and be
taken home, rather than contributing to the refuse pile (as we had
encountered the previous year).
We had Fratelli Bologna Paparazzi out front, we
had Ladies Against Women screaming and shouting and asking for
autographs of the guests as they strode down a red carpet to find the
Board waiting to greet them at the door -- again, with champagne.
Two live Oscars with Terminator glasses (another Russ Alley touch) stood
on either side of the entryway within the club; which was draped to
within an inch of it's life at the hand of the infamous Michael Miller.
Ben Vereen and Jim Bailey were in attendance (interviewed on television
to surface on Entertainment Tonight the next evening).
Peachy's Puffs circulated through the party,
giving-away chocolates, candy cigarettes, and various "party favours."
They added quite a flavor to the Event, and were to return the next two
years, as well.
The only potential disaster was the coincidence
that Laurel Burch had on a Fabulous Gold Lame Gown in the exact same
material as Russ Alley's Gold Lame Dinner Jacket. (Why, if they
had both been women, we probably would have been witness to a screaming
Cat Fight. Fortunately, an incident was diplomatically averted.)
Standing next to one another for the entire evening, they looked as
though it could not have been planned any better.
Admission was $50.00, and over $25,000 was raised that evening.
We had discussed some sort of post-event at
another site. However, once we decided upon DV8, we decided to
hold the post-Event there; in that it was, in fact, a nightclub!
This worked-out beautifully! Dancing after the awards proved the
perfect addition (though, it proved too much for some, who lost all
sense of decorum in the process). Many a reputation was happily
tarnished that evening.
In order to appropriately acknowledge our
underwriters, we attempted to use Club Prive', in the basement of DV8,
as a VIP entertainment space; where the drinks would be free, the
ambience a little quieter and there would generally be space to sit
down. An escape. As identification, we used GlowSticks (such
as can now be found at Disneyland, after dark) on the wrists of
Committee, Special Guests and Underwriters. Though the atmosphere
was nice, the reality backfired on us in that it tended to create
"classes" within the Event, became crowded with too many guests, and
ended-up costing us the proverbial armandaleg!
It was the Club Prive' experience that led to the
tradition of Underwriter's Acknowledgment functions scheduled for the
preceding Saturday evening in a compatible and controllable space.
The post-Event luncheon continued to grow, and
was moved to Rosalie's on Van Ness Avenue, where we all awaited the
reviews the next day, protected from reality by Bloody Mary's and dark
glasses. We had expanded far beyond John Twomey and myself
accepting accolades to the majority of the Board and a veritable parade
of guests coming through. The reviews were great from every
sector, with press in both papers. Still, the portent of things to
come . . .
The Eighth . . . Gala
After a wrap meeting, there followed a brief
respite over the Summer. During that time, I considered again the
growth potential for the organization. It was clearly an
institution of sorts by now. People were approaching me as the
Summer drew to a close, asking me where the Event would take place the
coming year, et cetera. There really wasn't any question that we
would continue. In what form would we continue remained the big
Charles Duggan had raised the issue of
incorporation. He was strongly in favor of Friends Of Oscar
incorporating for the protection of all. This process sparked
several other issues, and I felt that we should address them, take a
look at where we were going, and decide just how serious an organization
we were going to become.
For my part, Friends of Oscar had become a
driving force in my own life. I could seldom enter any new space
without assessing it's potential as an Oscar Gala site. In my own
business, I was producing Grand Openings of several hotels during that
time, and had developed strong relationships with several Public
Relations, Sales and Catering principals around town. As regards
fundraising; people began to good-naturedly try to avoid me at parties
once the Fall Season commenced, as they knew I was likely to hit them up
for underwriting or the donation of a Prize for the Ballot Raffle.
On the other hand, it was not unusual for me to
be approached by some administrator or Board member of any local agency
whenever I was out in public. (Even when I was attempting a
romantic tryst!) Friends of Oscar was constantly on my mind, and I
was generally considering some aspect of the organization's future.
The party had grown to the extent that there was no "season" to it's
So, I called a The Committee together at the home
of Michael Miller and Rhonda Beran to initiate more formal discussion of
our future. At that meeting, several of these issues were raised
and discussed, and each individual was asked to share his or her
personal vision for where the organization could go. All issues
were raised and purposely tabled for a month, until October (as I
recall). The idea was to ruminate for a period and then meet,
resolve and move forward or not.
The Big Meeting was scheduled for Lunch and
beyond in the Library Room at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. I had
produced the Grand Opening of that property, and a Happy Client (Diane
Shields) contributed the space at no cost to us. Michael Graz, the
(very sympathetic and very attractive) Catering Director gave me the
food at cost, and the ubiquitous Michael Rayner did a veeeery tasteful
job of floral work, as a gift. It was very professional, very
structured and very impressive (as I remember . . . ). We went to
In the interim, John Twomey had been approached
by Ric Chanon of the legal form of Morrison and Foerster (he has since
died of AIDS) who suggested that he would like to handle our legal work
as it arose. His supervisor, Keith Wetmore (a Major 'Mo!) was
generously supportive of the idea, and Draft Articles of Incorporation
were drawn-up for the meeting.
I had asked Debra Friedland to join the Committee
(Soon-To-Be-Board) as a result of our experience of her over the
previous two years. I also invited Clifford Colvin to join-up; his
business sense and level of commitment were impressive and he would
prove an asset to the group. A very powerful, sensitive and
creative group convened that day at The Mandarin: a group that would
come to mean much to the Communities of San Francisco.
At that meeting, we decided to incorporate.
Morrison and Foerster had offered to support and shepherd us, pro bono.
We accepted. Among those things formalized at that meeting was the
philosophy that we would continue to raise money for AIDS Direct-care
Agencies (rather than research or other support) "until the crisis has
passed." Up until the epidemic, money had been raised for
charities in most imminent need. We decided to continue that
policy within this proscribed spectrum. Remaining responsive to
the community while avoiding any political entanglements as are wont to
arise from affiliation with a single agency or group.
Elections were held at that meeting, with members
of The Committee being elected to one, two or three-year terms in order
to initiate the rotation. In the following weeks, the By Laws were
written and the decision to hold annual meetings in June was made.
All in all, we were now "official."
Later that Fall, sometime in November or
December, I think; I was having dinner with my friend, Marcia Makely at
the Hotel Nikko (another just-opened luxury hotel) in the restaurant
that overlooks the white-marbeled atrium lobby. She was
rhapsodizing on the quality and value of Friends of Oscar, and mentioned
that if there were anything that she could ever do, well I should just
ask. . .
I turned and looked-out at the lobby, pondering
that offer, and said, "Do you suppose we could hold the Event here?"
Marcia thought excitedly, then said that she was afraid that their
Ballroom wouldn't hold an Event the size of our party. I replied,
"Ballroom? I want the whole place: the Atrium, the Ballroom and
the three floors in-between!"
The short story is, we got the space. Thus
was launched The Event That Made Us Famous.
We did this one perfectly! Guests (we
passed 900 this year) had the front doors opened by handsome Grimme'
models (thanks to Dan Bunker), stepped into a white marble foyer
dominated by a huge, balloon-draped film slate (FM Productions/Darlene
Darata). As they passed into this foyer, a team of volunteers with
clipboards and Oscar stickers checked-them into the party.
Turning, the guests mounted a sparkling, white-marble stairway flanked
with rows of black-and-white clad servers, holding aloft trays of
champagne flutes. At the top of the stairs, as they entered the
Atrium, the guests were met with the traditional Receiving Wall Of Board
The center of the room was dominated by the
grandest pair of Oscar statues seen outside of Shrine Auditorium (thanks
to Michael Miller/Ed Martinez). On each of the three floors; there
was food everywhere, there were bars everywhere, there were monitors
everywhere, and where there weren't monitors, independent speakers were
tucked under stairways and in food displays, so that one could hear the
Oscars in every location. This was the grandest we had done!
Huge fabric re-creations of movie posters hung in
the Atrium. As the evening progressed, the escalators remained
full; a black and white and sequined river, as people rode up,
promenaded along the balconies and took in the view from above before
descending the staircase or escalator back into the main party area.
In the third-floor ballroom, tables were arranged around the dance floor
in preparation for the dancing that would follow the awards.
During this time, however, the room served as a quieter place to watch
the awards; with food just outside the doors, and bars open throughout.
People were everywhere, all of them smiling.
After the Broadcast, most convened to the
Ballroom for the Prize Drawing. (Though, everything happening in
the ballroom was available throughout the Event on our monitors, as well
as in every room of the hotel on their closed-circuit network.)
Unable to find the traditional Punch Bowl for this, Clifford Colvin
opted to present all twelve qualifying ballots face-down on a silver
tray. (Style in the face of everything, that's Cliff.) We
gave away the prizes and presented a big ol' check to Ruth Brinker of
Project Open Hand (this year's beneficiary). Then, before the
dancing, began, I presented a series of surprises to three who had been
fundamental and inspirational in the creation of Friends of Oscar.
I the weeks prior to the Event, I had worked in
secret with the toothsome and glamorous Michael Moser of Tiffany & Co.
to conceive and create these three special awards. diagonally-cut
diamond-shaped obelisks, these Awards had the Friends of Oscar Logo
engraved on the face (we still used the Oscar statue in those days),
along with the date of the Event (4/11/88). On one of the forward
faces was the name of the honoree, and on the other was a phrase that I
was heard to utter on occasion, ". . . Like No Business I Know."
These were presented to Jim Quilty, who had had
the original idea to "do it again and call it Friends Of Oscar," to John
Twomey, who had made it all possible for so many years by "buying-into"
all of my ideas and helping to create them, and to Dan Bunker, a friend
through all of this, who had insured the longevity of the organization
when I was at a low point by suggesting that we form a Committee.
It was a personal gesture on my part to acknowledge that that night, and
several others, would not have happened without the help and support of
several. Friends are what make it work.
Following that? Dancing-with-Abandon to the
sounds of Big Bang Beat (we added live music that year), with another
crazy band playing alternate sets from the other end of the Ballroom.
Both bands played for free (thanks to Rod Marymor of Cardinal
Productions) in exchange for free weekends at the Nikko. The
dancing went until midnight.
During the post celebration was the first time
our event hit the networks. ABC had a reporter and crew there, and
-- as they were doing their wraps from Los Angles, they cut to our party
twice for interviews (one with me, and one with someone else . . .
funny, I only remember my own!). We were the only Event outside
Los Angeles that was covered. Of course, this did not make the
Academy particularly happy. For much of the following year, Tom
Davis (an attorney from Newport Beach and good friend of Allan Rosen --
our first Los Angeles-based Board member -- assisted us in negotiating
with the Academy to continue to use the Oscar in our logo.
No Dice. Though we continue to have
excellent relations with the Academy, and are offered two free tickets
to the awards every year from them in support of what we are doing; in
order to protect their own copyrights, we had to lose the statue.
Our Board meetings were now held monthly at the
San Francisco AIDS Foundation offices at 25 Van Ness Avenue. Board
member Timothy Maxson -- at an excruciatingly reasonable price --
provided dinner for the meetings, so that the complaint level dropped
Actually, it didn't start-out to be in City Hall.
Our original target was to have been another new, luxury hotel.
Rhonda Beran did a lot of calling and searching, and finally made an
appointment with a "Mr. Brunetti" at the Portman. It was pretty
clear that, in order to do it there, we would need all of the public
space and most of the balconies. The party would be all-over the
property. Elegant, but a little disjointed perhaps. I had
some pretty grand ideas regarding flying projection screens and the
like; which will come as no surprise to any of you who know me.
In any event, Rhonda and I went to see "Mr.
Brunetti." It was a very cordial and productive meeting.
This "Mr. Brunetti" -- handsome and efficient, with just a touch of
attitude -- certainly knew his business and his property.
Unfortunately, the Ballroom was already reserved for another Oscar
Event, but we went forward with plans for involving the Hotel in some
way. The need, of course, remained for a Host Hotel for our out of
town guests, as well as the various pre-Event receptions. As the
meeting closed, "Mr. Brunetti" had come to be known as Dave (and, in
later years, to "Missy"), and the groundwork was laid for the Portman to
host the Underwriter's Reception and to be the destination hotel for the
As we left the hotel, Rhonda was all a-twitter!
Completely enamored of Dave, she vowed to "have him" (whatever that
means . . .) before this Event was through. She simply could not
accept my own assertion that it was wildly obvious that he was likely
not inclined to do much more than tease her hair and borrow her purse.
As time passed, the proclivities of "Mr. Brunetti" became less of a
mystery to all.
As we continued to seek an appropriate space for
the Event, Fleet Week came and went. As I was producing that
celebration in City Hall, it occurred to me that the City Hall Rotunda
was the perfect place for our own Gala. That became the target,
and -- eventually -- the reality.
I won't go expand on the hoops through which we
were made to jump in bringing this off in that venue. Although I
had produced over thirty Civic-sponsored major events (including the
previous year's Mayoral Inaugural) there and knew the property and
the people who ran it very well, the Mayor's own staff were those who
made the project the most difficult. We did get through that,
though; and moved forward.
This was the year of what some refer to as the
first "February Speech." By now, the Portman was hosting our
meetings in the FABulous penthouse meeting room. This time of
year, things always got a little tense, as the deadlines for fundraising
to underwrite the Event encroached. We had bitten-off quite a
chunk in taking-on City Hall as a venue; in that one simply cannot
produce an event of this genre at City Hall without Indoor fireworks in
the Dome and a balloon drop. Well, I can't, anyway!
In any case, we were at February, and had only
raised about a third of the cost of the party. I opened the
meeting with a pretty strongly-worded and terse speech about how there
was a very strong possibility that the Event would not happen, if Board
members didn't get off their butts and meet the fundraising goals.
(Each time I hear this story re-told, the speech grows more grand and
more colorful; which is fine with me. Just as long as they keep
spelling my name right . . .) Suffice it to say that it worked,
and we raised the money.
Our Honorary Co-Chairs for the Event were Hon.
Art Agnos, Mayor of San Francisco, and Hon. Nancy Pelosi, our
Representative to the U.S. House of Representatives. Nancy and her
husband, Paul, were wonderfully easy to work-with (thanks in no small
part to the late Scott Douglass, her good friend and our Board member);
the Mayor and his wife were more in need of education as to the
significance of our Event.
My two favorite stories of Art and Sherry Agnos (who, I must add, are
exceptional people and have become strongly supportive of Friends of
Oscar/Academy of Friends as a result of the experience) center around
their physical participation, once they had accepted the positions of
The first was a conversation I had with Sherry
Agnos, in which she informed me that they might not be able to make it,
that night. It took some time and diplomacy; but I explained to
her that, even though they may have chaired several events that they did
not attend, this was not acceptable at a Friends of Oscar function.
Essentially, if one's name is on the invitation, attendance is
mandatory. I explained this to her, and did the behind-the-scenes
diplomatic thing, as well.
They consented to attend.
Better, of course, was dealing with Agnos' staff
on the logistics of the attendance. I spent much time with one of
his assistants (who shall remain unnamed), explaining the format of the
evening. The doors were to open at 5:30 (since City Hall Closes at
5:00, and the 1/2 hour was needed for the changeover), the telecast was
to begin at six. At approximately 9:00 or 9:30, the telecast would
conclude; at which time, the Board members and Honorary Chairs were to
be presented in procession, similar to that conducted at inaugurals and
Fleet weeks. I explained that the telecast is sacrosanct, as it is
the focal point of the Event, and a fundamental reason people attend.
After that, the assistant telephoned me to inform
me that the Mayor would arrive at 7:30, be presented and speak at that
time, and perhaps not be able to remain much beyond 8:30. This did
not set well with me. I laboriously explained that the Mayor, as
Chair, should be there as close to the beginning of the Event as
possible, so that guests could meet him as they entered. I further
clarified that he would not speak prior to the end of the telecast, and
would be expected -- at that time -- to enter down the Grand Staircase
and speak opposite Nancy Pelosi at the appropriate moment.
The conversation ended rather abruptly.
The evening of the Event, the Agnos' arrived at
6:15, and went to their table on the Mayor's Balcony, where we had
experimented with a reserved-seating system that year (the only year we
tried it!). The smile on the mayor's face grew and grew, as he
encountered several political and social operatives. He kept
saying, "I know these people! I know them!" At the end of
the telecast and the Mayor's speech, we gave away the prizes, announced
how much money had been raised, and I informed the throng that this was
not the last Oscar Party. (Rumours had been rampant.)
Then, the entire group sang "Happy Birthday" to
Sherry Agnos, tethered balloon bouquets were released into the air, the
fireworks went off and Big Bang Beat sent the energy into the
Stratosphere. Again, we had a raging success on our hands.
We had about 1100 in attendance that year, I
think. I think, too, that we charged $75.00 (after much spirited
discussion). Valet parking was provided by Pansini corporation
(thanks to David Collins). Again, guests were met at the door by
the entire Board of Directors, trays of champagne, and monitors visible
from the moment they entered.
The entire first two floors of City Hall were
ours. Monitors and speakers on both levels, with a 16'x20' rear
projection screen at the top of the Grand Stairway. As the
beneficiaries, Board of Directors and Honorary Co-Chairs were introduced
and entered down the staircase in three's, they were musically
accompanied by a (pirated by our own Allan Rosen) copy of John Williams'
Olympic March (which, heretofore, had been jealously guarded by NBC) as
they came down the stairs. It was all pretty Grand.
The Nikko Event had brought the organization
well-into the spotlight. Mounting the Extravaganza at City Hall
imbued Friends of Oscar with a certain credibility, securing for it a
respected place in our community and in the City of San Francisco that
will continue to serve it well, long into the future. Having, as
the Honorary Chairs, Mayor Agnos and Representative Pelosi certainly
augmented the reputation we had been nurturing.
Friends of Oscar was here to stay. (Except,
of course, as 1989 closed, we got the word from the Academy that -- due
to the fact that we had become so prominent, and a threat to the
sanctity of their copyright -- we must change our name.)
As 1990 loomed, I decided that it was time for me
to step down from the organization and let it continue to grow from
fresh input and -- if you will -- new blood. I informed the
Executive Committee that I would remain on-board through the 1990 Gala,
then depart the organization altogether. Larry Hashbarger agreed
to accept the responsibilities of Chairing the Gala (so, I shall leave
the stories of mounting same to him!), and I remained in position until
May of 1990; as I prepared to move to Los Angeles and initiate a new
career in film (behind the camera).
As the projected period of my departure loomed,
we of the Executive Committee talked long and hard about how the
organization was to be run in the future. During the years from
1984 to 1989, I had devoted nearly 75% of my own time to administration
of this organization. Not only is much time required to manage
daily and monthly issues that arise, and to plan and execute the
management of the annual gala, but Friends of Oscar had expanded to
envelope several film premieres and Theatrical Opening Nights along the
way. Each of these demanded another chunk of time in the sourcing
of performance or projection material (plays or films), and necessitated
the mounting of the same set of ancillary events surrounding it, at the
same level of professionalism, that the Gala required.
As these events occurred on our agenda, we tried
different forms of "handing off" part of the responsibility in order to
alleviate the burden on the Board -- and me -- in getting these Events
off the ground. We tried Co-Producing, which carried it's own
inherent dangers in trusting organization and smooth execution to other
organizations with what turned-out to be lesser standards. No
good. We attempted the hiring of Administrative Beings on an
Event-By-Event basis. That worked a little better, but not as well
as it needed to in order to maintain the standards we had set.
Finally, I developed a plan for an Administrative
Director for the organization. There was -- and remains -- a need for
an individual (or individuals) that could administer the workings of the
organization, maintain the files and act as caretaker to the History of
the organization as it continued to mature. These are functions
that I had handled as we grew; but, with the advent of my departure, it
was clearly unrealistic to think that any member of the board would be
willing -- or able -- to devote the time required to appropriately cover
these responsibilities in a manner that would support the organization.
The major stumbling block to this plan was, of course, that this
individual had to be paid, and we had no operating capital!
So. I approached an acquaintance of mine
with this request for major underwriting of this position. Until
this time, I had become pretty comfortable hitting people up for
donations and underwriting in amounts as great as $2,500.00 to
$5,000.00. This little project, however, was to require more than
twice what I had ever requested before. To my mind, however, this
was the only way to preserve the organization. Friends of Oscar
required a support structure for the Board to be able to continue the
work for which it had become so well known.
After much discussion and thought, Geoffrey
Etienne graciously bequest Friends of Oscar a very significant grant for
the underwriting of an Administrative Director and related office
expenses. The Grant was given in the form of a Matching-Grant,
that we were required to cover by other means in order to maintain it.
The Board accepted the grant, and we set about the search for a
The Executive Committee hired Thom O'Brien, who
provided us with a good test situation for the job from January through
the 1990 Gala. Our experience with Thom gave us the opportunity to
restructure the original plan, and -- after his departure in May of that
year, the Board developed a structure that is, I think, still in effect
as of this writing.
The Gala of 1990 was spectacular. I shall
leave it to Larry Hashbarger, the Chair of the 1990 Gala and the Friends
of Oscar Board Chair-elect to describe the Event and fill in the details
of 1990 and the years that followed. He can best describe the
selection of a new name, the institution of the Individual Award that
was initiated in '90, and all the fun things that have taken place under
his administration. I would hope, too, that Larry, Geoffrey, and
all ensuing Chairs of the organization would -- and will -- maintain
this Historical document for the organization.
We have built something that makes a significant
difference to our community, and is respected across the U.S. as an
organization with the highest standards of creativity, production and
integrity of contribution. Prior to us, there were no
organizations that produced Events where 100% of the ticket price is
given to the beneficiary organization. Even today, this sort of
Event integrity is rare. The members of the Board can be very
proud of what they have accomplished, and continue to develop and
Someday, AIDS will be wiped out. Someday.
Until then, there is such a need for organizations who give so
completely of their time and make it so easy for communities to support
themselves in filling the needs that exist. Once AIDS has been
vanquished, needs will continue to arise. It is my hope that
Friends of Oscar/Academy of Friends continues to seek out the unanswered
crises and respond. Much as we began by sending food to the
Tenderloin and supplies to Airlift Africa, we can continue to support
community needs where they exist.
I take this opportunity to express my gratitude
for having such selfless and hard-working friends who would enroll in my
little idea, and help to build it into what it has become. Keep up
the good work, and keep the faith. You all are needed, and the
love of humanity you express through this work is inspirational to many
whom we will never know.
Other Events that Friends of Oscar produced during my tenure as Chair
Sammy and Rosie Get Laid
Torch Song Trilogy
Opening Nights, Legitimate Theatre
The Dreamer and the Runner
Acting Shakespeare with Ian MacKellan
The parameters upon which this organization has built its reputation
are pretty-much as follows:
1) Food and Drink should always be within easy reach.
2) People should always be able to view the
Oscars in a manner they find comfortable. Sitting, standing,
seeing it all or seeing the most famous few, the guests should find it
better to be at the Event than to remain at home.
3) All guests should be within view of a television screen at all
4) No matter how far from a screen, guests should
always be able to hear the broadcast. (This often meant planting
speakers under stairways and in food displays in order to supplement the
sound without discomfort to those closer to the screens.)
5) The Event should make Black Tie fun.
6) There should be a mystique around the Event, primarily in it's
location; with the philosophy that moving the location every year
provides undeniable major interest from the guests in returning to it,
and keeps the Event vital and alive.
7) Abundance and elegance are the watchwords of
anything the organization produces. We should not run out of food
or anything else distributed free to the guests, ever.
8) The organization should refrain from any
permanent affiliations of any kind, remaining completely true to itself.
Beneficiaries should be changed or rotated with each event, in order to
avoid any political situations and in order to preserve the integrity of
Friends of Oscar.
9) Beneficiary organizations are to be called-upon to provide
significant volunteer in the production of the Event (stuffing and
mailing, et cetera).
10) The Board is a working board in the most
complete interpretation of that term.
11) The Event should be up and running 30 minutes prior to scheduled
start time, so that even the first guest finds the Event ready to go and
12) Each Event is designed for the ease of the
guest, such that the guest feels welcome and completely a part of the
Evening from the moment the doors are passed. [This is the thought
behind the Board being at the very front door of Each Event to help with
seating and greeting. This guarantees that even the very first
guests will encounter a familiar face immediately upon entering.
This subtly alleviates a stress that few organizations recognize, and it
is one of the primary factors in the success of our productions.]
13) There is no substitute for planning,
detail and rehearsal. One of my greatest fears is hearing words
like, "Oh Well, it's for a good cause. . ." No one should make
excuses or justify a failing on the part of our organization. We
set the standard, and we must maintain it; especially in hard financial
Keep up the good work!