Super songstress Bette Midler (center), with Raising Hope gala co-chairwomen Cathy Podell (left) and Nanci Fredkin, at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus for the biennial event that raised $3.75 million for the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center. Photo: Drew Altizer
Divine time: Even before guests took their (trÃ¨s cher) seats beneath the glorious and gargantuan tent (created by designer Stanlee Gatti, who dramatically draped more than 6,000 yards of red velvet) set on a parking lot at UCSF’s new Mission Bay campus, Raising Hope event co-chairs Cathy Podell and Nanci Fredkin had already raised $3.4 mil for the hospital’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
But when souped-up songbird Bette Midler is your headliner (encouraged to make the gig by her pal Ned Topham) and your guests are deep-pocketed donors (seven of whom purchased $100K tables each), it would seem you’d had an easy time of pulling off a knockout gala.
Yet Fredkin joked, rhetorically, of her and Podell’s efforts: “Is it hard to have a baby?” Bada-bing.
The 750 Swells were charmed by the rhinestoned dynamo (with full band and backup singers), as Midler wowed them with a rollicking vaudevillian song-and-dance show.
In order not to compete with the onstage talent, McCall Associates’ head chef Lucas Schoemaker created an assiete of hand-held hors d’oeuvres (so the cutlery would not cut into Midler’s melodies) for the first course of the spirited supper.
And while it’s rumored that her “day rate” hovers somewhere in the $1 mil range, she was dazzled enough by the center’s supporters to waive her fee.
“Girls,” she called out to her singers from onstage, “what’s the most attractive thing about this crowd? Their net worth!”
In the crowd: UCSF Chief Exec Mark Laret; gala co-chairs Mike Podell and Gary Fredkin; Dr. Marilyn Rosenwein and Dr. Howard Cohen; UCSF Foundation board chairman Richard Rosenberg and his wife, Barbara; Dede Wilsey; John and Marcia Goldman; Joachim and Nancy Bechtle; Stephen and Jessica Galloway; Cathy Topham and her mom, Elaine McKeon; Daniel Lurie and his wife, Becca Prowda; Dr. Harvey Glasser and his wife, Gail; Sherlee Rhine; Charles and Patricia Sellman; Steve and Pam Mittel; Kori Koskie; Debbie and Stuart Rosenberg; Cynthia Schuman and Dan Banks; and Ginny Gustafson and David Freeman.
Midler had personalized zingers at the ready for many of the night’s heavy hitters — from financier Charles Schwab to Mayor Gavin Newsom — which she tossed out with witty aplomb.
The sassy singer, herself a philanthropist who founded the New York Restoration Project for clean and green neighborhoods, also shared words of praise for the event which, post live-auction, netted a total of $3.75 mil: “I feel it in my bones that a cure for cancer will soon be found. And it will come from here, UCSF’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.”
Guests took home another gift, too. The Little Book of Hope, a mini-directory of every UCSF doctor one might (hopefully never) need.
Good fortune: A thousand strong, Asian art aficionados turned out at Fort Mason for the “Arts of Pacific Asia” opening gala, benefiting the Asian Art Museum’s education programs to the tune of $110K.
Guests were greeted by a colorful pageant of fluttering flags, bellowing gongs and expert Lion dancers celebrating Lunar New Year.
The Asian influence extended to the sartorial choices, too, including saris, kimonos, cheongsams and enough jade to choke a dragon.
Kathy Bissinger, who with her husband, Paul Bissinger, served as gala co-chair, said that, actually, her outfit used to be sari.
“I took it to Monique Zhang (owner of Cicada Gallery and Salon) and asked her to modify it,” she said. “It still looks Indian. But instead of wrapping, now it snaps. And it’s ready to wear.”
The Bissingers’ commitment to the Asian Art Museum is a family affair.
“Legend has it that my late mother, Marjorie Bissinger, danced the collection to San Francisco,” said Paul Bissinger. When Avery Brundage, who liked to dance, was looking for a home for his vast art collection, he met Marjorie socially. She was a wonderful dancer and also loved Asian art.
“It was her passion. And now it’s our passion.”
Exquisite treasures from all over the globe vied for attention with the McCall Associates Asian-themed buffet, the stars of which were 5,500 pieces of sushi and a whole roasted pig.
“For me, this is the best party of the year,” said David Lei, founder of the Chinese Performing Arts Foundation. “You get to graze, walk around and touch the objects. In the museum, you don’t ever get to touch.”
We are family: Supervisor Bevan Dufty (a proud new pop) served as event chairman for the 30th anniversary of Oakland-based Family Builders by Adoption honoring families who’ve adopted children. Family Builders is dedicated to placing the more than 2,000 children who linger in the foster care system.
Honorees included former mayoral Chief of Staff Steve Kawa and his partner, Dan Henkle, Gap’s vice president of global compliance, proud parents of Katherine, 6 1/2, and Michael Henkle-Kawa, almost 4, both of whom their dads adopted.
“In this amazing city of ours, with nearly 800,000 people, who, if they knew these children were available for adoption, might considering becoming parents,” said Kawa. “If we get the word out that these children need parents and that families can be created, I know the people of the great city of San Francisco will come forward to meet this challenge.”
After Supervisor Chris Daly complimented Supervisor Dufty on his support for Family Builders, emcee Carolyn Tyler, quipped, “And who says our Board of Supervisors don’t get along?”
Also honored: the Hsieh-Protzel-Blackwell family (Betina, Hans, Asha, Aisha and newborn Nathaniel).
So determined were 15-year-old identical twins Asha and Aisha to get out of foster care, they finally took matters into their own hands. Approaching Betina, their favorite schoolteacher, they asked if she would consider becoming their family. Betina and Hans were just newlyweds but quickly said, “Yes!”
Vamping onstage post-award, Asha joked, “I’d like to thank my producer and my agent and I hope that you’ll all buy my new record.”
Carolyn Tyler was charmed: “You can see why these ladies had the gumption to stand up and tell someone they trusted they wanted to be adopted.”
Brain food: Though former Mayor Willie Brown, featured speaker at the Monday Group lunch, was a wee bit late arriving at the Huntington Hotel’s Big 4 restaurant, there were plenty of other stars among the attendees who might’ve subbed for the man of the hour.
“Harry can tell lies,” joked haute haberdasher Wilkes Bashford about his good pal Harry de Wildt.
“No, I’ll tell the truth,” deadpanned de Wildt. “That will be even more entertaining!”
Brown was preceded by columnist P.J. Corkery, who is collaborating with Da Mayor on da Brown bio. Wryly titled, “Basic Brown,” the tome portrays the rough-and-tumble and rags to-riches tale of this 40-plus-year public servant and refined raconteur.
“It’s said that no man is a hero to his valet … or his biographer,” Corkery said. “But in this case, that phrase is not true. Willie Brown possesses more knowledge, more wit and more loyalty than any person I’ve ever known. After writing this book, I am a bigger fan than ever.”
During guest intros, fans shared choice Willie anecdotes.
Brenda Jewett thanked Willie for inspiring her son, Sam Jewett: “Whenever he saw you, Sam asked, ‘Mommy, he sure has a lot of beautiful girlfriends, doesn’t he?’ Needless to say, he’s very into public service now.”
But the stage, and rightly so, belonged to Da Mayor — resplendent in a brown and red Prince of Wales check Wilkes-issue Brioni blazer.
A master of oratory, this ultimate insider handicapped the 2008 Democratic nominees. He also spoke without notes, but not without humor:
— “Simon and Schuster are waiting for the finished book. Especially since they’ve paid us the money. But they won’t get any of it back. It already belongs to Wilkes Bashford!”
— “My mother had a great rule that I’ve always followed: It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
— “I had a grand time being mayor of San Francisco. I loved the daily routine. Even with the misguided direction of certain supervisors.”
— “The best politicians are those who don’t need to support themselves while in office and never have to solicit donations.”
To which, de Wildt chimed in: “And don’t send e-mails!”
“That’s right,” agreed Willie. “Put nothing in writing.”
Perhaps his most prescient comment?
“Politics are vicious,” concluded Brown. “If another politician sees you’re wounded, believe me, he ain’t going for help.”