The Rita Hayworth 31st Anniversary Alzheimer Gala

The Alzheimer’s Association held its Rita Hayworth 31st Anniversary Gala in the ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria at 6:30 PM. It began with a cocktail party accompanied by a silent auction with loads of celebrities and socialites streaming in and posing on the red carpet. This is one of the major social events of the year and one thing that nobody forgot, was to come bedecked in their best jewels. The event was underwritten by Rolex, and Mark Locks, a leader in the apparel industry, and the Kornfeld family were presented with a “Champion” and philanthropic award, respectively.

Joy and Regis Philbin – All photos Lieba Nesis

Since the inaugural Rita Hayworth Gala began 31 years ago they have raised more than $61 million to support Alzheimer’s Association’s critical care and research programs. Princess Yasmin Aga Khan established the Gala as a tribute to her mother, Rita Hayworth, who lived with Alzheimer’s for many years before her death in 1987. The dinner attendees included: celebrities Brooke Shields, John McEnroe, and Lisa Rinna; news personalities Regis Philbin, Deborah Norville, and Bryant Gumbel; designers Dennis Basso and Tommy Hilfiger; and socialities Jean Shafiroff, Somers Farkas, Muffy Aston, Lucia Hwong Gordon, and Alexandra Lebenthal (and many more).

Suzanne Murphy, Somers Farkas, Dennis Basso, Alexandra Lebenthal and Muffy Aston

While I expected a quiet, stuffy evening the dinner was lively and exciting with guests getting down to all types of disco music.  This was a crowd that likes to have fun, and despite their vast wealth, does so in an unpretentious manner. The evening raised $1.6 million and attracted an unprecedented amount of people, eager to spend money on the items up for bid.  The silent auction included items like meeting Hugh Jackman at a Broadway show, and tickets to see Bradley Cooper in “Elephant Man” and Cher at Madison Square Garden.  Moreover, pearls and diamonds were being auctioned as well as Chloe bags and a Nicole Miller and Naeem Khan two-week internship. The idea of bidding on the opportunity to work for free is a novel one, but I think the foundation is onto something interesting. The foundation’s estimation of the value of an internship was listed as “priceless” so I guess they will not be requesting monetary payment.

Michele Herbert, Frank and Michele Rella and Nick Loeb

They also had a cashmere robe listed with an approximate value of $488 and a disclaimer that it could not be returned or exchanged.  You can tell the crowd you are dealing with when they need to come out of a dripping wet bathroom and don a cashmere garment.  Moreover, it never occurred to me that you could return an item from an auction (however, there were a lot of high level businessmen who are one step ahead of the rest of us). The auction was anything but silent with guests socializing and laughing uproariously as they greeted one another.  As the lights began to dim, it became apparent that the dinner was about to begin and the crowd headed into the ballroom.

The Catsimatidis family

The master of ceremonies for the evening was news anchor Deborah Norville who grimly notified everyone that 1 out of 3 people over the age of 65 will get Alzheimer’s.  When she asked those in the audience to raise their hands if they had a friend or relative who was diagnosed with the disease, more than half the audience responded affirmatively. Not to worry, as Norville assured us that doctors thought it was a distinct possibility that they could attain a cure. Princess Aga Khan then spoke of her mother’s suffering and how important it was to raise money for this pivotal charity with the help of her committed friends. Now it was time for the entertainment which featured Lesley Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me” and “It’s My Party.”  This was pretty exciting, even for someone who thought Lesley Gore was Al’s mother. Ronnie Spector, the lead singer of The Ronettes and Phil’s ex wife, then sang “Be My Baby,” one of my all time favorites with an enthusiasm and energy belying her 71 years of age.

Brooke Shields with John and Patty McEnroe

The crowd then continued to dance accompanied by a 15-piece band that played a lot of oldies.  John McEnroe hit the dance floor with his wife Patty with an athleticism that was reminiscent of his days as a tennis player. McEnroe’s wife, Patty, was clad in a sequined tuxedo jacket, and black pants and they engaged in animated conversation with Brooke Shields, in a beautiful orange J. Mendel gown. Dennis Basso, was surrounded by a bevy of socialites hugging and kissing him adoringly, while he basked in the attention. Even the normally reserved Tommy Hilfiger made his rounds, posing for pictures and engaging in chitchat. Nick Loeb, newly single, and looking dashing in a grey 3-piece suit ran off to another charity event, while John Catsimatidis, resisted his wife, Margo’s, attempts to engage him in the frivolous pursuit of dancing.

Lisa Rinna in Dennis Basso

This evening is a standout event in the gala heavy month of October. The confluence of guests from varied industries and backgrounds lends an intangible appeal to this annual happening.  As Brooke Shields exited, a fan asked her to mouth the words “Blue Lagoon” while posing for a picture. She graciously smiled and declined the request – only in New York.

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.