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CHICAGO The fund-raiser for the Alzheimer's Association known as the Rita Hayworth gala took place on Saturday at the Hilton Chicago. Underscoring the “Evening in Monte Carlo“ theme, greeters dressed as '40s-style cigarette girls handed out fake casino cash, which allowed the evening's 500 guests to gamble at the blackjack, craps, and roulette tables scattered throughout the ballroom's foyer. Servers circulated the cocktail reception with trays of retro drinks such as bellinis, sidecars, and lime daiquiris, and a live band stayed in the spirit with songs such as “The Girl From Ipanema."
Now in its 22nd year, the gala was founded by Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. She named the event in honor of her movie-star mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's before she died in 1987. In honor of the gala's genesis, “each year, the event theme ties to Rita Hayworth or one of her movies,” said Lynne Carey, the association's director of relationship events. ”This year we chose to design the theme around Monte Carlo in the 1940s, where Rita Hayworth and other Hollywood legends and royalty of the time would enjoy the casinos and the coast.”
Despite the evening's lighthearted theme, planners worked to make sure that guests were continually reminded of the gala's cause. During dinner in the hotel's grand ballroom, drop-down projection screens showcased clips from HBO's new documentary The Alzheimer's Project (HBO was one of the evening's honorees), and Mary Ann Becklenberg, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzeimer's in 2006, took to the stage to deliver an emotional first-hand account of life with the disease.
Carey said that she and her planning team made subtle adjustments to this year's gala that would “not impact the positive experience that regular guests expect.” In the end, “we eliminated the inclusion of a headlining act, and we adjusted the flow of the event to use less hotel space," she said.
Through ticket sales, a raffle, and a two-lot live auction, Carey estimated that the gala pulled in about $800,000, though funds are still being calculated.