Careful Spending and Energetic Staffing Net (Nearly) a Million for Sloan-Kettering

By Ted Kruckel May 18, 2009, 2:06 PM EDT

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's Spring Ball

Photo: Mary Hilliard/

“You know, it isn’t easy to raise $1 million at a dinner anymore,” co-chairwoman Muffie Potter Aston told me energetically at the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s (M.S.K.C.C.) second annual Spring Ball, held May 13 at the Plaza Hotel. “The money just doesn’t come in automatically.” Tell me about it.

The next day, in a phone follow-up, the philanthropist admitted to being “a little tired; we danced til after midnight,” but relieved to have come very close to the seven-figure milestone. “We cut way back on decor spending, Andrew did a great job with a really tight budget.”

Andrew is Andrew Pascoe Flowers of Oyster Bay, New York, whose name and work is new to me, so I dialed him up. My table had ceramic nautilus shells in a creamy color (think Art Deco) with green cymbidium orchids, tons of them, arranged in a low, serpentine array.

“The shapes were meant to evoke organics, and the fabrics were meant to be simple, environmental, and frugal, toning down the ornateness of the Plaza’s grand ballroom,” explained Pascoe, who has a British accent, natch. The tables alternated unusual green burlap cloths with contrasting white napkins tied with real ivy, or vice versa. “They’re rentals from Table Wraps.” I noticed some unusual containers for the white French tulips. “That’s call a tulipiere. They’re not rentals. I own them.” Figures. Now I won’t be able to rest until I get my hands on a tulipiere. Anyone?

A fit and happy looking Robert De Niro and his wife, Grace Hightower, were at my table, so I congratulated him on the hugeness that the Tribeca Film Festival has become. “It must be making tons of money by now,” I probed. (It’s a nonprofit.) “Ha!” was his response.

Continuing the recession theme, longtime M.S.K.C.C. supporter and Sotheby’s auctioneer Jamie Niven got up to announce he would not be doing an auction at all. “In this environment, I’d be up here sweating and you’d be sitting down there avoiding eye contact.” Instead the society printed donation forms on the back of the menus and asked for guests to give generously (and privately). I understand the Robin Hood Foundation went a similarly anonymous (but more high-tech) route this week, too.

The evening’s entertainment was provided by Macy Gray, whose music I love but whose backstage machinations (I know firsthand) can be a bit unpredictable. So I’m thrilled to report that Gray not only rocked the house, but has a new look and a new show that can’t go unmentioned. For starters, the drummer was in a giant Lucite cube—how cool is that? Then out come the dancers! Full-figured gals in magenta short dresses with long, long fringe. And these girls were working it. When they kicked up their legs, with the sweat flying and the fringe swinging and the skirts revealing—well, you just didn’t know where to look. Wild is the word that comes to mind.

DJ Tom Finn never disappoints. His first trick is that not a second passes between the end of the act and his first track, but he builds the volume and the tempo slowly. Socialites like Tory Burch and Somers Farkas shimmied with magnates like Mort Zuckerman and Richard Kirshenbaum on the dance floor in the center of the room.

Time to go. I had checked a big bag—where was it? The Plaza thoughtfully brought it upstairs for me, and when I fumbled to tip the gent, he told me, “That won’t be necessary. I’m the manager.”

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