Southern California's Top Benefits 2008

February 29, 2008, 11:15 PM EST

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County's 2007 Dinosaur Ball

Photo: Lee Salem Photography

1. Carousel of Hope
Usually called the Carousel Ball, this red-letter event on L.A.’s social calendar is such a production that it’s held only once every two years. The host is Barbara Davis, half of a Hollywood power couple with her late billionaire husband, former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis. Their A-list friends will turn out in droves at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in October for this fund-raiser for children’s diabetes.

2. Race to Erase MS
Barbara and Marvin Davis’s daughter, Nancy, is a chip off the proverbial block, and the annual fund-raiser she throws with Tommy Hilfiger at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza is a huge draw for guests (as well as paparazzi bait). Event designer Mindy Weiss is a regular collaborator, and the Race to Erase is steered by Liz Zigal, the longtime executive director of the Nancy Davis Foundation for MS. The 15th annual event is scheduled for May 2.

3. Los Angeles Opera Opening-Weekend Celebration
Opera folk take their season openers so seriously that the early September event is a three-day affair, with a private party for big donors on Friday evening and lavish back-to-back premieres on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Mary Hayley is the longtime board of directors gala chairwoman, and Jill Michnick is assistant director of development for special events.

4. Los Angeles Philharmonic Gala
Like many of its supporters, the L.A. Phil throws parties at two locations: its dandy main residence, the Frank ­Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown, and its summer home, the Hollywood Bowl. For the fall gala in October 2007, übersoprano Renée Fleming performed under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen. This year’s gala will be held on October 2.

5. Key to the Cure

This annual black-tie event benefiting women’s cancer research packs plenty of glamour. There’s its host, Saks Fifth Avenue; honorary chairs Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Tom Hanks, and Rita Wilson; and other friends of Hollywood’s personal charity, the Entertainment Industry Foundation. Other partners for the October 2007 event included Mercedes-Benz, which issued a special-edition car to support the cause, as well as campaign ambassador Renée Zellweger.

6. Unicef Snowflake Ball

Unicef’s annual black-tie fund-raiser, presented by Baccarat, went bicoastal in 2007, with balls at both Cipriani 42nd Street in New York in November and the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills in December. Former California first lady Sharon Davis and Ghada Irani co-chaired the organization’s Beverly Hills ball.

7. UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Taste for a Cure

This event, formerly known as Epicurean Evening, has helped the cancer center raise $5.5 million over the past 12 years with the help of its foodie supporters. The June 2007 event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel brought ­together Southern California’s top female chefs and vintners for an elaborate dinner co-chaired by Jeffrey Katzenberg, with entertainment by Mary J. Blige.

8. HollyRod Foundation’s DesignCare Benefit

Named after founders Holly Robinson Peete and Rodney Peete, this chic-but-casual event has mushroomed since its launch nine years ago in the Peetes’ backyard as a fund-raiser for people with Parkinson’s disease. In July 2007, DesignCare (formerly DesignCure) took over a horse pasture in Malibu, where 500 guests watched an alfresco fashion show by Naeem Khan. The Peetes, who are hands-on hosts, collaborated with IMAG Productions.

9. Chrysalis’s Butterfly Ball

This nonprofit, which helps the homeless get back to work, got help from Hollywood in June 2007, when Rebecca Gayheart and her Grey’s Anatomy star husband, Eric Dane, chaired the sixth annual ball at a private mansion in the Pacific Palisades. The event, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, Grey Goose, and Flaunt magazine, raised more than $1 million. This year’s ball is on May 31.

10. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s Dinosaur Ball

The ­museum’s big fund-raiser is one of L.A.’s most inventive and charming events. Of course, scenes of African wildlife behind glass make swell backdrops for a party, but in April 2007, the event’s longtime producer, Timeless Celebrations’ Peggy Kelley, amped up the party’s good looks even further with giant blow-up dinosaurs visible from blocks away.

11. Scripter Award Gala
Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal chaired the selection committee for the 20th annual black-tie gala honoring writers and screenwriters of books made into films with the USC Libraries Scripter Award. The ceremony was held on February 2 at USC’s Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library. The Friends of the USC Libraries organizes the event, which benefits the Doheny Library Preservation Fund.

12. Starlight Starbright Foundation Gala
The charity to aid seriously ill children will hold its Stellar Night gala on March 28 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The 2007 event honored Robin McGraw and sax player Dave Koz, who serenaded guests at the gala hosted by Jamie Lee Curtis. Director of special events Ilana Angel helmed the benefit.

13. Concern Foundation’s Block Party

For its 34th annual fund-raiser on July 12, this charity for cancer research will return to Paramount Studios’ atmospheric back lot, where it has plenty of room to spread out. In 2007, the outdoor event raised $1.5 million with the help of 50 restaurateurs, live entertainment on four stages, and partner Los Angeles magazine.

14. California Science Center’s Discovery Ball

This event, designed by spirited Science Center vice president of event services Christina Sion, gets props for being one of the most imaginative benefits in town. The February 2007 ball tied in with an exhibition on the Star Wars films, complete with a red carpet lined with volunteers in stormtrooper getups.

15. Fulfillment Fund’s Stars Benefit

Graduates speaking about their moving stories are so close to the core of this benefit (which mentors and bankrolls scholarships for disadvantaged kids) that in October 2007, organizers set tables at the Beverly Hilton Hotel with branded Kleenex for the sold-out crowd of 1,000. Katy Sweet & Associates handled PR; Stacy Kravitz, the Fulfillment Fund’s director of special events, served as event producer.

16. Backstage at the Geffen

With producing director Gil Cates’s extensive Hollywood ties (he’s also the Oscar telecast’s veteran producer), the Geffen Playhouse's annual fund-raiser gets plenty of stars, who perform readings and share behind-the-scenes stories onstage after a buffet dinner.

17. Pasadena Showcase House of Design

One of the country’s largest and oldest benefits of its kind, this fund-raiser for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and arts education invites interior designers to do their thing at a designated Pasadena home, which is open for one month in the spring. The 44th annual showcase will run in April and May 2008.

18. Tiger Woods Foundation Block Party

A relative newcomer to the event landscape, this super-casual benefit at the Grove of Anaheim gets plenty of steam from the golfer’s considerable charisma. The event typically pairs a celeb­rity entertainer and a hot food personality; for the third annual fund-raiser in October 2007, it was John Mayer and Giada De Laurentiis. ­Michelle ­Bemis, the foundation’s director of events, produces the party.

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