The History of
Friends of Oscar (1980)
Academy of Friends (1990)

by Kile Ozier


The very first party took place in 1980 at the Bedford Arms Hotel on Sutter Street in San Francisco.  The actual occasion was an anniversary party I threw for my then-lover, Donald Alex.  He loved the movies (still does, though he is generally wrong about who will win the Awards), and so I decided that this would be a good focus around which to build a little bash.  There were about twenty or twenty-five of us in attendance, we were all pretty-much the only people that any of us knew in San Francisco at that time.  Most of us had moved to The City within the previous year, and this group represented our entire circle of friends.

 I borrowed six televisions, so that I could put at least one in each room of the suite I had rented.  Judith Beldin calligraphed all the invitations, which were in the shape of oversized theatre tickets.  She also produced most of the hors d'oeuvres for the Event.  Everyone came in Black Tie and brought a bottle of champagne.  I remember that Suzy Vannucci paraded through the party, doing her Loretta Young imitation most of the evening.  She was quite a hit.  I have about four photographs of this Event; all blurry, all showing a group of pretty fun people having a pretty grand time.

 Actually, the description of that evening most dear to me comes from that on the back of the invitation to the Parties in 1986 and 1987:

"Seven years ago, twenty-five good friends -- many new to The City -- put on their best clothes and gathered in a small hotel suite in San Francisco to celebrate the Academy Awards.  Some brought champagne, some brought food; all brought a sense of good fun and not a little mischief.  Needless to say, the evening was quite festive (some needed days to recover) and is remembered with fondness by all who attended.  That was the beginning of Friends of Oscar."


Late in 1980, Donald and I ended our relationship.  As I am fond of saying; "He took the crystal, I took the Party."  Though we went our separate ways for a year or two, we have since become very good friends, and he is generally in attendance at the Event, every year.



There was no party this year.  In fact, this was the year that Reagan was shot.  Trust me, we didn't forgo the party due to that; circumstances simply did not lend themselves to having a party, that year.  I had just separated from Donald, moved twice since October, and was in transition.  This problem was soon overcome.

The Second Party

The following year, my friend, Jim Quilty suggested that we do the party again.  We had had so much fun the year before, that Jim thought it should be continued, "And let's call it 'Friends of Oscar'," he said.  So, we did.

 The party took place in my home on Southern Heights Avenue on Potrero Hill in San Francisco.  This is a place that I shared with my roommates, Jerry Silverman and Judith Beldin (in 1980) and with Kate Nauman and Scott something-or-other (in 1981).  Jim and I provided the food, and asked everyone to bring a bottle of champagne.  I borrowed about 12 television sets, in order to put one in every room.  TV's were perched atop milk-crate towers (draped, of course) in the middle of the food, on Dressers in the bedrooms, and even on the back of the toilet in the loo.  No matter where one stood in the apartment, a television screen was in full view.

 Decoration was provided by Steve Silver, who loaned me his eight, eight-foot tall golden Oscar props (adorned with sunglasses) from his Beach Blanket Babylon Goes to the Stars show.  These standing grandly about my apartment were all that was needed to create the right atmosphere.

 Attendance these two years grew to about 40 or 50 guests.  Everyone had such a good time each year that they would bring a friend the following one.  (Actually, it seemed that so many couples would break-up and re-form into two new ones, rather amoeba-like, that the party just naturally grew with people who not only liked one another's company, but had probably slept with one-another at one time as well . . .)

 1982 was the year, I think, when Suzy Vannucci discovered poppers in my freezer; and Jim Quilty showed her how they worked.  I remember that they spent much time in the kitchen near the refrigerator, laughing wildly throughout the evening.  It certainly kept the party on a festive track!

The Third party

Up 'til now, the invitation had always specified "Black Tie", I think.  About a month prior to the 1983 Event (again, at my house on Potrero Hill), I ran into Graham Bigelow and Homer Parkin at brunch on Saturday at the Patio Cafe on Castro Street.  At my statement that I wanted to do something different that year, Graham suggested togas!  From that came our decision to specify "Designer Toga" on the invitation. 

 Pictures of the party reveal that approximately 40% of the guests really went for the theme, the rest opted for Black Tie.  Some of the togas, though, were extremely creative (while others were extremely revealing!).  We had the work of "Judeo-Christian Dior" on Pete Johnson and Kate Kiley, my toga was black with satin stripes down each side -- the formal look, and my close friend, John Twomey looked as though he had just stepped-out of the Roman Senate in his long, flowing toga with lustrous purple accents.  Quite a scene, that.

 This was the first year that I added a ballot (the only remaining copy of this and of the 1983 invitation have been appropriated to the "official" archives in the this organization's offices),  allowing guests to vote on their predictions for the Big Five categories, plus a Tie-Breaker.  (The "Big Five" being, in this instance; Actor, Actress, the two Supporting's, and Best Picture.  I don't remember the Tie-Breaker for that year.)  As I recall, I asked people to pay $1.00 to vote, and the winner got the money. 

 Though, again, I provided the food for the party; this was the first year that I ran out of Champagne.  I rapidly took-up a quiet collection and sent Rick Hunts and Brad Needham out for a case o' the stuff.  "As God is my witness," I swore, "I'll never run out of champagne, again!"

  . . . and we haven't!

The Fourth Party

This was the first year that the Party was a fundraiser.

 Barbara Daitch, whom I knew through the famous Trinity Place Restaurant, and her lover, Brooke, had just purchased a new restaurant down on North Point Avenue.  They re-named it Mame's Palazzo, and asked me if I would hold my Oscar Party as their Opening Night Event -- thus, exposing their target clientele to the new place and taking the Event to a slightly higher level.

 Mame's promised to keep the bar prices low, and assured me that there would be abundant hors d'oeuvres throughout the evening that they would provide at cost for the Event.  Even so, it was clearly more than I could afford to throw the party for the projected attendance.  So, it was time to begin charging for the party.  Thinking about it, I decided that, if I were going to charge these people to come to a party they had helped to grow, it might be more palatable if the "proceeds" went to some worthy charity.  I selected St. Anthony Dining Room as that charity, and the price to attend was $15.00.

 Again, I borrowed about twenty monitors, augmented by a projection screen in the "Grotto" Room.  People were asked to come in Hollywood Formal attire; and we had outfits representing every Era and attitude and many ladies (yes, real women) with delightful hats . . . complete with feathers and glitter.  There are stacks of Black and White photographs in the archives, taken by Tony Plewik, showing all of us looking very young and very excited.  This was my first "public" party/event, and it was a smash (as were many guests).  It could not have been pulled-off without, again, the stalwart assistance of my good friend, John Twomey.

 There were 110 guests at this event, with three large and singularly different rooms on the main level of the restaurant.  The front room was the basic restaurant and bar, with red velvet booths and much woodwork.  This was a room that most readily accommodated the members of the group for whom the Oscars were secondary to who was there, how each individual looked, and what "dish" was available on those who weren't in attendance.  Next to that was The Grotto, complete with stalactites and stalagmites, a projection screen and theatre seating.  The more seriously interested remained in this room for the first part of the evening.  (You will see the rapt expressions on their faces as you check-out the photographs of the evening.)

 In the rear of the restaurant was the Cabaret; complete with a real Italian Gondola that floated in it's own canal along the side of the room, offering exotic romance for a few brief moments for each couple.  As I recall, there was some exotic stuff going-on upstairs between John Witherow and Roger Chew; as they kept disappearing and reappearing throughout the evening.  There were several small offices and unused rooms up there, that were discovered by several for the brief tryst, I am sure. . . )

 After the broadcast, the crowd adjourned to the Cabaret for the announcement of the prizes (who had correctly guessed the Oscar selections -- ballots had been sent and used as the return card) and a series of brief performances by local cabaret talent and stars of Beach Blanket Babylon; including Michael Levesque and Tom Anderson (who is now the Toast of New York, I understand).

 That year, about $400.00 went to St. Anthony Dining Room.

The Fifth Party

Well, now I was on a roll.  This year, I had made the acquaintance of Chip Sullivan (a good story, but one best saved for another time . . .), who was the manager of one of San Francisco's newest Hot Spots, Lily's -- in Embarcadero Center.  Chip was very amenable to holding the 1985 party at his location; so, on to the next level . . .

 Over 200 people in pretty serious Black Tie attended this Event.  Guests entered under a huge, Black-and-Silver Balloon Arch donated by Don and Marie Cheeseman (The Balloon Lady), and were welcomed at the door by Me, John Twomey and waiters with champagne.  (The mylar balloons were a stunning complement to my own shiny braces.)  People began to show up even before the 5pm start time.  Men and women who worked in Embarcadero Center had changed clothes in the bathrooms of their respective companies; entering in their daily business attire, and emerging in Black Tie or Sequined, spaghetti-strapped gowns.  Photographs of this party reveal how good we all looked; the men handsome, the women stunning . . .  The Lily's Party boasted a healthy mix of men and women from The City. 

 This year, some came from as far away as Los Angeles.  . . . And this was the first year that we had actual press after the event.  One of our guests was dancing around Embarcadero Center with one of the Beach Blanket Oscars (again, loaned by Steve Silver), and ended up with his picture in the Examiner, the next afternoon. 

 At that time, I was working for FM Productions; and was able, with the extensive help of Eric MacDougall, to pretty extensively decorate the place with props, curtains, lighting and a mirror ball at marginal cost.  McCune Audio/Visual provided several monitors -- on draped stands -- for labor only (this was the first year that they were involved) so that I no longer needed to borrow televisions from friends.  Chip and his staff did an incredible job on the food and running the evening, and -- as the guests left that evening -- I knew that this was something that could grow and become something much bigger than heretofore envisioned.

 Left over after all expenses were paid was about $400.00, this time for Airlift Africa (remember "We Are The World?").  It didn't seem like much, after all the work that went into putting the thing together.

 This Event had taken quite a bit out of me to throw.  The next day, Mr. Twomey and I had an elegantly protracted lunch on the scene, periodically joined by several friends who dropped-by to congratulate us on the success of the party.  (This lunch has since become tradition.)  As we drank our way through the afternoon, suddenly I completely lost it and began to cry.  A lot.  I now attribute it to complete exhaustion (and, not a little champagne); but, I could not stop crying.  John Twomey and John Witherow took me home and put me to bed.

 At that point, Twomey was of the opinion that I would be crazy to do it again.  (Nowadays, of course, I am quite accustomed to being accused of this trait.  I think it is the key to my own success.)  I must admit, that I was seriously taken-aback with the physical manifestation of the exhaustion of doing this thing single-handedly from start to finish.  As the next year began to loom on the foreseeable horizon, and people were asking me where the Oscar Party was going to be held, I became perplexed as to what to do.  The potential was there to be realized, but I was not sure that I was up to the task.

 One evening during the fall of 1985, I was having dinner at the home of my good friend, Dan Bunker; and the subject of the Oscar Party came up.  I shared my misgivings with Dan, and expressed much frustration at the amount of work it took to bring this thing off.  Dan thought for a moment, then looked me right in the eye and brightly said, "Well, why don't you form a Committee?"  An obvious suggestion, that I had not even seen!  Good ol' Dan. . .

The Sixth Party

So, as the 1986 Event loomed, I began to approach several individuals in the same business as myself in order to put together a manageable team that could pull this off.

 Since food is the single most important element of any event of this genre, I first approached an acquaintance, Timothy Maxson.  Timothy was the proprietor of the most "Important" and successful catering company in San Francisco, Taste.  He and I had met through Charlotte Mailliard and Rita Barela, and I felt that I could reasonably approach him.  My pitch to Timothy was that, were he to manage the food, then everything else could be covered; but that I needed to look to him to source the raw materials through donations, and for his company to elegantly prepare the abundant hors d'oeuvres at extremely low cost. . . or even free!

 After Timothy, I went to Russ Alley; local Bon Vivant and Man About Town.  He also knew all the columnists and several other journalists in San Francisco.  He enthusiastically joined the group.  After Russ, came several friends and acquaintances, each with expertise in some area of Event Production; Laurel Burch - design and esthetics, Rita Barela - Major Event Production (Black & White Ball), Michael D. Miller - Tents (HDO), Charles H. Duggan - Theatrical Production, Kirk Frederick - Graphics and Press, Chip Sullivan -- Catering, style and Black-as-the-new-neutral-color-for-the-with-it-wardrobe, Michael R. Murphy to see to it that standards were set and maintained and -- of course -- my friend and partner-in-crime, John Twomey, for creative solutions to the unforeseen and guest-list expansion.

 Concurrent with the formation of the Committee was the addressing of another overriding concern, and that was money.  These donations, as I mention above, seemed piddling in the face of the effort it took to produce these parties, and the number of people in attendance.  The only answer to this, I extrapolated, was to manage to have the Event underwritten, so that 100% of the ticket price paid by the quests would go to the selected charity, and the question of "proceeds" (meaning, of course, profit) would be eliminated.  Every cent paid to attend the party would be "profit," and thus would we have our contribution.

 With this in mind and the Christmas season approaching, I found myself at a Holiday Party in the home of Kevin Corcoran and John Twomey, and face-to-face with my first prospect, Mr. Larry Colton.  Larry is the first person from whom I ever requested a monetary donation.  I explained to him the potential for generating funds as contribution that I perceived in the Friends of Oscar Party, and my hope that I could get the entire event underwritten, so that I could guarantee that all of the ticket price would go to charity.  I further explained that, if he could see his way clear to give me $500.00 to start this fund, that I thought I could use his participation as a lever with which to encourage others to make similar gestures.

 Larry gave me the $500.00, and another milestone in this organization's history had passed!  Following Larry, I was successful in eliciting contributions from Charles Duggan, Kevin Corcoran, Laurel Burch and a few anonymous underwriters. 


I knew that the party would likely surpass 300 in attendance, based on previous experience.  Therefor, I set about seeking yet another location.  Lily's wouldn't be big enough, and I wasn't familiar with any other restaurateurs, save Dan Smith -- and Alta Plaza was already too small for the size group I foresaw.  Someone -- I think it was Russ Alley -- mentioned a wonderful mansion adjacent to the home of Mel and Lia Belli (at the time, anyway, they lived in the same house . . .), owned by a gentleman by the name of Edward Estreito.  One night, shortly after that, I happened to be in Alta Plaza speaking to Jay Morton and mentioned the Estreito mansion.  Lo and behold, Jay was well-acquainted with Mr. Estreito, and had done business with the man.  He promised to facilitate a meeting.

 Doing better than that, Jay arranged and hosted an intimate luncheon at Rick's Restaurant on Fillmore Street.  In his own inimitable style, Jay laid the groundwork with a glowing introduction of me and of the Event, and opened the gates for me to ask Ed for the use of his home for the Event.  Ed took us back to his house and gave a tour: one look, and I knew it would infuse an elegance and style the party deserved.  We shook hands on the deal. 

 Shortly thereafter, Michael Miller, Russ, John Twomey and I returned to the house to plan the Event.  This was the beginning of Mr. Millers crowning glory; in that he proposed to tent the atrium of the house, creating a room of the courtyard and ensuring that there would, indeed be plenty of space for the party to take place.  This was the first time the atrium had ever been tented (and, I think, it has only been attempted once since that time).


Henry Janowsky (who has since found a lover and moved to Washington, D.C.) designed the invitation for this year.  The design was reversed (from Black-on-Grey) and used again in 1987, (in Gold Foil on Solid Black).  It more-or-less became the "look" of Friends of Oscar through 1988; during this greatest period of growth.  It is important to look-over the invitation to see who contributed toward seeing these realized at no cost.  I approached Kirk Frederick, whom I had met through Steve Silver at Beach Blanket Babylon, to oversee the typesetting and printing.  First California Press (whom I had come to know through my work for the Mayor's office, beginning in 1984) printed the invitations for free, and continued to do so for several years.  Golden State Embossing -- a contact of Laurel Burch -- entered the scene in 1988, when we added the Gold Foil to the design.  As the project grew, Kirk involved several other suppliers and craftsbeings in order to keep the burden light.

 Admission, this year, rose to $35.00


It was pretty clear that AIDS wasn't going-away, and the decision that stood to be made was which of the few (at that time) agencies in San Francisco were most in need -- and deserving -- of assistance.  One afternoon, I received a telephone call from Russ with the information that he had met a wonderful woman who was responsible for Development at something called Coming Home Hospice in Noe Valley.  Her name was Debra Friedland (in later years, Debra Kent Friedland and is now -- as of this writing -- Debra Kent), and the Hospice had received little notice in the shadow of other, larger organizations in The City. 

 I liked the idea of assistance given to an organization not, perhaps, in the main stream of people's consciousness.  One that could use a little publicity and the potential for the building of a Donor Base through the Oscar Party.  Thus, Coming Home Hospice became our beneficiary for that year, as well as the first AIDS agency to receive funds from Friends of Oscar.  (Addressing, stuffing, sealing and posting of the invitations were to fall to this organization in exchange for the contribution, as well.)


Well, the party was FABulous, of course; and was already setting a standard in San Francisco, out-distancing any other event taking-place that evening.  Shiny, fancy cars and limousines were lined-up at the Valet (our first year for Valet parking -- Flying Dutchman), and over 500 guests flowed through the gates to the party, most of them -- again -- arriving between 5 and 6pm. 

 As people arrived at the door, they were handed a glass of champagne (donated by John Scharffenberger and poured free and freely throughout the evening); and, for everyone who had responded to the invitation, a hand-calligraphed (by Lisa Jear, a friend of Laurel's) envelope containing the program was waiting (as the indication that they had already paid), which they could pick-up and enter the party.  Guests walked past a receiving line consisting of The Committee.  My philosophy behind this was to insure that everyone would see at least one familiar face as they entered the Event.  This de-stressing facet of our evening has, I remain confident, continued to make a substantial difference in people's experience of our work.

 For that first hour, Peter Mintun performed (as a donation) in the now-canopied atrium on a White Baby Grand Piano (donated by Russell Kassman).  Michael Rayner and his team of six independent florists had done a truly spectacular job with the flowers -- white daisies and stuff were everywhere -- and the food was unique and truly abundant, served from corners of every room!  Again, television monitors were everywhere (I had returned to borrowing at least fifteen of the monitors -- all cabled together) with a projection screen in The Big Room, provided by Photo and Sound Company.

 The shellfish were the big attraction, with a very impressive display in the courtyard that did not run out of Shrimp until well-after ten pm.  In addition to that, there was fresh pasta being served by FAZ, incredible sweets by that sweet ol' Michael Butusov, and a plethora of delights for the eye and mouth throughout the mansion.

 Thanks to a little legwork by Russ Alley, two television stations had entertainment reporters out front at the opening of the party, and one station broadcast the late weather from the spot.

 One anecdote: I had been after Allan Rosen, a friend of mine since 1971 (and, later, a Board Member) to come to this party for years.  This year, he and a (female) friend flew up from Los Angeles to stay at the St. Francis and come to the Event.  They flew-in, raced to the hotel, changed into Black Tie and grabbed a cab to come to the Party.  As the doors closed, and Allan was searching himself for the invitation to tell the Driver where he was going, the cabbie took one look at the two of them and said, "Don't tell me, I already know; it's that big Oscar thing out on Broadway.   The only thing happening in town, tonight!"  This, before the sun had even set!

  After the Event, people in Black Tie poured out of Pacific Heights and showed-up in bars and cabarets all across The City (though, for the most part, in certain areas of town . . .)  The mood was too infectious for people to go right home, and their presence and demeanor later that night was the best advertisement such an event could have with regard to continuing to increase participation in coming years.  (I only wish I had gone out, that night.  Kevin Corcoran convinced John Twomey and I that everyone would go right home to bed, as it was a "school night."  Apparently, we were the only two to believe that one; some people are just old before their time . . .)

 The next day, John Twomey and I returned to finish the clean-up.  Most striking, of course, were the remains of the shellfish centerpiece from the evening before, now a pile of extremely ripe refuse in the center of the atrium courtyard.  Ed was not pleased.  We cleaned-up, the HDO people came to take the canopy, and several individuals dropped-by to pick-up their televisions.  After delivering six or seven of them to their rightful owners, and after the others had left with their units, there were still three sets left at the house.  We put them in a closet, in case their owners should come by for them.

 Remaining unclaimed for a few weeks, these televisions languished in the closet until John Twomey, Michael Miller and I decided to give them to Coming Home Hospice as part of the Donation.  No inquiry has ever been made as to these televisions, and I have no idea who brought them to the party.  The epitome of the anonymous donor.

 The Event had graduated to an exceptionally professional and well-produced party.  All who attended had a great time, and the level of participation from the community was of great significance.  Restaurateurs, Technical support companies, wholesalers, florists and decorators, all sorts of suppliers with whom I had preciously come into contact through my own work or who were friends or acquaintances of other members of the committee took part in support of a cause that was still shrouded in the most bleak and darkest of mysteries.  These people participated openly and to the fullest extent, laying the foundation for what the organization and Event has become and -- I am confident -- setting the standard to which many, if not all, other organizations still aspire; surpassed only by Friends of Oscar/Academy of Friends each year.

 It was very clear to me, as the dust settled, that we had something here; something that could continue to grow and be of use to the community, as well.  Several individuals were made aware of Coming Home Hospice for the first time through this Event.  Further, this was a segment of the community not only unfamiliar and uncomfortable with giving money away (they didn't like to pay to go to any Party, unless it was the Galleria on New Year's Eve); as a group, they were very resistant to the idea.  This year's Event was a turning point, I think, in the collective consciousness of our community.  The simple magic of numbers multiplying the individual $35.00 contributions into a many thousands of very public dollars greatly enhanced that newfound consciousness.  Arm-in-arm with this new state of mind came a developing sense of responsibility to one's fellows and one's community.

 This is not to say that Friends of Oscar was, necessarily the only impetus toward this new consciousness, or even the first.  We were, however, a significant and incontrovertible factor in these metamorphoses.

  Realizing this, I also appreciated the value of the mailing list which, up until now, consisted pretty-much of my own address list.  This was around the time that other producers and charities began to ask me to loan the list to them for their own reasons.  I decided that my commitment to those on the list was part discretion and part insurance.  Anything that I had any responsibility for someone receiving an invitation should also have my guarantee of quality.  I didn't see an over-abundance of quality in the business of Event production at that time.  I still don't.

The Seventh One

As I recall, the Committee met once or twice over the summer, just to touch base and do preliminary planning for the 1987 Party.  The Friends of Oscar Committee had grown, by this time, to fifteen people.  In addition to the previous year's group, I had invited Dan Bunker (the Committee was his idea, after all), Darlene Darata (with whom I had become acquainted through FM Productions), Rhonda Beran (whom I had met and befriended in Newport, Rhode Island -- she is tremendous at all-around organization, and significantly raised the group's Glamour Factor) and Larry Hashbarger (for obvious, historical reasons Of Great Magnitude And Portent).

 [Soon after the first of the year, Laurel stepped-down from the Committee, due to pressure from her business, but has remained a supporter both financially and in spirit since that time.]

 As Fall approached, the club scene South of Market began to hit the first of several resurgences of glamour, spearheaded by the mysterious Dr. Winkie.  Russ Alley (of course) knew Dr. Winkie, and suggested that we hold the Event at his new Club DV8.  In fact, Russ handled the negotiation with the good Doctor, and arranged for us to continue our tradition of pouring free champagne throughout the evening.  (This ultimately proved a better deal than we had originally anticipated; as Dr. Winkie failed to lower his bar prices that evening as he had promised -- keeping them at the $4 - $5 level and teaching us a lesson about negotiation in the process.)

 Benefactors/underwriters for this year's Event grew to ten in number, with a fundraising goal of $5,000 being exceeded by $2,500 for a total of $7,500.  The entire party cost less than that!  (Those days are certainly gone . . . !)

 The beneficiary was, again, Coming Home Hospice.  In the meetings and months prior to the Event, and after much discussion, we decided to go with the Hospice for one more year.  With this support, we could provide the funds needed for completion of the Dining Room in the facility, and it would then be named, the "Friends of Oscar Dining Room."  Cool.  They still needed the help, and the other major AIDS agencies in town were getting plenty of Press and attention, so we set aside our precedent of yearly change (or, change with each event) in order to more-or-less finish the job we had initiated with Coming Home Hospice.

 I think we had between 600 and 700 guests that year.  The place looked incredible.  Photo and Sound donated 20 monitors and support technology and crew, and Macy's added about ten to that.  Bob Hartmann's columns returned with even greater style (he re-painted them for the event in colors specified by Larry Hashbarger and Michael Miller); and DV8 never looked quite as glamorous as with our touch.  Again, Peter Mintun played the white Baby Grand on a stage until six, at which time the projection screen lowered to hide the stage until raffle time, following the broadcast.  The programs were re-shaped so as to fit in a coat-pocket or purse and be taken home, rather than contributing to the refuse pile (as we had encountered the previous year).

 We had Fratelli Bologna Paparazzi out front, we had Ladies Against Women screaming and shouting and asking for autographs of the guests as they strode down a red carpet to find the Board waiting to greet them at the door -- again, with champagne.  Two live Oscars with Terminator glasses (another Russ Alley touch) stood on either side of the entryway within the club; which was draped to within an inch of it's life at the hand of the infamous Michael Miller.  Ben Vereen and Jim Bailey were in attendance (interviewed on television to surface on Entertainment Tonight the next evening).

 Peachy's Puffs circulated through the party, giving-away chocolates, candy cigarettes, and various "party favours."  They added quite a flavor to the Event, and were to return the next two years, as well.

 The only potential disaster was the coincidence that Laurel Burch had on a Fabulous Gold Lame Gown in the exact same material as Russ Alley's Gold Lame Dinner Jacket.  (Why, if they had both been women, we probably would have been witness to a screaming Cat Fight.  Fortunately, an incident was diplomatically averted.)  Standing next to one another for the entire evening, they looked as though it could not have been planned any better.

 Admission was $50.00, and over $25,000 was raised that evening.

 We had discussed some sort of post-event at another site.  However, once we decided upon DV8, we decided to hold the post-Event there; in that it was, in fact, a nightclub!  This worked-out beautifully!  Dancing after the awards proved the perfect addition (though, it proved too much for some, who lost all sense of decorum in the process).  Many a reputation was happily tarnished that evening.

 In order to appropriately acknowledge our underwriters, we attempted to use Club Prive', in the basement of DV8, as a VIP entertainment space; where the drinks would be free, the ambience a little quieter and there would generally be space to sit down.  An escape.  As identification, we used GlowSticks (such as can now be found at Disneyland, after dark) on the wrists of Committee, Special Guests and Underwriters.  Though the atmosphere was nice, the reality backfired on us in that it tended to create "classes" within the Event, became crowded with too many guests, and ended-up costing us the proverbial armandaleg! 

 It was the Club Prive' experience that led to the tradition of Underwriter's Acknowledgment functions scheduled for the preceding Saturday evening in a compatible and controllable space.

 The post-Event luncheon continued to grow, and was moved to Rosalie's on Van Ness Avenue, where we all awaited the reviews the next day, protected from reality by Bloody Mary's and dark glasses.  We had expanded far beyond John Twomey and myself accepting accolades to the majority of the Board and a veritable parade of guests coming through.  The reviews were great from every sector, with press in both papers.  Still, the portent of things to come . . .

The Eighth . . . Gala

After a wrap meeting, there followed a brief respite over the Summer.  During that time, I considered again the growth potential for the organization.  It was clearly an institution of sorts by now.  People were approaching me as the Summer drew to a close, asking me where the Event would take place the coming year, et cetera.  There really wasn't any question that we would continue.  In what form would we continue remained the big question. 

 Charles Duggan had raised the issue of incorporation.  He was strongly in favor of Friends Of Oscar incorporating for the protection of all.  This process sparked several other issues, and I felt that we should address them, take a look at where we were going, and decide just how serious an organization we were going to become.

 For my part, Friends of Oscar had become a driving force in my own life.  I could seldom enter any new space without assessing it's potential as an Oscar Gala site.  In my own business, I was producing Grand Openings of several hotels during that time, and had developed strong relationships with several Public Relations, Sales and Catering principals around town.  As regards fundraising; people began to good-naturedly try to avoid me at parties once the Fall Season commenced, as they knew I was likely to hit them up for underwriting or the donation of a Prize for the Ballot Raffle. 

 On the other hand, it was not unusual for me to be approached by some administrator or Board member of any local agency whenever I was out in public.  (Even when I was attempting a romantic tryst!)  Friends of Oscar was constantly on my mind, and I was generally considering some aspect of the organization's future.  The party had grown to the extent that there was no "season" to it's administration.

 So, I called a The Committee together at the home of Michael Miller and Rhonda Beran to initiate more formal discussion of our future.  At that meeting, several of these issues were raised and discussed, and each individual was asked to share his or her personal vision for where the organization could go.  All issues were raised and purposely tabled for a month, until October (as I recall).  The idea was to ruminate for a period and then meet, resolve and move forward or not.

 The Big Meeting was scheduled for Lunch and beyond in the Library Room at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.  I had produced the Grand Opening of that property, and a Happy Client (Diane Shields) contributed the space at no cost to us.  Michael Graz, the (very sympathetic and very attractive) Catering Director gave me the food at cost, and the ubiquitous Michael Rayner did a veeeery tasteful job of floral work, as a gift.  It was very professional, very structured and very impressive (as I remember . . . ).  We went to work.

 In the interim, John Twomey had been approached by Ric Chanon of the legal form of Morrison and Foerster (he has since died of AIDS) who suggested that he would like to handle our legal work as it arose.  His supervisor, Keith Wetmore (a Major 'Mo!) was generously supportive of the idea, and Draft Articles of Incorporation were drawn-up for the meeting. 

 I had asked Debra Friedland to join the Committee (Soon-To-Be-Board) as a result of our experience of her over the previous two years.  I also invited Clifford Colvin to join-up; his business sense and level of commitment were impressive and he would prove an asset to the group.  A very powerful, sensitive and creative group convened that day at The Mandarin: a group that would come to mean much to the Communities of San Francisco. 

  At that meeting, we decided to incorporate.  Morrison and Foerster had offered to support and shepherd us, pro bono.  We accepted.  Among those things formalized at that meeting was the philosophy that we would continue to raise money for AIDS Direct-care Agencies (rather than research or other support) "until the crisis has passed."  Up until the epidemic, money had been raised for charities in most imminent need.  We decided to continue that policy within this proscribed spectrum.  Remaining responsive to the community while avoiding any political entanglements as are wont to arise from affiliation with a single agency or group.

 Elections were held at that meeting, with members of The Committee being elected to one, two or three-year terms in order to initiate the rotation.  In the following weeks, the By Laws were written and the decision to hold annual meetings in June was made.  All in all, we were now "official."


Later that Fall, sometime in November or December, I think; I was having dinner with my friend, Marcia Makely at the Hotel Nikko (another just-opened luxury hotel) in the restaurant that overlooks the white-marbeled atrium lobby.  She was rhapsodizing on the quality and value of Friends of Oscar, and mentioned that if there were anything that she could ever do, well I should just ask. . .

 I turned and looked-out at the lobby, pondering that offer, and said, "Do you suppose we could hold the Event here?"  Marcia thought excitedly, then said that she was afraid that their Ballroom wouldn't hold an Event the size of our party.  I replied, "Ballroom?  I want the whole place: the Atrium, the Ballroom and the three floors in-between!"

 The short story is, we got the space.  Thus was launched The Event That Made Us Famous.

 We did this one perfectly!  Guests (we passed 900 this year) had the front doors opened by handsome Grimme' models (thanks to Dan Bunker), stepped into a white marble foyer dominated by a huge, balloon-draped film slate (FM Productions/Darlene Darata).  As they passed into this foyer, a team of volunteers with clipboards and Oscar stickers checked-them into the party.  Turning, the guests mounted a sparkling, white-marble stairway flanked with rows of black-and-white clad servers, holding aloft trays of champagne flutes.  At the top of the stairs, as they entered the Atrium, the guests were met with the traditional Receiving Wall Of Board Members. 

 The center of the room was dominated by the grandest pair of Oscar statues seen outside of Shrine Auditorium (thanks to Michael Miller/Ed Martinez).  On each of the three floors; there was food everywhere, there were bars everywhere, there were monitors everywhere, and where there weren't monitors, independent speakers were tucked under stairways and in food displays, so that one could hear the Oscars in every location.  This was the grandest we had done!

 Huge fabric re-creations of movie posters hung in the Atrium.  As the evening progressed, the escalators remained full; a black and white and sequined river, as people rode up, promenaded along the balconies and took in the view from above before descending the staircase or escalator back into the main party area.  In the third-floor ballroom, tables were arranged around the dance floor in preparation for the dancing that would follow the awards.  During this time, however, the room served as a quieter place to watch the awards; with food just outside the doors, and bars open throughout. 

 People were everywhere, all of them smiling.

 After the Broadcast, most convened to the Ballroom for the Prize Drawing.  (Though, everything happening in the ballroom was available throughout the Event on our monitors, as well as in every room of the hotel on their closed-circuit network.)  Unable to find the traditional Punch Bowl for this, Clifford Colvin opted to present all twelve qualifying ballots face-down on a silver tray.  (Style in the face of everything, that's Cliff.)  We gave away the prizes and presented a big ol' check to Ruth Brinker of Project Open Hand (this year's beneficiary).  Then, before the dancing, began, I presented a series of surprises to three who had been fundamental and inspirational in the creation of Friends of Oscar.

 I the weeks prior to the Event, I had worked in secret with the toothsome and glamorous Michael Moser of Tiffany & Co. to conceive and create these three special awards.  diagonally-cut diamond-shaped obelisks, these Awards had the Friends of Oscar Logo engraved on the face (we still used the Oscar statue in those days), along with the date of the Event (4/11/88).  On one of the forward faces was the name of the honoree, and on the other was a phrase that I was heard to utter on occasion, ". . . Like No Business I Know."

 These were presented to Jim Quilty, who had had the original idea to "do it again and call it Friends Of Oscar," to John Twomey, who had made it all possible for so many years by "buying-into" all of my ideas and helping to create them, and to Dan Bunker, a friend through all of this, who had insured the longevity of the organization when I was at a low point by suggesting that we form a Committee.  It was a personal gesture on my part to acknowledge that that night, and several others, would not have happened without the help and support of several.  Friends are what make it work.

 Following that?  Dancing-with-Abandon to the sounds of Big Bang Beat (we added live music that year), with another crazy band playing alternate sets from the other end of the Ballroom.  Both bands played for free (thanks to Rod Marymor of Cardinal Productions) in exchange for free weekends at the Nikko.  The dancing went until midnight.

 During the post celebration was the first time our event hit the networks.  ABC had a reporter and crew there, and -- as they were doing their wraps from Los Angles, they cut to our party twice for interviews (one with me, and one with someone else . . . funny, I only remember my own!).  We were the only Event outside Los Angeles that was covered.  Of course, this did not make the Academy particularly happy.  For much of the following year, Tom Davis (an attorney from Newport Beach and good friend of Allan Rosen -- our first Los Angeles-based Board member -- assisted us in negotiating with the Academy to continue to use the Oscar in our logo.

 No Dice.  Though we continue to have excellent relations with the Academy, and are offered two free tickets to the awards every year from them in support of what we are doing; in order to protect their own copyrights, we had to lose the statue.

 Our Board meetings were now held monthly at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation offices at 25 Van Ness Avenue.  Board member Timothy Maxson -- at an excruciatingly reasonable price -- provided dinner for the meetings, so that the complaint level dropped considerably.

City Hall

 Actually, it didn't start-out to be in City Hall.  Our original target was to have been another new, luxury hotel.  Rhonda Beran did a lot of calling and searching, and finally made an appointment with a "Mr. Brunetti" at the Portman.  It was pretty clear that, in order to do it there, we would need all of the public space and most of the balconies.  The party would be all-over the property.  Elegant, but a little disjointed perhaps.  I had some pretty grand ideas regarding flying projection screens and the like; which will come as no surprise to any of you who know me.

 In any event, Rhonda and I went to see "Mr. Brunetti."  It was a very cordial and productive meeting.  This "Mr. Brunetti" -- handsome and efficient, with just a touch of attitude -- certainly knew his business and his property.  Unfortunately, the Ballroom was already reserved for another Oscar Event, but we went forward with plans for involving the Hotel in some way.  The need, of course, remained for a Host Hotel for our out of town guests, as well as the various pre-Event receptions.  As the meeting closed, "Mr. Brunetti" had come to be known as Dave (and, in later years, to "Missy"), and the groundwork was laid for the Portman to host the Underwriter's Reception and to be the destination hotel for the out-of-towners.

 As we left the hotel, Rhonda was all a-twitter!  Completely enamored of Dave, she vowed to "have him" (whatever that means . . .) before this Event was through.  She simply could not accept my own assertion that it was wildly obvious that he was likely not inclined to do much more than tease her hair and borrow her purse.  As time passed, the proclivities of "Mr. Brunetti" became less of a mystery to all. 

As we continued to seek an appropriate space for the Event, Fleet Week came and went.  As I was producing that celebration in City Hall, it occurred to me that the City Hall Rotunda was the perfect place for our own Gala.  That became the target, and -- eventually -- the reality.

 I won't go expand on the hoops through which we were made to jump in bringing this off in that venue.  Although I had produced over thirty Civic-sponsored major events (including the previous  year's Mayoral Inaugural) there and knew the property and the people who ran it very well, the Mayor's own staff were those who made the project the most difficult.  We did get through that, though; and moved forward.


This was the year of what some refer to as the first "February Speech."  By now, the Portman was hosting our meetings in the FABulous penthouse meeting room.  This time of year, things always got a little tense, as the deadlines for fundraising to underwrite the Event encroached.  We had bitten-off quite a chunk in taking-on City Hall as a venue; in that one simply cannot produce an event of this genre at City Hall without Indoor fireworks in the Dome and a balloon drop.  Well, I can't, anyway! 

 In any case, we were at February, and had only raised about a third of the cost of the party.  I opened the meeting with a pretty strongly-worded and terse speech about how there was a very strong possibility that the Event would not happen, if Board members didn't get off their butts and meet the fundraising goals.  (Each time I hear this story re-told, the speech grows more grand and more colorful; which is fine with me.  Just as long as they keep spelling my name right . . .)  Suffice it to say that it worked, and we raised the money.


Our Honorary Co-Chairs for the Event were Hon. Art Agnos, Mayor of San Francisco, and Hon. Nancy Pelosi, our Representative to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Nancy and her husband, Paul, were wonderfully easy to work-with (thanks in no small part to the late Scott Douglass, her good friend and our Board member); the Mayor and his wife were more in need of education as to the significance of our Event.

 My two favorite stories of Art and Sherry Agnos (who, I must add, are exceptional people and have become strongly supportive of Friends of Oscar/Academy of Friends as a result of the experience) center around their physical participation, once they had accepted the positions of Honorary Co-Chairs.

 The first was a conversation I had with Sherry Agnos, in which she informed me that they might not be able to make it, that night.  It took some time and diplomacy; but I explained to her that, even though they may have chaired several events that they did not attend, this was not acceptable at a Friends of Oscar function.  Essentially, if one's name is on the invitation, attendance is mandatory.  I explained this to her, and did the behind-the-scenes diplomatic thing, as well.

 They consented to attend.

 Better, of course, was dealing with Agnos' staff on the logistics of the attendance.  I spent much time with one of his assistants (who shall remain unnamed), explaining the format of the evening.  The doors were to open at 5:30 (since City Hall Closes at 5:00, and the 1/2 hour was needed for the changeover), the telecast was to begin at six.  At approximately 9:00 or 9:30, the telecast would conclude; at which time, the Board members and Honorary Chairs were to be presented in procession, similar to that conducted at inaugurals and Fleet weeks.  I explained that the telecast is sacrosanct, as it is the focal point of the Event, and a fundamental reason people attend. 

 After that, the assistant telephoned me to inform me that the Mayor would arrive at 7:30, be presented and speak at that time, and perhaps not be able to remain much beyond 8:30.  This did not set well with me.  I laboriously explained that the Mayor, as Chair, should be there as close to the beginning of the Event as possible, so that guests could meet him as they entered.  I further clarified that he would not speak prior to the end of the telecast, and would be expected -- at that time -- to enter down the Grand Staircase and speak opposite Nancy Pelosi at the appropriate moment.

 The conversation ended rather abruptly.

 The evening of the Event, the Agnos' arrived at 6:15, and went to their table on the Mayor's Balcony, where we had experimented with a reserved-seating system that year (the only year we tried it!).  The smile on the mayor's face grew and grew, as he encountered several political and social operatives.  He kept saying, "I know these people!  I know them!"  At the end of the telecast and the Mayor's speech, we gave away the prizes, announced how much money had been raised, and I informed the throng that this was not the last Oscar Party.  (Rumours had been rampant.)

 Then, the entire group sang "Happy Birthday" to Sherry Agnos, tethered balloon bouquets were released into the air, the fireworks went off and Big Bang Beat sent the energy into the Stratosphere.  Again, we had a raging success on our hands.


We had about 1100 in attendance that year, I think.  I think, too, that we charged $75.00 (after much spirited discussion).  Valet parking was provided by Pansini corporation (thanks to David Collins).  Again, guests were met at the door by the entire Board of Directors, trays of champagne, and monitors visible from the moment they entered.

 The entire first two floors of City Hall were ours.  Monitors and speakers on both levels, with a 16'x20' rear projection screen at the top of the Grand Stairway.  As the beneficiaries, Board of Directors and Honorary Co-Chairs were introduced and entered down the staircase in three's, they were musically accompanied by a (pirated by our own Allan Rosen) copy of John Williams' Olympic March (which, heretofore, had been jealously guarded by NBC) as they came down the stairs.  It was all pretty Grand.

 The Nikko Event had brought the organization well-into the spotlight.  Mounting the Extravaganza at City Hall imbued Friends of Oscar with a certain credibility, securing for it a respected place in our community and in the City of San Francisco that will continue to serve it well, long into the future.  Having, as the Honorary Chairs, Mayor Agnos and Representative Pelosi certainly augmented the reputation we had been nurturing.

 Friends of Oscar was here to stay.  (Except, of course, as 1989 closed, we got the word from the Academy that -- due to the fact that we had become so prominent, and a threat to the sanctity of their copyright -- we must change our name.)

 As 1990 loomed, I decided that it was time for me to step down from the organization and let it continue to grow from fresh input and -- if you will -- new blood.  I informed the Executive Committee that I would remain on-board through the 1990 Gala, then depart the organization altogether.  Larry Hashbarger agreed to accept the responsibilities of Chairing the Gala (so, I shall leave the stories of mounting same to him!), and I remained in position until May of 1990; as I prepared to move to Los Angeles and initiate a new career in film (behind the camera).


 As the projected period of my departure loomed, we of the Executive Committee talked long and hard about how the organization was to be run in the future.  During the years from 1984 to 1989, I had devoted nearly 75% of my own time to administration of this organization.  Not only is much time required to manage daily and monthly issues that arise, and to plan and execute the management of the annual gala, but Friends of Oscar had expanded to envelope several film premieres and Theatrical Opening Nights along the way.  Each of these demanded another chunk of time in the sourcing of performance or projection material (plays or films), and necessitated the mounting of the same set of ancillary events surrounding it, at the same level of professionalism, that the Gala required.

  As these events occurred on our agenda, we tried different forms of "handing off" part of the responsibility in order to alleviate the burden on the Board -- and me -- in getting these Events off the ground.  We tried Co-Producing, which carried it's own inherent dangers in trusting organization and smooth execution to other organizations with what turned-out to be lesser standards.  No good.  We attempted the hiring of Administrative Beings on an Event-By-Event basis.  That worked a little better, but not as well as it needed to in order to maintain the standards we had set.

 Finally, I developed a plan for an Administrative Director for the organization.  There was -- and remains -- a need for an individual (or individuals) that could administer the workings of the organization, maintain the files and act as caretaker to the History of the organization as it continued to mature.  These are functions that I had handled as we grew; but, with the advent of my departure, it was clearly unrealistic to think that any member of the board would be willing -- or able -- to devote the time required to appropriately cover these responsibilities in a manner that would support the organization.  The major stumbling block to this plan was, of course, that this individual had to be paid, and we had no operating capital!

 So.  I approached an acquaintance of mine with this request for major underwriting of this position.  Until this time, I had become pretty comfortable hitting people up for donations and underwriting in amounts as great as $2,500.00 to $5,000.00.  This little project, however, was to require more than twice what I had ever requested before.  To my mind, however, this was the only way to preserve the organization.  Friends of Oscar required a support structure for the Board to be able to continue the work for which it had become so well known.

 After much discussion and thought, Geoffrey Etienne graciously bequest Friends of Oscar a very significant grant for the underwriting of an Administrative Director and related office expenses.  The Grant was given in the form of a Matching-Grant, that we were required to cover by other means in order to maintain it.  The Board accepted the grant, and we set about the search for a candidate.

 The Executive Committee hired Thom O'Brien, who provided us with a good test situation for the job from January through the 1990 Gala.  Our experience with Thom gave us the opportunity to restructure the original plan, and -- after his departure in May of that year, the Board developed a structure that is, I think, still in effect as of this writing.

 The Gala of 1990 was spectacular.  I shall leave it to Larry Hashbarger, the Chair of the 1990 Gala and the Friends of Oscar Board Chair-elect to describe the Event and fill in the details of 1990 and the years that followed.  He can best describe the selection of a new name, the institution of the Individual Award that was initiated in '90, and all the fun things that have taken place under his administration.  I would hope, too, that Larry, Geoffrey, and all ensuing Chairs of the organization would -- and will -- maintain this Historical document for the organization.

 We have built something that makes a significant difference to our community, and is respected across the U.S. as an organization with the highest standards of creativity, production and integrity of contribution.  Prior to us, there were no organizations that produced Events where 100% of the ticket price is given to the beneficiary organization.  Even today, this sort of Event integrity is rare.  The members of the Board can be very proud of what they have accomplished, and continue to develop and maintain.

 Someday, AIDS will be wiped out.  Someday.  Until then, there is such a need for organizations who give so completely of their time and make it so easy for communities to support themselves in filling the needs that exist.  Once AIDS has been vanquished, needs will continue to arise.  It is my hope that Friends of Oscar/Academy of Friends continues to seek out the unanswered crises and respond.  Much as we began by sending food to the Tenderloin and supplies to Airlift Africa, we can continue to support community needs where they exist.

 I take this opportunity to express my gratitude for having such selfless and hard-working friends who would enroll in my little idea, and help to build it into what it has become.  Keep up the good work, and keep the faith.  You all are needed, and the love of humanity you express through this work is inspirational to many whom we will never know.




Other Events that Friends of Oscar produced during my tenure as Chair were:

Film Premieres:


                Sammy and Rosie Get Laid

                Torch Song Trilogy

                Longtime Companion

Opening Nights, Legitimate Theatre

                The Dreamer and the Runner

                Acting Shakespeare with Ian MacKellan

                Les Miserables


The parameters upon which this organization has built its reputation are pretty-much as follows:

 1) Food and Drink should always be within easy reach.

 2) People should always be able to view the Oscars in a manner they find comfortable.  Sitting, standing, seeing it all or seeing the most famous few, the guests should find it better to be at the Event than to remain at home.

 3) All guests should be within view of a television screen at all times.

 4) No matter how far from a screen, guests should always be able to hear the broadcast.  (This often meant planting speakers under stairways and in food displays in order to supplement the sound without discomfort to those closer to the screens.)

 5) The Event should make Black Tie fun.

 6) There should be a mystique around the Event, primarily in it's location; with the philosophy that moving the location every year provides undeniable major interest from the guests in returning to it, and keeps the Event vital and alive.

 7) Abundance and elegance are the watchwords of anything the organization produces.  We should not run out of food or anything else distributed free to the guests, ever.

 8) The organization should refrain from any permanent affiliations of any kind, remaining completely true to itself.  Beneficiaries should be changed or rotated with each event, in order to avoid any political situations and in order to preserve the integrity of Friends of Oscar.

 9) Beneficiary organizations are to be called-upon to provide significant volunteer in the production of the Event (stuffing and mailing, et cetera).

 10) The Board is a working board in the most complete interpretation of that term.

 11) The Event should be up and running 30 minutes prior to scheduled start time, so that even the first guest finds the Event ready to go and complete.

 12) Each Event is designed for the ease of the guest, such that the guest feels welcome and completely a part of the Evening from the moment the doors are passed.  [This is the thought behind the Board being at the very front door of Each Event to help with seating and greeting.  This guarantees that even the very first guests will encounter a familiar face immediately upon entering.  This subtly alleviates a stress that few organizations recognize, and it is one of the primary factors in the success of our productions.]

 13)  There is no substitute for planning, detail and rehearsal.  One of my greatest fears is hearing words like, "Oh Well, it's for a good cause. . ."  No one should make excuses or justify a failing on the part of our organization.  We set the standard, and we must maintain it; especially in hard financial times.

 Keep up the good work!