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Give Us Liberty or At Least Give Us Dinner

“I’ve got news for the conservatives,” said the Reverend EUGENE WILLIAMS at the LIBERTY HILL FOUNDATION’s annual Upton Sinclair Dinner after receiving the group’s Change Maker Award. “We only look dead. We shall rise again.” The limousine liberals — hmm, make that Prius progressives — who filled the BEVERLY HILTON cheered. Actress JUDITH LIGHT, L.A. City Councilman–elect ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA and Council Member ERIC GARCETTI, and KCRW’s ROBERT SCHEER were just a few of the forward thinkers looking for some intellectual comfort. Liberty Hill founder SARAH PILLSBURY said the last few years felt like a trip down Alice’s rabbit hole, where the Queen of Hearts “looks like George W.” Liberty Hill also handed out awards to Taco Bell heir and philanthropist ROB McKAY, right-winger-turned-freethinker ARIANNA HUFFINGTON and playwright EVE ENSLER. “This is the woman who taught me how to love vaginas,” actor DYLAN McDERMOTT said of his stepmother Ensler, causing most of the ladies in the room to swoon. Actors LISA GAY HAMILTON and JULIA ORMOND, along with poet GIOCONDA BELLI, got plenty of applause for reading snippets from Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. Comedian and talk-show host BILL MAHER introduced his friend Huffington, noting that her political transformation “fucked up our booking grid.” It was Huffington’s night, with the statuesque redhead telling the crowd, “Welcome to my bat mitzvah.” She noted that the foundation “sounds like one of those celebrity treatment centers. I like to tell people I went to Liberty Hill for Republican detox.” If only a few more would check in.

—CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

TO MEL AND BACK

“That’s what nearly 40 years in show biz will get you in this town,” cracked a wag waiting in the endless loo queue when GOLDIE HAWN, along with KATE HUDSON, jumped the line during the opening-night intermission of poo-bah of the preposterous MEL BROOKS’ beyond-boffo THE PRODUCERS at the PANTAGES THEATER, where JASON ALEXANDER and MARTIN SHORT gloriously chomped the scenery. The only consolation for the ladies in waiting was that the gents’ line was just as long. Now that must be a first. But then it was such a fabulously over-the-top eve — onstage and off — the kind of night when you might, as one fellow later recounted, find yourself doing your whiz biz while standing between BILLY CRYSTAL and STEVEN WEBER, and trying not to peek. Or perhaps you elbowed
DAVID HASSELHOFF and PAMELA BACH out of the way so you could get a better look at TOM HANKS and RITA WILSON. Maybe you wondered why DENNIS MILLER continues to smirk or how much money it would take to get someone to marry LARRY KING. Perhaps you eavesdropped on DICK VAN PATTEN as you walked the world’s longest red carpet from the Pantages to the PALLADIUM (yes, there were shuttles for those who didn’t want to scuff up their Manolos), glammed-up beyond recognition for the awesome after-party. Everybody who looked like somebody was (although in some cases that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, sorry to say: RICHARD LEWIS appeared to be auditioning for a remake of The Night of the Living Dead). And then there was the usual “Is that DORIS ROBERTS or is that ESTELLE HARRIS?” confusion. It turned out to be both. In fact, it seemed, between the A-listers, the has-beens, the back-agains, the on-the-way-ups and the not-even-closes, that celebs outnumbered the regular folks. It was almost unnerving. But star watching wasn’t strictly the province of us nobodies: Heads were spinning faster than Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist to rate who was with whom, where they were sitting and how long they got on the red carpet. Among the gawking and being gawked: ANNE BANCROFT, GARY SHANDLING, DOM DeLUISE, JOHN RAITT, MacKENZIE PHILLIPS, CLORIS LEACHMAN, JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, CHRISTOPHER GUEST and JAMIE LEE CURTIS, BETTY WHITE, SALLY STRUTHERS, TIM ALLEN, EUGENE LEVY, CAROL BURNETT, PAM DAWBER, FLORENCE HENDERSON, GARY MARSHALL, ALEC BALDWIN, JACQUELINE BISSET, CARL REINER, ROB REINER, SALLY FIELD, CHERYL TIEGS, JON LOVITZ, ED McMAHON, TORI SPELLING, WENDIE MALICK, JOE MANTEGNA, MERV GRIFFIN, BEA ARTHUR, KATE CAPSHAW and STEVEN SPIELBERG, CHRISTINA APPLEGATE, NANCY McKEON, TAYE DIGGS, JOELY FISHER, the Black Crowes’ CHRIS ROBINSON, producer STUART CORNFELD and performance artist JOHANNA WENT.

—KATERI BUTLER

GILDING THE LILY

“What is reality anyway? A collective hunch,” LILY TOMLIN said as her character Trudy in the opening scene of THE SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE at the AHMANSON. Tomlin was giving it her all for the fully appreciative crowd, but there was a more than usually fabulous component to the audience. It was the launch event for the Center Theater Group’s new GAY & LESBIAN THEATER ALLIANCE, which held its first Evening Out gala (although a gay and lesbian theater group does seem a tiny bit redundant). Co-chaired by Chicago producer CRAIG ZADAN and Wells Fargo’s SHELLEY FREEMAN, the evening started with a cocktail reception and buffet dinner in the Dorothy Chandler lobby. Out CTG types, including Taper associate director of new-play development LUIS ALFARO, Blacksmyths Theater Lab director BRIAN FREEMAN and director VALERIE CURTIS-NEWTON mixed it up with Oscar winner BRUCE COHEN, business consultant TOM SOTO and Hollywood royalty WENDY STARK. Tomlin’s penchant for delivering writer/collaborator JANE WAGNER’s thoughtful one-liners, from “All my life I wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific” to “I realized when some people develop creative block, they are doing the world a favor,” made the creative somebodies in the audience laugh out loud. Opening night, two days earlier, was a three-ringie-dingie do, with Tomlin’s Laugh-In co-stars HENRY GIBSON and JO ANNE WORLEY as well as L-I executive producer GEORGE SCHLATTER among the standing-ovation set, which also included The Practice’s CAMRYN MANHEIM, choreographer TONI BASIL, fashion lister MR. BLACKWELL, Frasier’s DAVID HYDE PIERCE, West Wingin’ ADAM ARKIN and DULÉ HILL, and songwriter ALLEE WILLIS, who is currently working on a musical version of The Color Purple. If only Arte Johnson had been there to say “Verrrrrry interesting.”

—CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA