By Olivia Tracey
Were he alive today, John Wayne would have indeed been proud of the recent glittering gala extravaganza, the 13th Annual Odyssey Ball, held in his name at Merv Griffin’s Beverly Hilton Hotel. The International Ballroom bustled with more than 1,000 guests, including the legendary screen star’s children and grandchildren, all generously lending their support to the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Santa Monica’s Saint John’s Health Center. Founded in 1983, the charity committee has raised more than $8 million for the worthy cause, with the proceeds from last week’s gala ball topping all previous years.
It was every bit a Beverly Hills bash, with tuxedoed gentlemen preened like princes, ladies coifed like queens, and not a fake Gucci or thread of polyester in sight. Particularly stunning was our host, Gretchen Wayne, Duke’s daughter-in-law, looking positively regal with her clean, swept-back chignon, a magnificent gold silk ballgown and genuine sari in soft avocado green.
The occasion is no doubt a very important one for the Waynes and the perfect opportunity to present the prestigious Special Service John Wayne "Duke" Award to the evening’s honorees, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of The Franklin Mint and Teleflora. The Resnicks join a distinguished line of prior "Duke" recipients including actors Jack Lemmon, Larry Hagman, Carroll O’Connor and his wife, Nancy, producer Danny Arnold and entertainer/entrepreneur Merv Griffin, among others, all honored for their extraordinary and lasting contributions to the fight against cancer. Chairman of The John Wayne Cancer Institute (JWIC), Michael Wayne, presented the award to the Resnicks while L.A.’s Irish-American mayor, Richard Riordan, toasted the couple’s endless support for Los Angeles. Actor Hal Linden of "Barney Miller" fame, a loyal supporter of JWIC, served as the evening’s master of ceremonies.
Another familiar face was my own companion, actor Tim Murphy, otherwise remembered as Casanova Conor on the legendary Irish soap "Glenroe." The handsome Kerryman was proving himself to be much more than a pretty face with his impressive knowledge of history, both Irish and beyond. Just back from a trip to Ireland, having been flown home as a strong contender for a regular role on the "Ballykissangel" series, he is turning out somewhat of a "quiet man" himself, liaising with all the top stars and agents of Hollywood. A cute one to watch out for indeed.
We were fortunate enough to be seated at Michael and Gretchen Wayne’s table, along with guests Michael and Debbie Parker. Like most Irish Americans, they were eager to talk about their Irish ancestry, all proudly tracing their family roots. Michael Wayne could go back to his great grandfather Morrison from County Antrim, while Gretchen divulged her Walsh and O’Connor ancestry from County Cork. Debbie Parker (nee Greaney) touted her mother’s Kavanagh descent, while her husband, Michael, had to travel to the sunnier climes of Sicily for his ancestry. However, he was certainly not without his Irish connections in that his family film lighting business, Mole Richardson, begun by his ancestors in 1927 Hollywood, had a factory in England with various distribution outlets in Ireland. Furthermore, he can flaunt a little bit of Irish luck in that he and his elegant wife, Debbie, will be making their way to Ireland this September, having won the much-coveted trip at none other than last year’s American-Ireland Fund Ball.
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Also making their way to Ireland for a grandiose vacation are the darling Celts of Beverly Hills, Jimmy and Anne Murphy. However, in their case it wasn’t the result of a win but rather Jimmy’s generous bid at the Odyssey auction. And why not? Great people deserve to have a great time. Of course, their surrender to temptation was totally understandable considering the awesome goodies up for auction, such as the trip to Merv Griffin’s Resort Hotel & Givenchy Spa, airfare to Tokyo, Europe (including Ireland), and New York, a full room of Franklin Mint collectibles courtesy of the Resnicks and an extremely desirable 1999 Mercedes-Benz SLK 230 Kompressor Convertible. With this latter prodigy I was truly star-struck, totally seduced by the car, which I know deep down I was born to drive. Enter the valet — with my Chrysler reality check. Awe well, for now it can steer me to the nearby Peninsula Hotel to savor the warm and gregarious company of the Waynes and the Murphys over a nightcap or two. Well, someone has to celebrate the evening’s success!