Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sinatra event proves smash again

Fundraiser garners about $500,000 for children's center

Just as it did 20 years ago, the Frank Sinatra Countrywide Celebrity Invitation continued - come rain or come shine - this weekend.

Golfers played Friday at Indian Wells Country Club in rainy weather, but finished Saturday with everything shining brightly.

The fundraiser for the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center netted about $500,000 from the four-day event, concluding today with tours of the Rancho Mirage facility for physically/emotionally abused children.

More significantly, the revenue puts the center's endowment over its long-time goal of $20 million to safeguard its mission of making sure no child is turned away for lack of funds for years to come.

Long-time board member Helene Galen, one of a handful of board members who have been with center founder Barbara Sinatra from the start, said, "It was a dream to get $10 million" for an endowment in the early days. "Then it was a dream to get $15 million."

The celebrity field was reduced to 55 in this 20th anniversary year, down from the 79 when Liza Minnelli performed in 1991. Barbara Sinatra said that was partly to speed up play. But Sinatra board chairman Marshall Gelfand said this year's net was about the same as last year and better than the two previous years.

The celebrities were predominantly retired athletes, but friends of Frank Sinatra such as Robert Wagner, Jerry Vale, Norm Crosby and Frankie Randall also were among the 1,000 people in the Esmeralda Ballroom.

The winning celebrity golfer was actor Bill Smitrovich, noted the galleries were small Friday because of the rain, but "they were out in bigger numbers" Saturday.

Asked for highlights in the event's 20-year history, Wagner, who has played in nearly every tournament, said, "When FS was alive - all that enthusiasm."

Co-host Dick Van Dyke received a Frank Sinatra Award for his contributions, following a standing ovation just for clips of his film and TV career, and quipped, "I swear I'd come down to party with you even if there wasn't a tournament."

Besides its mission, the Sinatra event is most famous for presenting the nation's best traditional pop singers - including Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow, Harry Connick Jr. and Natalie Cole just after she won a Grammy.

Minnelli made her second appearance memorable with a bravura stage presence, songs and stories.

She sang a song her mother, Judy Garland, made a standard and Frank Sinatra covered, "The Man That Got Away," and made it her own.

She then launched into "Cabaret," the song she said made her famous.

She said of Barbara Sinatra:

"What she's done with this (center) is ridiculous. And, I'm so proud to be part of this."

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