Remembrance of Things Past

Coffeetable Books




December 17, 1999:

Heavenly Bodies: Remembering Hollywood and Fashion's Favorite AIDS Benefit

by Michael Anketell

Taylor Publishing, 194 pp., $30.95

Try and get past the awkward title of this divine book; it's a first writing effort from someone who has wonderful dirt to dish (and I am a true connoisseur of dirt). As founder, chairman, and executive producer for the fundraising group that hosts the Heavenly Bodies benefits in L.A., Mr. Anketell deserves a medal for distinguished achievement. Through glamorous and glorious tributes to designers and the design industry, his organization, Friends of People Living With Aids, has raised millions of dollars for the cause, and almost more importantly, he has written a seriously tell-all book about his experiences.

In 1985, only a few stars, such as Elizabeth Taylor, spoke out publicly about AIDS. Designers were loath to attach themselves to such a controversial disease. Even the Perry Ellis Company refused, only months after Mr. Ellis himself died of AIDS. Refusals from Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Jessica McClintock, and Ralph Lauren followed. Without the association of a big name, the fundraising efforts would be a bust. So the organizers chose brilliant MGM designer Adrian, someone who was dead and couldn't refuse. To sum up a very long and thrilling story, the event was a reasonable success and raised a respectable amount of money. It also garnered them the acceptance of Geoffrey Beene as their honoree the next year. They raised even more money with that, and the ball was rolling. Over the next eight years, they honored Bob Mackie, Gianni Versace, Thierry Mugler, Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi, Gianfranco Ferré, and the currently jobless Todd Oldham, as well as presenting a tribute to Hollywood designers. It became the event for fashion in L.A., attracting the biggest names and huge donations from the biggest businesses.

The author saw it all -- the tantrums of diva designers, diva movie stars, diva models, and diva executives are lovingly detailed, often in titillating, blind items that aren't too hard to figure out (especially with the clue that the name appears elsewhere in the book). My personal favorite blind item concerns the movie queen of all living movie queens (whose name appears elsewhere in this review) who reminisces about her days as a child star and mentions sitting in Louie B. Mayer's lap (and uses the word "boner" in the same sentence). What a scream, what a story, and what a great event. Thank you, Mr. Anketell, for your generosity in both fundraising and dishing.


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