Winners and losers in the charity sweepstakes

How the rich work for charity

Change comes slowly 10 the charity ball. The head lady is still, for the most part, called the chairman, though some society columnists are chipping away at tradition by throwing in “chairperson” every now and then. A charity ball official still goes by her husband’s name, preceded by “Mrs.” Some like to include a reference to their own parental bloodline, as in Mrs. W. Franklin (Grace Stemmons) Keppler.

There have been a few departures from tradition in recent years. Discomania has invaded the Opera Ball. The renegade Cattle Barons Ball has shunned the Fairmont and the Hyatt Regency in favor of a cow pasture in the sticks. And with the exception most years of the Crystal Ball, anyone with the price of admission can buy an invitation to the ball of his choice.

The Crystal Charity Ball continues to enjoy unanimous recognition as the most prestigious in the city. Some society prominents or near-prominents have had to leave the city on Crystal Ball weekend to cover for not having an invitation. Some might argue that such foolishness is indicative of the misplaced values of the upper crust, but no such claim can be registered against the end product. The Crystal Charity Ball has turned over more than $2.5 million to various children’s causes in Dallas County over the last 25 years. The selection committee takes orders, so to speak, considering applications from local organizations in need. This year’s main effort is to provide a much-needed piece of equipment for the Pediatric Burn Center at Parkland Hospital, at a cost of $215,000.

Every year 1000 to 1200 invitees pay either $125 or $175 each for the privilege of attending the extravagant Crystal Ball. The higher payers, called patrons, get special tables and better parking. Last year’s ball featured a replica of the Parthenon erected inside the Fairmont, to reflect the Greek games theme. Down the hall, the pillars of the Dallas establishment could be found throwing Frisbees and putting golf balls, for an extra fee.

Shock waves were felt in the chárity ball community early this year when the Junior League Ball raised more money than the Crystal Ball. The Junior League Ball started 15 years ago as the Junior League Follies, and it still offers a 45-minute revue as part of the program. Regular tickets are $50, $100 for patrons. For $600 a Junior Leaguer will carry around a sign bearing a company logo. Special friends pay $500 to $1000, and sponsors up to $10,000. Last year, all of this resulted in net proceeds of more than $300,000. Though probably not a serious threat to the Crystal Ball’s social standing, the Junior Leaguers have certainly given fair warning that they are to be reckoned with in the competition for dollars.

The Beaux Arts Ball is well-positioned in both prestige and income. Benefitting the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, this year’s ball, chaired by Carla (Mrs. James B.) Francis, netted $254,000. “She chairs so damned many balls it will make your head swim,” says one circuit regular. “If you’re going after the big money, Carla’s the one to get.” The Beaux Arts Ball was selected for the grand opening of the Hyatt Regency. Those who wanted dinner paid $200, the rest, $100.

Carla Francis also headed this year’s Fortnight Ball, which is just below Beaux Arts in prestige, but something of a mystery as far as income and outgo are concerned. Neiman-Marcus advised that they haven’t finished tallying this year’s figures. Nor were last year’s figures available. The money goes to benefit the arts, this year’s recipient being the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department’s DeGolyer Estate. It’s an extremely popular affair because of the Neiman-Marcus mystique and the smattering of lower-level dignitaries from whatever country has been selected as the Fortnight’s focus.

The Opera Ball, which continues to hold its position among the five or six most prestigious, also shies from a discussion of money. Representatives say that income hasn’t been a major goal. This affair has been a traditional accompaniment to opening night at the opera, an opportunity for aficionados to rub elbows with fellow opera lovers and members of the cast. But operas need money too. (A 1977 fund-raising effort netted less than 10 percent of its goal.) This year’s ticket prices were raised from $50 to $100, and Cor-rigan’s Jewelers was persuaded to underwrite the bulk of the expenses.

Logically, the Cattle Barons Ball should not exist, but it does. The thought of persuading the elite of Dallas society to congregate in cow pastures in Kaufman, Frisco, Grapevine, Allen, or Sunnyvale seems farfetched. Unless, of course, the dances are held on the spreads of the likes of Toddie Lee Wynne, B. F. Phillips, Bunker Hunt, Mrs. Eugene McDermott, and Eugene Bragg Smith. “We wanted to do something for the American Cancer Society,” says Susan Collins, this year’s chairman. “We felt like we would have to offer something different to compete with the other balls. The men, especially, really seem to like it, getting to wear blue jeans instead of tuxedos.” Each year the Cattle Barons line up a top country music entertainer such as Charley Pride, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Reed, or Tom T. Hall. No one can fault the ball’s success or even doubt its acceptance in the most proper circles, but one society observer insists, “It’s not really a ball.” For $500, you too can be a cattle baron, and even walk away with a personalized denim vest. If you just want to go kick up your heels, the tab is $50 for regulars, $100 for patrons. The entree is barbecue, of course, with take-home bandanas and cactus centerpieces. This year’s ball grossed $102,000 and netted $77,000.

Though the chairmanship of a top charity ball is unquestionably a position of stature, it is far from a merely honorary position. “It’s a year out of your life,” says one ex-chairman who swears she’ll never do it again. “Some of the chairmen mope around the night of the ball as if they were at a funeral, seeing their moment of glory fading. But not me. I was ecstatic.” A charity ball is big business, and the chairman is under pressure to keep the people coming back. “People go to a ball for what the ball offers, not for who’s going to benefit from the proceeds,” says the ex-chairman. “Most of these women have never held a job, but they are so capable that they could just as well be running a big business.”

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