An enthusiastic group of 500 sitcom fans and supporters of the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation joined together at the Lobero Theatre on Oct. 15 for the sixth annual fall fundraiser appropriately titled, “An Evening of Laughter and Love Honoring Carol Burnett.”
The prescription for the evening’s entertainment included a hearty dose of laughter followed by a shot of old-fashioned goodwill for all who attended the event.
The Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, established in 2002 by founder Nikki Katz, is a nonprofit, grassroots organization that aims to assist families of children who have been diagnosed with cancer throughout Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.
TBCF helps families by paying crucial bills, rent, mortgage, utilities and other hardships to help ensure parents can be by their child’s bedside during difficult times without the worry of day-to-day tasks.
The star-studded fundraiser kicked off with a pre-show reception held inside the beautiful Lobero courtyard with an atmosphere that was nothing less than electric as guests clad in cocktail attire mingled under a large ivory and green striped canopy.
Guests were offered hors d’oeuvres from Pure Joy Catering, including grilled prosciutto wrapped in figs and filled with goat cheese topped with a honey mint drizzle, checkerboard crisp wonton squares with seared Ahi, and American wild mushroom caviar with lemon crème fraiche on a crisp potato star.
An assortment of raffle prizes for this year’s event were also perused by supporters and patrons, including platinum passes to the 2012 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, an entertainment package with tickets to The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the new hit show Hot in Cleveland starring Betty White and orchestra seats to an evening at the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall.
Later, media representatives were ushered behind the scenes into a small waiting area where iconic and comedic angel Carol Burnett, Golden Globe winner and Glee star Jane Lynch, Emmy winner and Master of Ceremonies Dennis Miller and comedian Melissa Peterman posed for photographs and conducted interviews.
Lynch, who said The Carol Burnett Show made her fall in love with sketch comedy, stood proudly beside her childhood idol Burnett, with whom she worked in the 2007 movie Post Grad and popular TV sitcom Glee.
“Carol was cast to play my mother in Glee and wrote the forward for my book Happy Accidents,” Lynch said. “So it’s very special to me to give this (award) to the person I probably admire most in the world on all levels.”
Meanwhile, ticket holders spilled onto the sidewalk gawking at an armored SWAT vehicle that pulled up alongside the curb outside the theater.
A group of young girls and boys rushed to the vehicle asking, “What’s in the box?” and two police officers rushed around to open the rear double doors as actor and Montecito resident Billy Baldwin stepped out holding a black attaché case handcuffed to his wrist, smiling mischievously at adoring fans.
Guests eagerly filed into the theater as the lights dimmed and the lush crimson velour curtain parted to reveal large black-and-white caricatures of the evening’s guest of honor. The stage was also adorned with an assortment of teddy bears lounging on couches, oversized chairs, bookshelves and tables around the stage.
Known for his smirky, tongue-in-cheek rants and brooding sense of humor, Miller strolled to the podium as master of ceremonies and lashed into an array of humorous metaphors, from pop culture to cynical political jabs.
Miller introduced the lineup of guest comedians, including Peterman, best known for playing Barbara Jean on the hit series Reba, and Garret Webb, whose satirical takes on the absurdities of American social norms ranged from the paradox of dating to the frustrations of motherhood.
Later, Miller introduced Baldwin, the celebrity auctioneer who appeared under a spotlight at the west entrance still clutching the mysterious black case.
After a round of applause, Baldwin explained that some lucky person in the audience had a key to open the case and asked audience members to search under their seats as an adorable 6-year-old cancer survivor and past TBCF recipient, Isabella Mireles, sprang out of her seat with the key and joined Baldwin on stage for the remainder of the live auction.
When the secret in the box was finally revealed, it inspired a playful bidding war for a Navy SEALs Package, which included a weekend in San Diego with tickets to Sea World, a tour of the Coronado Navy SEAL Facility and dinner with esteemed members of the Navy SEALs.
“When you have a dream, you’ve got to grab it and never let go,” Burnett said.
And for more than six decades, Burnett has been captivating audiences with her animated facial expressions and over-the-top comedy sketches. Burnett rose to fame as one of the most popular comedians on television, hosting her own comedy variety show, which ran for 11 seasons until leaving the air in 1978.
Cheers and hoots rang out when a large screen dropped down across the stage and clips from The Carol Burnett Show began to play, highlighting her many memorable roles that have delighted fans for generations.
Memorable roles featured in the clips included Burnett as the self-absorbed silent movie star Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard and an outlandish Scarlett from Gone with the Wind. Steve Martin and Garry Shandling also paid a special tribute to the queen of comedy. And of course, the reel highlights wouldn’t have been complete without Burnett’s beloved ear tug that became her staple signature of farewell at the end of each show.
Burnett initially planned to become a journalist while studying at UCLA, but she turned her attention to acting full time when she “was amazed that people thought I was funny,” she said.
The Montecito resident is now a bestselling author of two books, This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection and the autobiography One More Time, and is working on a third novel written in tribute to her daughter Carrie Hamilton, who died from cancer in 2002.
“Carol being honored by this organization is a perfect fit because she’s one of the most gracious, open, caring people that I’ve ever met, and also she’s been touched by cancer herself having lost a daughter,” Lynch said. “So she knows the pain and she walks the talk.”
The mission of TBCF is to ensure that children with cancer living in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties receive the undivided attention of their parents during the treatment and recovery process through financial aid and other supportive services.
“In this organization, taking care of the whole family is so important and tending to people’s emotional needs and not just financial, which of course Teddy Bear does as well,” Lynch said. “But taking care of their emotional needs and bringing them together with other families is so powerful.”
Burnett, who graced the stage wearing a classic red suit with a unique teddy bear necklace, was teary-eyed during the award presentation and received a standing ovation as she accepted the award from Lynch.
“This is very special for me tonight,” Burnett said. “Thank you for this, and thank you for letting me be a part of this community.”
The evening concluded with a farewell serenade from the Santa Barbara High School Madrigals singing The Carol Burnett Show’s closing theme song, “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together.”
“I have some friends here who are involved with the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, and I was asked to be a part of this organization,” Burnett said. “And because of what it does for children and their families, I couldn’t help but say yes.”
The fundraiser earned $230,000 for the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation.
TBCF thanks the evening’s sponsors for their generosity and support: Pure Joy Catering, Lobero Live, Wine Cask, Chopin Vodka, Peligroso Tequila, Vogelzang, Bacara Resort & Spa, Joe Newberry Photography and Carl’s Jr.