It is a low-fuss, low-stress soiree that lets Sharon Lawrence do what she does best—sparkle. The wine's been ordered, the house has been cleaned, and the caterer arrives just minutes after the hostess. Not a bad way for the well-organized actress, 39, to open up her three-bedroom Hollywood apartment for a wine-tasting party and welcome-back celebration for the cast of the CBS sitcom Ladies Man, a mid-season replacement in its second year. All that's left for Lawrence to do is to slip into an eye-catching pink top. "You want to wear a color your guests can spot you in," Lawrence says. "They're going to want to find you." They always do. "Sharon is a people person. She's fun to be around," says Stephen Root, who plays Lawrence's neighbor Gene. Lawrence is able to spread some of that charm around because the downtown L.A. restaurant Traxx has provided hors d'oeuvres to go along with the wine. "This way," says Lawrence, "rather than keep myself alone in the tiny kitchen, I can enjoy the food like everyone else." Throughout the evening sommelier M. Jason Baker introduces each wine (four in all), though he starts with Alaskan Brewing Co. amber ale, which is not readily available in Southern California. "It's a cheap party if you have to drink beer in wine glasses!" quips Alfred Molina, who plays the unmarried Lawrence's TV spouse. "What's great about a wine tasting is that you can take something with you in the form of knowledge," says Lawrence, who has visited vineyards in South Africa and stores some bottles in a commercial wine cellar.
This party is a step up the sophistication scale from the gatherings Lawrence enjoyed growing up in Raleigh, N.C., with dad Tom, a TV news reporter, and mom Earlyn, a retired educator. "Some of the most fun 'eating meetings,' as we would call them, were the Sunday midday meals where my aunt would cook a pot roast and we would watch Ed Sullivan and the G.E. College Bowl together," Lawrence recalls. Surely, this wine tasting is just as entertaining. Says a clearly delighted Betty White, who plays Lawrence's mother-in-law: "It's like everybody's back at school after summer break. We're all asking, 'What did you do?' " Adds Lawrence: "The best fun for me at a party is looking at people enjoy each other."
Wayne Brady, actor
As Hollywood addictions go, Wayne Brady's is relatively tame: "I don't drink and I don't smoke," he says. "I play video games. In the big scheme of things, that's not so bad." The 28-year-old Brady, one of the improv masters on ABC's Whose Line Is It Anyway?, describes his upbringing in Orlando as "very strict. I didn't have time to really goof around, so now I'm like, Woo-hoo!" To make up for lost time, he throws regular videogame tournaments at the three-bedroom Van Nuys, Calif., home he shares with his wife of 18 months, Mandie, a 24-year-old actress. While Mandie doesn't compete—"I don't like losing"—Brady says that he has no trouble recruiting eight "fellow video-game geeks." Phone calls go out a week in advance for the shindigs, which are decidedly casual. "You can't try too hard," he says. "Mandie and I don't have a ton of friends, but we entertain a lot. You just need a little bit of food and your buddies." Brady describes the snacks—served on disposable plates—as "college dorm" fare: subs, chips, pizza, KFC. "Everyone knows Extra Crispy greases up the hands, makes you play better," he says, laughing. For the competition, two Sony PlayStations are set up side by side in the living room. The guests—mostly actor pals—pair off, playing the likes of Rogue Trip (a car race) and a football game called NFL Blitz. The winners of each round advance to compete against one another. On this night, Brady's Whose Line? costar Colin Mochrie has brought along his 8-year-old son Luke. "Luke is young, he's the up-and-comer," says Mochrie, "but Wayne has the home-field advantage." In the end, Brady is the last man standing, triumphing in PlayStation's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Well past 11 p.m., as he bids good night to his weary guests, Brady is clearly relishing his victory. "I'm enjoying my childhood now," he says.
Beverley Mitchell, actress
She passes for sweet 16 on The WB's family-oriented show 7th Heaven, but the baby-faced 19-year-old has already taken on an adult-size obligation: the mortgage on a cozy two-bedroom house on Los Angeles' West Side. "I bought it all on my own," says Beverley Mitchell, a second-year student at a nearby private university. "Last year I lived at the dorm, but I'd been thinking about getting my own home."
With the demands of Heaven (she works up to 60 hours a week portraying the compassionate Lucy Camden) and school (she carries a three-quarter-time load), Mitchell is a few months late tossing the official housewarming for her July move. No matter. On this balmy Sunday afternoon she makes up for lost time, proudly offering the grand tour to the 20 friends who straggle in. One wall in each room is painted a vibrant color—yellow for her bedroom, red for the living room and seafoam green for the kitchen. Although friends warned that she'd end up with a place that looks "like Ronald McDonald lives here," she says, the verdict comes in differently. "I think it's so beautiful!" says pal Shar Jackson, who plays Niecy on Moesha. "The girl is talented! She's got skills I didn't even know about."
One talent not on display today is Mitchell's cooking. She and roommate Dana Torgerson, a classmate and friend since seventh grade, opted for the nearby Chicago for Ribs restaurant to bring a diet-busting spread of babyback ribs, barbecued chicken, baked beans, corn bread, coleslaw, Caesar salad and veggies. "She's always panicking about if we have enough to eat," says Torgerson.
That won't stop Mitchell from filling the house with pals every couple of weeks. "With school no one can have much fun since we're always studying, so we bring our friends here to play," says the actress, an only child who grew up outside L.A., where her mom, Sharon, is an office manager and dad David is an auto-racing promoter (they divorced when she was 16). A favorite pastime is the board game Cranium, a gift from Heaven castmate Jessica Biel
. But there's one problem with acting the part of hostess to typical teenagers: Mitchell says that her friends are "horrible" about RSVPing. "You leave them a message and you have to keep calling back to remind them to come!"
Debra Jo Rupp, actress
She has bridge games at least twice a month at her collectible-crammed, barn-style house in the San Fernando Valley and is serious enough to have accumulated a couple of master points. But winning isn't everything to Debra Jo Rupp—it's how you eat while you're playing the game. "The most important thing is the food," says Rupp, 49, who plays the relentlessly cheerful Kitty Foreman on FOX's That '70s Show. "Our bridge nights are the times when we really eat just everything we normally would avoid," she adds, gesturing toward a chocolate-frosted Grand Marnier cake that's given center stage on her dark oak dining-room table. Rupp, who moonlights as the voice of schoolteacher Mrs. Helperman in Disney's new animated series Teacher's Pet, says that she is "not good at big parties" and prefers the camaraderie of "four people at my bridge table." But suitable partners are in short supply. "Once you find people who play bridge, you hang on to them for dear life. You can't ever be mad, you can't have angry discussions, or they'll go away, and you'll need them too desperately," says the unmarried Rupp, whose group includes actress pal Cynthia Mace and neighbors Scott Cameron, a writer, and Gregg Gettas, a children's-TV producer. Gettas sums up the marathons that sometimes last until 2 a.m.: "You deal cards, laugh, eat, tell stories, play a hand, eat, take score, laugh, eat and repeat. In reality, card playing is secondary to having a good time." At evening's end the loser—tonight it's Rupp—receives a striking reminder of defeat: an ugly porcelain tray covered in ceramic vines and doves that must be retained until the next game. "It just can't be stored anywhere," Rupp says, chuckling.
Phil Rosenthal, producer
Everybody Loves Raymond executive producer Phil Rosenthal can count on seeing three things at the regular Sunday-evening movie screenings he holds in his Los Angeles home theater: popcorn, pizza and Peter Boyle. Says the actor, who plays Raymond's dad: "I'm a steady customer of Movie Nights. Because I can't be with my family in New York, it's like being with a family here." Among the familiar faces are some 20 staffers and cast members of Raymond, including Rosenthal's wife, actress Monica Horan, 37, who plays Brad Garrett's girlfriend Amy. As the couple's children Ben, 6, and Lily, 3, race around the kitchen, guests fuel up from a popcorn machine in the marble entryway—a housewarming gift from Raymond star Ray Romano—before settling down on easy chairs and sofas to watch Mel Brooks's 1968 comedy The Producers. Meanwhile a pizza truck stationed outside turns out freshly baked goat cheese, spinach and pepperoni pies made with water from Boston. "It costs a fortune, but it's really good," says Rosenthal, who adds, "For me, throwing these Movie Nights is about sharing things with other people. Even when I lived in a tiny apartment in New York City, I had friends come over to watch films with me." Says Raymond's mother, Doris Roberts: "The center of these parties is food, movies and jokes—a great combination." Rosenthal, 40, also tries to get someone who worked on a film to share the experience. Boyle talked about Taxi Driver, and Rosenthal himself spoke about the six-minute comic video he wrote and directed for the 2000 White House Correspondents dinner that spoofed the President's last days in office. "Clinton was absolutely amazing in it," says Rosenthal. "At the end of the shoot I gave him my card and said, 'I'm always looking for comedy actors on the show.' And you know what? He took my card." "When Rosenthal screened the video for his friends, he recalls, "people had so many questions that I had to do a 30-minute Q&A session before we could show the main feature."
Enrico Colantoni, actor
There's no drumming, no Girls Keep Out! sign on the door, no blatant grunting, belching or scratching, but make no mistake: The weekly parties that actor Enrico Colantoni (photographer Elliott DiMauro on NBC's Just Shoot Me) throws in the men-only clubhouse behind his suburban L.A. home are testosterone-fests.
"I needed somewhere to go when I needed to feel my things, my spirit," says Colantoni, 37, the youngest of three children raised in Toronto by Quintino, a laborer and truck driver, and Gina, a garment worker. "I said to my wife, Nancy, 'You're not allowed here unless you're invited.' "
"Fine by me," says Nancy, 39, a nutritionist and mother of 3-year-old Quintin and 8-week-old Madelyn Francesca. "I'm more than happy that his room is out there, because the mess isn't in my house!"
Last year, down came the old shed behind the three-bedroom ranch-style house and—for less than $15,000—up went the fully heated and air-conditioned, 9' x 11' "Rico's Room." Construction took about six weeks—a schedule that didn't allow for a basic, yet, to Colantoni, dispensable amenity: a bathroom. "I just didn't want to wait," he confesses. "If I need to pee, I can go in the house or just go outside."
John Bly would be proud, especially tonight, when four of Colantoni's buddies gather for the ultimate male-bonding ritual—Monday Night Football—complete with cigars, beer, chips and heated exchanges with the TV screen.
"We can get pretty animated when we're watching sports," explains Reid Mason, 44, a sales executive. "And we're kinda rude, maybe."
Though they smoke Fuente, Cohiba and Punch cigars and drink Corona and Warsteiner beer out of long-necked bottles, the guys aren't exactly Neanderthals. Despite hunkering down in a room decorated in early-'7Os bachelor—overstuffed sofa, leather recliner inches from the TV, industrial-strength gray rug ("It balls up some, but it's pretty indestructible," says Colantoni)—they order one vegetarian pizza, deposit their empties on a table at the back of the main house, flick their ashes outside and return videos and books to their proper places on a bookcase.
"We always try to leave it better than when we got here," Mason says.
Linda Dano, actress
Harvest Moon Dinner
It's not enough for Linda Dano to play Dr. Rae Cummings in four ABC soap operas, design a line of accessories for QVC and maintain homes in Manhattan, Florida and Connecticut. When the tireless Dano, 57, entertains, she insists on doing everything herself—including growing herbs for the stuffing, picking peaches from her own trees and baking whole-grain bread. "I do my own cooking," Dano says. "I have tried through the years to buy ready-made stuff, and I never liked it. I even had a caterer once, and I just didn't like it."
Dano sometimes orders the food before it's food. For this small dinner party for eight at her 18th-century Ridgefield, Conn., farmhouse to celebrate the Harvest Moon in September, "I bought the pork from a pig farm in town," says Dano. "Doc, the farmer, cut the meat right in front of me. I'm always careful not to make eye contact with any of the pigs on the way in." Her husband, retired advertising executive Frank Attardi, 66, pitches in before party time by commandeering the vacuum cleaner. "There are times when I don't want her to work so hard, but she enjoys it," he says.
Dano and Attardi often invite friends over to share meals in the house they've painstakingly restored over the past decade. "I like it to look like the people who lived here in the 18th century have just gone out for a while," says Dano, who has tossed antique coins casually on desktops and hung colonial waistcoats in the guest room. "It's a little spooky with these things on the walls," says one guest, actor John Aprea.
Some of her Manhattan pals are a bit perplexed by Dano's interest in the bucolic life. "They think it's fascinating and sort of odd that I have a house like this. I always play an elegant, sophisticated kind of woman, and here I go out on the tractor, slave in the garden and drive a truck," she says. But no one's surprised by the grace with which Dano plays hostess. "She's the most capable woman in the world," says Aprea.
As the party nears its end, Dano discloses that there's been an uninvited guest—the ghost of Madeline Crane, the home's original owner. Says Dano: "She's very happy with us." Well, really—who wouldn't be?
Paula Cale, actress
Paula Cale (Joanie Hansen in NBC's drama Providence) is proof-positive that party style isn't an inherited trait. "I grew up in a home where entertaining occurred a lot and there were always servers, bartenders, crystal and candles. It was very formal," says Cale, 30, the daughter of Washington insider Tom Korologos (now a lobbyist, formerly congressional liaison with the Nixon and Ford White Houses) and his late wife, Joy, a school administrator. But Gale's frequent gatherings for young Hollywood types in her Santa Monica home—where the furniture is comfy, the uniform is sweats or jeans, and the only server has ever been, according to Cale, "Estephan, the Domino's Pizza delivery guy"—are reminiscent of a different kind of get-together. "It's like being 8 years old at your parents' friends' house when all the kids are in the playroom," says director Bill Cusack (brother to John and Joan). "You just play, play, play with nothing to worry about."
Today, after an afternoon of touch football on the beach in front of Gale's two-bedroom English Tudor house, the dirty dozen (showering is optional) move on to Cale's living room. Here, on a distressed-wood coffee table, is the party food: Wonder Bread, Lucky Charms cereal, Tootsie Rolls, and cheese-spread in a can. "I walk down the aisle at the supermarket and grab whatever food makes me laugh and has the most chemicals in it," explains Cale. The main event is Celebrity, a quirky version of charades involving famous names. Cale is "jet-engine enthusiastic," says former regular Tom Cavanagh (star of NBC's Ed, filmed near New York City), who often checks in during Game Night via phone. Concurs actress Laura McLauchlin: "I've never heard such a high-pitched squeal in my life as when Paula is giving clues." Quips run fast and furious. "Newcomers are basically treated like livestock," says Cale, who is divorced and unattached. "You get on the train that's moving 500 mph or you leave!" By 1 a.m., after everyone has dissected everyone else's sex life, the party breaks up. Cale likes to take a bubble bath and think back to the night's best laughs. "L.A. can be a lonely place, but these people are like my family out here," she says.
Normally, the five-bedroom Tarzana, Calif., home is the site of family dinners, lazy Sunday mornings and Ping-Pong games. But on special occasions it is transformed into "Mo'Nique's party palace," says its energetic owner. In the last few months the comic actress has thrown a Labor Day bash for 700, a revolving poker game and birthday parties for her two sons. On this evening, it's Manicure Night for 10 writers and producers on Mo'Nique's UPN show, The Parkers.
Husband Mark Jackson Sr., 36, owner of a barbershop, is still at work, and sons Mark Jr., 14, and Shalon, 10, are busy upstairs with homework as Mo'Nique, 32, and her friends treat themselves to manicures. "Make love to your hands! Let your hands make love to you!" exhorts Mo'Nique, as she directs traffic to manicurist Denise Karras, stationed in the living room.
The Parkers story editor Stacey Lyn Evans, who admits to a once-a-week manicure habit, says tonight's party is inspired. "We have fun jobs, but there's stress that comes with it," she says. "It's important to steal away whenever you can to get something special to make you feel good." For guests like Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays Dee Mitchell on UPN's Moesba (which spun off The Parkers), just hanging with Mo'Nique is special. "She's got that joie de vivre," says Ralph. "She's full of all this excitement."
The youngest of four children of Steven Imes, a clinical psychologist, and Alice, a retired engineer, Mo'Nique, who grew up in a Baltimore suburb, believes her talent for entertaining is bred in the bone. "My mom and dad had card parties, Christmas parties, celebrations for whatever," she says. For Mo'Nique, though, the hostess hat is only a small part of a big wardrobe. In addition to fulfilling responsibilities to her real and TV families, she is currently touring the U.S. with the Kings and Queens of Comedy (inspired by last summer's separate Kings and Queens tours) and designs a new large-size clothing line, BBLI (Big, Beautiful and Loving It).
One secret to doing so much is not doing it all. While Mo'Nique loves to cook (her macaroni and cheese is husband Mark's favorite), she has turned over tonight's menu to her sister-in-law Kelly Imes, who has whipped up seafood salad, baked chicken, wild rice and green beans. (To prevent smears and smudges, eating comes first, manicures second.) "It's like down-home cooking," says writer Dornita LeCount. "And it's always cool to be around people you enjoy at a good meal."
Even after everyone has been properly buffed and fed, Mo'Nique is still laughing and talking nonstop as she hugs and kisses her guests good night. "I love seeing people having fun," she says. "I tell people, 'Let your hair down! Have a good time!' "