07/06/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT
Meeting of equals
It wasn't quite a head-on collision when Barbi Benton and Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Montgomery Ward Auto Club's goodwill ambassador, touched fenders in L.A. Benton, 31, and Gabor, 62, were among the celebs to celebrate a Spirit of Life Award to sports tycoon Jerry Buss. A local support chapter of the City of Hope National Medical Center did the honors as chapter founder Dionne Warwick sang, Benton made cracks about Gabor's "upstairs" dimensions compared to her own (both 36, if you care), and basketball's Magic Johnson turned the affair into a roast. Laker owner Buss, he announced, had "made it all on his own—all the millions, all the girls."
A Steel romance
The 90 guests were shuttled in Rolls-Royces to a villa on a hillside in California's Napa Valley, where they were greeted by a butler pouring vintage champagne. At 7 p.m. Danielle Steel, 34, wearing a Mary McFadden gown, and shipping executive John Traina, 48, said their vows (she for the third time, he for the second) in a latticework pavilion fragrant with white roses. Afterward all supped on salmon with golden caviar, duck and wedding cake, then danced to an eight-piece orchestra. It rivaled anything in The Promise or any other of Steel's 10 romantic novels. Said an awestruck guest, author Alex Haley (right): "Normally, I'm full of stories, but I don't know how to describe anything that elegant."
It seemed to come as a shock to Desi Arnaz Sr., 64, that Nosotros, the organization that strives to improve the image of Hispanics transmitted by show business, had given him its Life Achievement Award. Also honored at the Beverly Hilton in L.A. were Martin Sheen, Barbara Carrera, Charo, Vikki Carr and Cheech and Chong. Paying tribute to Nosotros founder Ricardo (Fantasy Island) Montalban, Desi revealed that his character on the old I Love Lucy show, bandleader Ricky Ricardo, was named for Montalban. "And why not?" Desi shrugged. "He was the biggest star we Hispanics had at the time."
Buckley is off-key
No one laughed when William F. Buckley Jr. sat down at the piano during a reception in his honor at the American Symphony Orchestra League Convention in Dallas, delighting the guests with an impressive rendition of Scarlatti's B-minor Sonata 441. And his audience was not much amused later when the National Review editor, rhetorically nimble as always, seemed whimsically indifferent to the idea of federal funding for the arts. Suggesting that patrons, not government, should subsidize culture, he quipped, "Maybe people should be required to give evidence of having listened to Scarlatti before having their driving licenses renewed."
America is beautiful to Liz and Maria
Elizabeth Taylor came late to the ceremony in New York's Central Park, but Broadway's reigning Briton—and Washington's—pledged heartfelt allegiance to "the greatest flag in the world." The star of The Little Foxes and wife of Virginia Sen. John Warner joined Metropolitan Opera baritone Robert Merrill, who led in the singing of America the Beautiful. The occasion was the display of the world's largest flag, a two-acre (411-by-210-foot) Old Glory stretched across several softball fields as a promotion to help raise $650,000 for rigging to fly it from New York's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Meanwhile, downtown at the showroom of couturier Michaele Vollbracht, the face of the young model was hauntingly reminiscent of an earlier Elizabeth Taylor, though the gorgeous eyes were hazel, not violet. The similarity could not have been more than a coincidence—albeit a fitting one—since Maria Burton, 20 and 5'9½", is the adopted daughter of Liz and her previous husband, Richard Burton. She arrived from London last January, and Vollbracht, who dramatized her presence by placing a mural of Liz and Warner in his entrance (it's since been defaced by graffiti), reports, "Maria has a wonderful, unusual face, and she's very serious about modeling."