We were hired to design and plan Don Bellisario’s 80th Birthday Party. For those of you who don’t know Don, here’s a little background- created or co-created the TV series Magnum, P.I., Airwolf, Quantum Leap, JAG, and NCIS. He was a writer and producer on Black Sheep Squadron and the original Battlestar Galactica. He wrote and directed the 1988 feature film Last Rites. The list goes on and on.
Since we were celebrating Don's 80th Birthday, the 40's seemed fitting- it was an era that he loved and looked back on fondly. Don is a history buff to say the least, so it was important to him that we have details down to the Military Police valets, just so. I must say I was given a history lesson each time I researched anything for the event and I was thankful that Alia is such a bookworm!
While Don would have been elated to serve rations to the guests, his wife Vivienne and we thought it was best if we took the guests through an era experience instead.
Guests were greeted in the valet circle by Military Police who took their cars. They then stood for a formal portrait with a World War II armored vehicles complete with military actors in the background. Once inside the Bellisario newly renovated home, cigarette girls escorted guests to the terrace where they sipped on the Aviation, Vodka Collins’, Pink Gin Fizz, an Old Fashioned and many more custom created cocktails by the Grand Bevy. Guests dined on passed appetizers of mini deviled eggs, smoked salmon on potato pancakes, citrus basil marinated shrimp and much more and enjoyed the sounds of a Benny Goodman style quintet.
Once all the guests arrived the supper club opened with the sounds of the Andrew Sisters, Frank Sinatra and a classic 18-piece big band filled the star kissed August sky. As event planners it's important to listen to your clients and figure out what their goal is for their event. For our clients they didn't want their guests stuck in the same seat all night, they wanted them to be able to move around and change seats, so we introduced a small plates menu that sat at each table and high boy (cocktail table) and let guests know that they didn't need to worry about staying in the same seat, that we would make sure that every course found its way to them, no matter where they were. Guests loved this concept! They moved about, chatted with lots of different groups of friends, switched seats, danced, grabbed a drink, took photos in the photo booth with a military fighter jet backdrop and were still offered the next course and a fork to go with it. Encouraging movement allowed for the event to progress through performances, heartfelt toasts, special songs and spins on the dance floor.
The cocktail party was a to feel more like a casual garden party, ration book inspired with tones of cream and muted gold. We used vintage patio sets for seating areas and dressed them up with vintage sweetheart pillows, books, games and ration books from the 40's.
The supper club was designed with levels and movement in mind. The up level on each side featured gold velvet booths; small dining tables to encourage intimate conversations and less chairs then at a normal “reception” table. The lower level had slightly bigger tables and flanked the black and white checkered dance floor. We still incorporated lounge furniture and lots of tall cocktail tables, so that guests could move about and a huge bar so guests could have any beverage they desired.
Don was toasted by some of his best friends in the business, sang to by Natalie Noone and shared blowing his birthday candles out with his grandkids. It was truly an exceptional night and one that one long be forgotten. I think Don said it best in his note about Magnolia Event Design,
Whenever I see anyone who was at my spectacular 80th birthday party this past August, they inevitably start the conversation with “That was the best party I ever attended!” And my reply is always, “Me, too!” Thanks to Lindsey Hartsough and her crew from Magnolia Event Design, it will always be a very special night to remember.
— Donald Bellisario