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Tony Orlando, Joan Rivers Light Up The City

Hartford Courant
September 20, 2009

Java Columnist

In downtown Hartford on Saturday, you could barely walk a few blocks without running into a party. All of them benefited good causes.

Among them was the Connecticut Children's Medical Center's annual "Storybook Gala," featuring "Arthur" series author Marc Brown as guest.

But he wasn't the only celeb at the Marriott event, which included a VIP cocktail party before the gala. TonyOrlando, singer, performer and front man for the Dawn girls, was there. Orlando wasn't tying any yellow ribbons or knocking three times. He was just partying for a cause he has taken to heart.

"I just fell in love with the hospital and what it does," said the Missouri crooner, who first visited the hospital a couple of years ago after a performance at Mohegan Sun. "It just clicked for me, so when I was invited to the gala, I said yes."

Orlando, who attracted quite a crowd as people realized he was the rumored "mystery" celeb, reminisced about his first visit to Hartford 48 years ago.

"I was 16 and the opening act for Ethel Merman," he said, recalling the show that had other headliners, including Robert Goulet and wife Carol Lawrence. "They even let me sign 'the wall,'" he said, referring to the Bushnell's famous backstage autographed wall that performers for decades have signed after appearing there.

Orlando was surprised to learn that Joan Rivers was performing just a few blocks away at the Bushnell, noting that he had just seen her the night before.

"We were on QVC together yesterday," he said. "She never mentioned she was coming to Hartford, too."

Which takes us to yet another Saturday party in the Insurance City.

It was the WRCH-FM (100.5) annual "Nite of Lite Laughter," featuring Rivers, which began with a VIP pre-program reception at Jordan Dikegoros' J Restaurant & Bar on Washington Street. Each year the "Nite of Lite" benefits Hartford Hospital's Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center.

Then it was off to the theater, where Rivers lived up to her comedic reputation with a show that did not embarrass center director Dr. Andy Salner.

"I loved the show but am glad I wasn't part of it this year," said the good-natured doc, who last year unexpectedly became part of the show when headliner Howie Mandel threw Salner an embarrassing question involving birds and anatomy that is still being talked about.

A few lucky audience members had a chance to meet Rivers afterward. Among them was Linda Markarian, a Courant employee whose claim to fame is that she once tended to Rivers' hair.

"I was working in Disney as a stylist and did her hair for a week while she was there," said Markarian, who came to Saturday's show wearing earrings the comic had given her.

"She also gave me makeup from her line and a good tip," said Markarian after the two caught up on old times. "She was great."


Joan Rivers, at center, ended her stay by posing with WRCH on-air personalities and staff. (MaryEllen Fillo/The Hartford Courant / September 19, 2009)
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