Riding the carousel

Barbara Davis' ball sets bar high for other fundraisers

When Barbara Davis called her husband, oil baron and Hollywood mogul Marvin Davis, with the news that their then 7-year-old daughter, Dana, had diabetes, he simply told her: “So fix it.”

Davis has done her darnedest to make that happen. Thirty-five years ago, she founded the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, and in 1978 she launched the biennial Carousel of Hope Ball that has raised more than $75 million for her center and the Denver-based Children’s Diabetes Foundation research org. The 26th Carousel ball is set for Saturday at the Beverly Hilton.

The Carousel is no mere rubber-chicken fundraiser; it’s the standard by which all other glitzy charitable events are judged. The big ballroom at the Beverly Hilton is transformed into a festive setting and the event always serves up top-tier musical performances. This year’s headliner is Neil Diamond.

And at every Carousel Ball comes the Brass Ring Award, which Davis gives to someone she believes has gone above and beyond in their philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors. This year, the kudo goes to George Clooney. Davis has been impressed by his tireless efforts for a range of causes, including helping to organize a telethon in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, raising awareness of human rights atrocities in the Sudan and helping to raise more than $200 million for the Motion Picture Television Fund.

Mounting the Carousel ball is important to Davis because it keeps the issue of diabetes front and center in the minds of generous bizzers. Her pals Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra helped her throw the first ball. But the one that stands out most in her mind came a few years later when Lionel Richie was on stage.

“Lionel Richie was dancing and singing and he was wearing leather pants,” she recalls. “The leather heated up and burned him. He had burns all over his legs and the lower part of his body. And at that moment my pregnant daughter, Nancy, her water broke. We all left and went to the hospital with Nancy and Lionel. But no one wanted to pay attention to Nancy, all the nurses wanted to see Lionel in the cold shower naked.”

Beyond all the glamour, the ball’s real contribution has been the fund cutting-edge research, which has led to advances such as a new test antibody test that can predict by the age of 2 whether a person will have diabetes at some point in their life.

“The idea of the carousel is the children riding the carousel of life and reaching for the brass ring,” Davis says. “When they have the brass ring, we’ll have the cure for diabetes.”