Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2006

By James Verini

We should all take pride in the knowledge that no city mingles vanity and charity with quite the originality Los Angeles does. This was on display Tuesday night in Hollywood, where “Trial and Error” and “Aeon Flux” star Charlize Theron hitched a mini-benefit for African children onto the opening of Hollywood’s newest monument to conspicuous consumption: Social Hollywood, Jeffrey Chodorow’s mega-restaurant-slash-bar-slash-private-club. (Nevermind that Social has been open for business for months. In L.A., if you haven’t thrown at least five parties before you “officially open,” you’re doing something wrong.)

The crowds started massing before the red carpet about 9 p.m. on hot, muggy Sunset Boulevard, slowly making their way into Social. With its sprawling two-story interior and Moroccan motif, the establishment is the nightlife equivalent of Magic Mountain, if you can picture the theme park having been invaded by the Ottomans.

“It looks like a harem lives here,” one partygoer said.

There was only a tiny VIP section in the dining room, and by 10 the place was packed from the foyer to the bathrooms, so the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and — admittedly we’re using “the likes of” loosely here — Rebecca De Mornay had to fend for themselves among the crowd, which didn’t seem to mind. This involved vying with the scrum at the champagne bar and avoiding being whacked in the head by the giant trays of labor-intensive hors d’oeuvres, among them giant sea scallops — the size of a baby’s fists, and roughly the same consistency — and little Chinese soup spoons filled with rice pudding. (Apparently the continents all drift together in the minds of Social’s kitchen staff.)

In the adjoining dimly lighted ballroom, meanwhile, a crowd that consisted of impresarios Russell Simmons and Amanda Scheer Demme, May-December reality TV power couple Christopher Knight and Adrianne Curry, and then a lot of older men in suits with the onetime models who love them, made their best attempt at dancing. Kylie Bax was there too.

On the balcony above, a troupe of burlesque dancers, each with their own platform and red spotlight, writhed and shimmied. (Burlesque dancers and related professionals are de rigeur at Hollywood parties these days too. At the T-Mobile Sidekick party at the Palladium last week, there was not only a half-naked woman hanging on ceiling swing, but also two girls in French-cut undergarments dancing in a ball pool. Now that’s art.)

They were the most prurient feature of the party. That is, until about 11, when two women clad in nothing but thongs and pasties and covered head to toe in green body paint, with big white S’s stenciled on their torsos, materialized on the dance floor like extras from some unrated Brett Ratner director’s cut of X-Men. Curiously, Ratner, who at one time attended so many Hollywood parties it seemed as though he’d found a way to clone himself, was absent.

Soon after the body-paint girls there was an even more alluring sight — a familiar shock of thick, prematurely gray hair, bobbing up and down above the crowd on its way to the bar. Yes, you guessed it: American Idol Taylor Hicks, and as he shambled by, looking winsome as ever, everyone’s eyes left the naked green ladies and followed the bouncing gray bowl cut. Such is the indomitable power of singing Doobie Brothers covers in a soulful Alabama drawl, friends.

But the most indelible sights of the night were to be found in the silent auction room. (Along with pre-opening opening parties and burlesque dancers, the silent auction completes the trifecta of essential L.A. party must-haves.)

Theron, who seemed to be keeping herself tucked away behind one of the sturdy Marrakech screens in the dining room, had graciously put up some irreplaceable items from her collection of personal memorabilia for her charity, whose official name, sensibly enough, is the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Program.

Among them were a signed poster of “That Thing You Do!” and the hard hat and boots she wore in “North Country.” The coup de grace? The cutoff T-shirt with wolf illustration and the flan-beige sports bra she wore in the feel-good serial killer biopic “Monster.” Amazingly, it didn’t draw the top bidder. That honor belonged to Theron’s Christian Dior goody bag, which fetched $40,000. The event as a whole took in $140,000. Not much in Hollywood, perhaps, but a lot in Africa.