Lilly’s feature presentation

When the party shuttle bus turned out to be a stretch Humve limo with neon disco lights and crystal champagne flutes, you knew the Malibu Film Festival gala would not be your average cocktail-sausage-and-chardonnay kind of affair.

After the first screening of John Frankenheimer’s “The Gypsy Moths,” festival goers fluttered off to Kashan Court (formerly known as the Malibu Castle). In keeping with the royal touch, guests were greeted by trumpeting heralds and an army of silver tray-toting servers with delicacies laid out as if they were rare African butterflies. “This is incredible,” gasped festival organizer Mike McCormick, “and I can’t believe that this lady is donating all of this to the film festival.”

The lady is Lilly Lawrence, the castle’s new queen. From the 15-foot floral chandelier, to the cozy cigar bar, to the on-site astronomer, Malibu’s newest philanthropist made sure the festival’s opening act was a night to remember.

The castle walls were drenched in a rainbow of gel-induced colors — tangerine, lemon and lavender. Balconies, banisters and window sills were festooned with python-sized garlands of Casablanca lilies, red roses and fragrant gardenias, and the food was a production worthy of “Titanic.” “I think it’s spectacular. I’ve never seen such a gorgeous presentation,” marveled Jane Kellard as she admired the spread from the castle’s candle-lit patio. To her left, a pair of dolphin ice sculptures presided over an ocean of sliced lobster, cracked crab and caviar. Inside, the dessert room featured a king-sized cake topped with a chocolate projector, white chocolate celluloid, chocolate slate boards and chocolate stars.

It was a celebrity-studded extravaganza with director Frankenheimer, Gary Sinise, Carroll Baker and Mr. Blackwell among those in attendance. They mixed with hometown notables such as Judge John Merrick, Rev. Dr. David Worth, City Manager Harry Peacock and Pepperdine Vice Chancellor Ronald F. Phillips.

For many laid-back locals, it was time to slip into something special. “Malibu is normally a place where you just put on your sweats,” said a tuxedoed David Foster. “It’s fun to get dressed up and still be here.”

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Actor Seymour Cassel described the magical venue as if it were a movie set. “I’ve often wondered what it was like up here,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have missed the chance to see it.” Even those familiar with the property were amazed by its recent transformation. “It was so dark and cold before,” observed Linda Thompson Foster, “Now it’s really light and bright.”

Between bites of summer squash, purple potato and sweet red bell pepper fritatta, friends talked shop, shared stories and got to know their new neighbor.

Although she was greeting many of her guests for the first time, Lawrence turned out a stellar performance and made a splash. The folks at the Malibu Film Festival may have some hard work ahead of them, but on this night of nights, they played Cinderella with Lawrence cast in the role of the wand-waving fairy godmother who can turn pumpkins into a royal coach, or at least a humve limo.

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