Tears kept coming to Ann Jillian's eyes.
She couldn't help it. It was just so hard to think about.
Less than a month ago, Jillian, star of last season's NBC sitcom "Jennifer Slept Here" and a guest Saturday night at the American Cancer Society Annual Ball, underwent a double mastectomy.
"It's a shame that it has to hit home before you take such a positive step," she said. "I'm making a real effort this time . . . My ordeal is over with, thank God, but maybe some day . . . nobody will have to go through any ordeal."
On Friday, she canceled a press conference because she was uneasy. But Saturday night at the Washington Hilton, she was one of about a dozen celebrities who said it's important to be at the society's annual benefit ball. Armand Hammer, not a TV celebrity but a big-giver celebrity, gave one reason.
"Something has just happened," he said to the capacity crowd of 1,300.
Hammer said he had just met with a surgeon who had, through a new procedure of reactivating blood cells, managed a "complete cure" of a patient's colon cancer. Hammer asked him why he wasn't working faster. The surgeon said he only had enough funds to work with two patients at a time.
"I said here's $100,000. Go to work," Hammer said. Now the surgeon is working on four patients.
The ball wasn't all serious, though.
Call it tacky or call it coincidence, or call it plain old-fashioned publicity -- about 15 feet away from Jillian stood Shannon Tweed, a blond Playboy centerfold. Her black dress could easily have won an award for the lowest cut on the neckline and highest cut on the leg.
Well over six feet tall, Tweed kicked off her shoes and bent a knee to pose for pictures with guests.
"My husband's been walking around going aaaahhhhhh all night," said one woman watching Tweed. Nobody could help but stare at her plunging neckline, including Tweed herself, who kept checking her appearance.
"Are there black things on my teeth now?" she asked one guest as she was introduced. "Caviar. Hi."
Then she was off to do more pictures.
"It's the spectacle of the year," is how ballgoer Rockey Lang from Chevy Chase described it. (The ball, not Tweed.)
The biggest ball of all is what it was being called in terms of a moneymaker, with a final take of $1 million after expenses. It was the society's largest single-night fund-raising event nationwide.
"In the world," added real estate magnate Alan Kay, chairman and charmer of the event, which is sponsored by the District's division of the society. He was said to have personally solicited many of the donations.
"You don't turn Alan Kay down," said Julie Quinn of Annandale. Kay and his wife Dianne have been in charge of the ball for four years and are given much of the credit for the whopping dollar amount, which has grown from the $12,000 raised at the first ball in 1973.
The ball has long been known as a food fest. This year, however, the lines for lobster were so long that people either settled for saddle of veal or waited until after their raspberry bombe or kiwi tart to eat the main course.
The celebrities had their own reasons, aside from the fact that they didn't have to wait for lobster because it was served to them, for being at the ball.
Tony Randall, known for his antismoking campaign: "Mrs. Harriman called. Can't say no to her."
Genie Francis, of "General Hospital" fame: "I'm not a big party person, really. But I feel like this is for a good charity."
Susan Anspach, of the recent CBS mini-series "Space": " . . . Joan Hackett. Out of some loyalty to her, some sense of closeness to her." Hackett died of cancer in 1983.
Ellen Bry, who plays nurse Shirley Daniels on NBC's "St. Elsewhere": "On a professional level, I'm on a show where I play a nurse. It's a hospital show. On a personal level, someone I was really close to got cancer."
Lynda Carter, Pierce Brosnan, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., British Ambassador Sir Oliver Wright, former Democratic National Committee chairman Chuck Manatt and Teddy Kennedy Jr., who lost a leg to cancer, also came for the cause.
But wait, there's more.
Ed Marinaro, of "Hill Street Blues," was the flirt of the night. He came with a girl on each arm. "Fettuccine and Linguine," he called them.
He kept winking at women who walked by.
"It's a twitch," he said.
Peter Fonda drew a lot of female attention, too. Maybe they were attracted to the small tail of hair down the back of his neck. That ponytail was making a statement.
"The statement is, Go ahead, see if you can do it," Fonda said, smiling. He said he pins the hair up when working. Right now he's working with his sister Jane on a project called "Old Money." He said they'll be coproducers and will costar in the film.
But for the night, Fonda was "focusing on the event." He was happy. And he was corny. As he said to one guest leaving his table, "Have a good evening. As a matter of fact, have a ball."