Tonight: Annual Rock Dinner, Annual $$$ Scandal

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame | Liza Minnelli

Tonight: Annual Rock Dinner, Annual $$$ Scandal

It's time for the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation dinner tonight at the Waldorf. So let's not forget where a lot of the money goes: to director Suzan Evans-Hochberg, who gets $300,000 a year. Let's not forget who it doesn't go to: indigent musicians, the Rock museum in Cleveland and performers at tonight's show.

The Foundation — which listed $10 million in investment assets on its 1999-2000 IRS filing — gave a mere $2,323 to rock musicians in the same year for food, shelter and clothing. That means that Evans-Hochberg received 100 times the amount doled out to needy musicians.

Another whopping $650 went to unspecified "tuition."

Record companies — which are currently in dire straits from low sales — pony up an average of $50,000 in donations to the Foundation every year. In 1999-2000, the Foundation also received a $1 million donation and a $410,000 donation. The donors' names are not listed on the filing.

The average retail price of a CD, which costs about a dollar to make, is $17.

I asked Benjamin Needell, attorney for Jann Wenner and Wenner Media, who is also on the Foundation board, if he didn't think $300,000 was too high a salary for the director's position. "It's a big job," he told me last year. "She [Evans-Hochberg] spends six months planning the show."

The Foundation made two other donations in 1999-2000: $25,000 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and $2,000 to an organization called Zero Population Growth.

According to the form, another $40,000 was paid out in miscellaneous salaries.

The Foundation, which claimed $10 million in assets on its IRS form, donated nothing to the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Nothing. Not a dime.

And just in case you thought the Foundation existed merely to pay Evans-Hochberg and have the annual dinner — which is paid for in part by TV sales — guess again. The Foundation has extensive investment holdings, as well. The group claimed a balance of $8.4 million in "net unrealized gain in investments" in 1999. The IRS filing contains page after page of single-spaced investment transactions, suggesting that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is more of a personal portfolio rather than a raucous music celebration and jam session.

And what's worse is the group doesn't even lavish money on its own talent. Performers at tonight's dinner were given airfare, money for hotel rooms and a free ride to and from the airport. According to my sources, no incidentals are paid for, there's no fee for the actual performance — which airs on VH-1 two days later, and no fee for the actual show at the Waldorf.

But will reporters in the pressroom ask any of these questions tonight as the stars are shepherded through for photos and quotes? I doubt it.

More surprising: Evans-Hochberg told me last fall that so far only nominees and inductees were eligible for the indigent awards. This group includes such multimillionaires as Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Billy Joel. Evans-Hochberg said, "We are hoping to expand the scope of that program."

As for the Cleveland museum, which is considered a bastard cousin of the glittery annual Waldorf event, the Foundation donated only $77,000 to it in 1998-99. But the absence of any donation last year is even more troubling considering the Foundation's stated purpose on its tax return — "to establish and maintain all matters of historical significance in rock and roll." Evans-Hochberg told me when I spoke to her: "We are partners with the museum. We have allocated funds for its expansion and for educational programs. Our money is going to be used for the museum."

The Foundation's unpaid but better-known directors are Rolling Stone Publisher Jann Wenner, former Sire Records President Seymour Stein and Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, who recently published his autobiography with a $75 suggested price. Wenner, who declined to answer questions about the Foundation last winter when this column first approached him, is considered the Foundation's de facto head. In fact, the Foundation's offices are in the process of moving into space at Rolling Stone headquarters this week after being moved from the Atlantic Records offices.

Tonight's dinner and show at the Waldorf should be interesting, by the way. The Talking Heads are being inducted, but they don't talk to each other. The Ramones are coming, but too late for Joey Ramone, who passed away. Jim Stewart, the co-founder of the great Stax Records, is being inducted without his sister and partner, Estelle Axton, because they don't talk to each other. Gene Pitney will sing "Town Without Pity," a song that means more now.

Liza's Wedding Delayed by Liz Taylor

Liz Taylor held up Liza Minnelli's fourth wedding ceremony, delaying the proceedings by 50 minutes.

The reason? La Taylor forgot her shoes back at her hotel and had to go back and get them. When she finally did arrive, Taylor's fragile physical state shocked onlookers at Marble Collegiate Church. "She could barely make the two steps up, and then she had to be helped."

Taylor skipped altogether the wild reception Minnelli and weirdo hubby David Gest gave themselves near the site of the former World Trade Center.

Michael Jackson, top billed as best man, made the ceremony and the reception, but split after giving a quick toast honoring Minnelli and Gest. The entire Jackson 5 — advertised by Minnelli's new P.T. Barnum-like husband — were not seen. But no one was surprised. The event was all about hype — how much, how many and why not? Even Donald Trump, who was there, should have been impressed by the hubris and the insanity of the whole thing. Guests even received red heart-shaped candy boxes adorned by a rose and a card that read "Liza and David."

There were stars and more stars at the reception, which was held in the former marble bank building at 55 Wall Street. The gigantic, vaulted-ceilinged space doesn't have the greatest acoustics. But that didn't stop a flurry of stars from performing, one after another, until the wee hours. The showstopper had to have been Phoebe Snow, whose rendition of "At Last" brought record industry legends Clive Davis and Ahmet Ertegun to their feet, along with tablemates Liz Smith, Lorraine Bracco (with date Steven Green) and Cynthia McFadden.

Aside from the fore-mentioned, the number of old people and veteran Hollywood stars was quite amazing. Kirk and Ann Douglas, Robert Wagner and Jill St. John, Jane Powell, Ruth Warrick, Anne Jeffreys, Ann Blyth, Tony Franciosa, Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills, Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo of the Fifth Dimension, Gena Rowlands, soul singer Chuck Jackson, Dionne Warwick — they were all there and decked out in finery. Dionne even did a duet of "Walk on By" with the Doobie's Michael McDonald.

Carroll Baker — "Baby Doll" to anyone over 50 — shouted out when Donny Osmond took the stage. Lauren Bacall boogied to the reunited Doobie Brothers singing "What a Fool Believes." Mickey Rooney — the closest thing Liza Minnelli had to family at her own wedding — seemed to enjoy Jerry Butler's knockout performances of "Mr. Dream Merchant" and "Only the Strong Survive."

Some stars were truly glamorous. Marisa Berenson, in a beaded gown and diamond brooch, should be giving fashion lessons for the Oscars. ABC's McFadden, a bridesmaid (her 3-year-old son Spencer was also in the wedding party) sparkled in her black dress. Liz Smith got kudos for her royal blue jacket from Shanghai Tang.

But everyone agreed that Minnelli — slimmed down and wearing a bright red gown — looked marvelous. She and Gest — who has strange waxy eyebrows that look like parentheses — sat at the center table, closest to the stage, and greeted all their guests. Even though there was quite a bit of dishing about their unusual union, the truth is the reception was fun, not nearly as tacky as you might have guessed. The room looked terrific, very warmly festooned in roses, and there was a nice buzz in the room.

Will the marriage last? No one's laying odds, obviously. "No one knew who David was before this," said one guest. "He's like a combination of Liza's father, Vincente Minnelli, and her stepfather Sid Luft. He's a showman. And for Liza, she's been so lonely. This is companionship. They're very happy."

The party was still going on when I left around midnight, although by 11 p.m. the heartiest of the senior citizens had packed up. There were plenty of abandoned tables, but just enough of the 1500 or so guests who danced on through the night.