The 31st Annual Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala

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Started more than 30 years ago by Princess Yasmin Aga Khan in memory her Mother: Hollywood legend, Rita Hayworth, the annual Rita Hayworth Gala was held at the Hilton Chicago (720 S. Michigan Ave.) Inspired by Gene Wilder (who passed away in 2016 from Alzheimer’s disease) this year’s theme was “Pure Imagination,” which highlighted Gene’s role as Willy Wonka in the children’s classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Guests of the Alzheimers Gala.

An estimated 800 influential party-goers attended the festive soiree, which included some of the city’s most influential socialites. Featuring a mouth-watering cocktail reception, a 3 – course dinner, and a tribute awards program, guests were treated to an exciting live auction accompanied by a silent auction, then later on dancing the night away to the entertaining sounds of the Ken Arlen Evolution Orchestra. It should be noted: an astonishing $74 million has been raised by the Rita Hayworth Galas that have taken place here in Chicago and in New York; with all proceeds benefitting research and support programs provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.

Princess Yasmin Aga Khan
Princess Yasmin Aga Khan presenting at the gala.

In the spotlight at this formal black-tie event was the family of Gene Wilder, in particular, Karen Wilder and Jordan Walker Pearlman. With the ingenuity and creativity only the wife of Gene Wilder could possess, the “Pure Imagination Project” was started by Karen Wilder. A digital campaign was launched in November of last year, developed by the advertising agency Mullen Lowe in coordination with the Alzheimer’s Association as a pro-bono project. As the nephew of Gene Wilder, Jordan Walker Pearlman has devoted much of his time to publicly speaking around the U.S. to raise awareness and support research; quite an accomplishment, considering the fact that he is a full-time screenwriter, producer, and film director.   Also in the spotlight on this memorable night was Natalie Morales, receiving the “Caregiver Award.”  Presented by NBC’s Al Roker, this award was given to Morales, considered an Alzheimer’s Association  Champion. Her Mom lived with Alzheimer’s for 15 years and Natalie strategically utilizes her celebrity status as the West Coast anchor of NBC’s Today show to promote awareness and honor her Mom. She also ran in the New York City marathon in 2013 and 2015 for the cause of Alzheimer’s research.

Joseph Rhodes, Natalie Morales, and Jon Harris.

Not to be overlooked are the continuing efforts of the dedicated individuals comprising the volunteer groups: the Young Champions Committee and the Gala Steering Committee; without their valuable time and resources, the Rita Hayworth Gala would not have been possible. Outstanding timepiece maker Rolex generously underwrote the program, along with presenting sponsors Paul and Joan Rubschlager as well as the party’s official media sponsor Chicago Magazine.

Joe and Jaclyn Cantore.
Joe and Jaclyn Cantore.

At the Alzheimer’s Association, their mission statement is: “To eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.” Their never-ending devotion to discovering a cure for this terrible disease is highly regarded and respected, and with sensational support like this at the Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala, their discovery for a cure cannot be too far ahead.

Natalie Morales, Harry Johns, and Princess Yasmin Aga Khan.


About Irene Michaels

Over the past 25 years I have taken on the roles of a producer, publisher, insider journalist and fundraiser. My artistic interests began early in my teens working as a model and a dancer throughout the U.S. I formed my first modeling agency before I was twenty. While modeling I secured a re-occurring role in the popular daytime TV series General Hospital. Read more...