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1,000 Philadelphians Throw a Get-Well Gala for the Grand Old Lady of Broad Street

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For a while it looked as if the final victim of the Legionnaires’ disease would be the 72-year-old Grand Old Lady of Broad Street herself: the Bellevue Stratford Hotel where the convention was held. Since last summer, when the mysterious ailment—still undiagnosed—killed 29, the Philadelphia hotel has become a kind of leper of the tourist trade. Occupancy of the hotel dropped as low as 8 percent. “It’s been bad, very bad,” admits Gustave G. Amsterdam, chairman of the Bankers Securities Corp., which owns the Bellevue.

But early this month some 1,000 prominent Philadelphians threw a party to pledge their fealty to the ailing 750-room landmark (it is to Philadelphia what the Waldorf Astoria is to New York). Guests included Frank Rizzo, Grace Kelly’s big brother Jack, Philadelphia Phillies and Eagles (in black tie) and the scions of the Campbell soup and Heinz Ketchup families.

Couples who paid $100 to attend the get-well gala marched in over a red carpet to the strains of a fife-and-drum sextet and a Mummers band. They pinned on “I LOVE THE BELLEVUE” buttons, signed an 8-by-10-foot Valentine card and dined on six courses (among them Caesar salad à la maison, filet mignon and ice cream cake) served by white-gloved waiters and waitresses who donated their services.

The affair raised about $30,000 for local charities. Most guests lavished praise on the hotel. “It’s been a great Philadelphia institution,” puffed Kelly. There were, however, a few noteworthy absentees. “I know two [Hollywood] stars who were asked but would not come,” confessed Nelson Fellman, a spokesman for the hotel, “and others who were in town wouldn’t stay at the hotel.” Actor-singer Jimmy Darren, a native Philadelphian who entertained at the party, was not one of them. “I feel perfectly safe here,” he said. “I’m going to New York, though, and I’m afraid of getting mugged.”