January 11, 1999 12:00 PM

The fashions were by Donatella Versace and the tuna tartar by Wolfgang Puck. but the atmosphere was pure Fellini. It was the ninth annual Fire & Ice Ball, easily the year’s most over-the-top charity soiree. Held Dec. 9 under a giant tent on a Universal Studios back lot in Los Angeles, the 1,300-guest affair raised $1.8 million for the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Program, a worthy cause that belied the playful goings-on.

Even seasoned celebs like Jack Nicholson and Candice Bergen seemed bowled over by the flashy, flesh-baring spring collection from cochair (with ever: founder Lilly Tartikoff) Versace, who draped a slew of supermodels in sequined bikinis, skimpy chain-link dresses and metallic microminiskirts. “This is different,” said singer Beck, looking slightly perplexed. “This is like being on Uranus.” And he didn’t even take notice of Madonna getting a back rub from Versace’s husband, Paul—through a giant slash in her Morticia Addams-like black leather dress.

Nearby, Friends’ Courteney Cox Arquette and Lisa Kudrow rubbernecked for a better look at the evening’s sensation: Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, a vision in off-white wool Versace. Not far behind in the glamor sweepstakes was Goldie Hawn, shadowed by three security guards who kept an eye on her borrowed Harry Winston necklace with an ice-cube-size diamond pendant, worth a whopping $16.5 million. “The only sad thing is,” lamented Hawn of the blinding stone, “I can’t see it because it’s not on my finger or my wrist.”

Emcee Jerry Seinfeld got serious long enough to laud Tartikoff (widow of TV superprogrammer Brandon Tartikoff), whose efforts have helped develop the drug Herceptin, a major cancer-fighting breakthrough. Said the usually misanthropic comic: “She’s the kind of person who makes you have faith in human beings.”

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