Frankie Avalon (top photo) wowed the crowd at Moonlight at the Ranch Saturday by singing his most famous song, “Venus” and of course “Beauty School Dropout” from the most popular musical film ever, “Grease.” Limoneira Ranch’s “Olivelands” property was filled with supporters of the Moonlight event, which benefits the Santa Paula Police & Fire Foundation and Chamber of Commerce. (Bottom left) The mouseketeers did show up, although not quite like the originals. (Bottom right) A couple gets into the “swing” of things.

Moonlight at the Ranch: Avalon brings ‘Venus’ power to annual fundraiser!

September 21, 2011
Santa Paula News

The distance of the Moon to the Earth is the same as the distance from Earth to Venus - give or take a quarter-million miles - but a convergence of the three was complete Saturday at Moonlight at the Ranch V: “Shake, Rattle & Roll!” 

The “cruisin’ thru the 50s” themed event played host to famed entertainer Frankie Avalon, who wowed the crowd by singing his most famous song, “Venus” and of course “Beauty School Dropout” from the most popular musical film ever, “Grease.” Limoneira Ranch’s “Olivelands” property was filled with supporters of the Moonlight event, which benefits the Santa Paula Police & Fire Foundation and Chamber of Commerce.

The venue was decorated to highlight 50s culture - from displays showing the emergence of TV as the entertainment source to beautiful restored cars considered classics. A mid-century Santa Paula Fire Department “Mack” engine was carrying cargo of a cartoon kind with Tweety Bird at the wheel, Sylvester riding shotgun and Bugs Bunny wiggling a carrot in the direction of where help might be needed.

Other circa 1950s props displayed in the reception venue included television sets, statutes of celebrities famous in the 1950s, vintage SPPD and SPFD patrol cars, and a towering CHP officer mannequin at the ready to ticket anyone not having a great time. The vehicles and other props - including Moonlight’s vintage looking Paper Moon - were perfect for photo opportunities, and cameras were flashing and clicking all evening long.

Lucille Ball AKA Maria Bombara was overseeing ticket taking at the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse entry, where guests saw photos of the cast of kids, a display board, and a vintage lunchbox collection that also featured Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Television theme songs and commercial jingles played in the background while guests nibbled on goodies and purchased raffle tickets from SPPD Explorers for six vacation getaways. 

Poodle skirts (enough worn to bring jokes that the breed must have been an endangered species in the 1950s) and black leather jackets ruled, although there were plenty of Mouseketeers. And much like their real life rodent counterparts, Mouseketeers seemed to multiply at an alarming rate as more and more guests arrived. 

Elvis look-alikes were evident, sock hoppers, cool housewives and suited husbands, and even rockabilly stars such as Ventura Councilman Carl Morehouse. Also costumed up for a good time were Santa Paula Mayor Fred Robinson and Councilmen Rick Cook, Ralph Fernandez and Jim Tovias, Supervisor Kathy Long and Rep. Elton Gallegly, the latter also a friend of Avalon’s.

Moonlight Chairman Steve MacKinnon traded in his real life Police Chief’s uniform to portray the reel life Howdy Doody, reminding the “kids” that it was Moonlight at the Ranch time. 

No one needed reminders on the benefits of Moonlight: “The police officers and firefighters here are moved by the outpouring of support the community continues to offer us,” said MacKinnon. “It’s not just a big party, the underlying theme is to support our public safety efforts.  Moonlight achieves this and so much more.”

The second venue featured an ice cream float bar, more restaurants (there were about 40 that served at Moonlight) and a gas station authenticated with vintage gas pumps and signage, and an Elvis mannequin sitting in a vintage Chevrolet with a mechanic - well, half of a mechanic anyway - slid under the front carriage. Other fabulous sweet rides were parked nearby at the drive-in theater showing Frankie Avalon’s famous “Beach Blanket Bingo” flick from the (gasp!) 1960s. 

Moonlight’s oversized moon - like the posing Paper Moon out front - sporting 1950s sunglasses for the occasion and smiled down on the guests, who enjoyed the cuisine while seated at black and white check or teal covered tables, each holding a classic car centerpiece holding 1950’s era candy favorites and bottles of Rocket Fizz soda.

The crowd went wild when Avalon arrived in a vintage 1950’s Porsche, and Moonlight, “Venus” and the Men on the Moon proved that planets rule when Avalon performed. Avalon received a Proclamation from Robinson detailing his long and successful career as well as his devotion to good works. The singer was serenaded himself with Happy Birthday - September 18 is Avalon’s birthday - when he was surprised with a cake by Fire Chief Rick Araiza and MacKinnon.

“When I was asked to be honorary chair it was my pleasure,” said Avalon. “We are all here because we need fire and police and they need things to keep us safe and happy in this community. It’s very, very important.”

And personal: “I have a son-in-law Todd Thompson,” married to Avalon’s Carla, one of his eight children. Avalon said Thompson started his firefighting career as a paid-call volunteer “in this community.” 

MacKinnon said Monday, Moonlight was “another great evening that highlighted everything Santa Paula has to offer. We seem to continually surprise those who live outside the area; maybe eventually they will realize what a great place Santa Paula is.”

Both MacKinnon and Araiza noted the enthusiastic participation of Avalon.

Said Araiza, “I can’t believe the buy in Frankie had for this whole Moonlight event, and he really enjoyed it... he was a pleasure to work with and his appearance meant a lot to our success. Todd said Frankie and Kay (Avalon’s wife since 1963) were really surprised at Moonlight; it was much, much more than they expected.”

“All I heard that evening was how great the event was,” and, MacKinnon said, “I could see everyone really enjoyed themselves. It was fun to see how many attendees were really into the event by dressing up in 50’s garb.” And, although “Clearly Frankie Avalon did not know what to expect, but he and his family unquestionably enjoyed the evening.”

All in all Moonlight met its goals of not only fundraising, but also for roping the Moon when it came to a having a great good time: “For one evening out of the year ‘Moonlight at the Ranch’ creates an escape, a fantasy we can all enjoy” and, noted MacKinnon, “this year was no exception. The entire community came together to simply have a great party - and we succeeded in doing just that!”

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