While the weather might have been chilly out this past Friday night, spirits were high inside the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, in more ways than one. With a “Dia de los Muertos” theme, Midler hosted more than 600 guests at this year’s 16th annual Hulaween gala, dressed as a zombie, complete with skulls and pink bows over her bustier and headpiece. Hawaii-meets-Halloween in origin, Hulaween raises money for New York Restoration Project’s work greening, beautifying, and cleaning New York City, more than $1.9 million this year — ironically the eve before a freak late-October snowstorm that caused damage on par with that of August’s Hurricane Irene.
Now, Hulaween is not just another $1,000-a-plate fundraiser — costumes are a must, and guests heed the rules, quite seriously, in fact. Midler outdid herself this year, accompanied by stars like Judy Gold, dressed as Chaz Bono from Dancing with the Stars; Debra Messing, as a ghost with a bad hair day; and a cuddly Alan Cumming in a monkey costume. Even Knicks player Carmelo Anthony outdid himself, dressed as a Harlem Mobster, inspired by Eddie Murphy’s Harlem Nights character.
The most popular costume of the night went to the walking dead — zombies and such abounded. John McEnroe, accompanied by wife Patty Smyth, was smartly disguised in black and white face paint, complete with a mouth “stitched shut.” After a day in the kitchen, the chef of the night, Rick Bayless, came out to partake in the festivities, dressed as a skeleton in chef whites. He had earned it — simmering more than 30 gallons of mole sauce he’d made in advance in Chicago for more than five hours in the Waldorf kitchen to go along with plenty of margaritas, a rich, chocolate-mousse-stuffed skull dessert, and Mexican hot chocolate.
Costume highlights of the night include a pair of Muppets, Siri (from iPhone fame), and a quadruple suicide. There were many a matador and mariachi player present, including Sam Champion and Michael Kors, who judged the evening’s costume contest. One table, historically known for coming in some of the most creative costume designs, including the New York skyline and bottles of liquor, came costumed as bedbugs (and roach-killing spray, of course). Yet, top honors were saved for Robert Diamond’s brilliant, peacock-colored “Emperor of the Butterflies” costume, and Douglas Little’s appetite-killing rotting face. The best group costume award was given to the “27-Year-Old Dead Rock Club,” featuring a group of tombstone-bearing dead rock stars, like Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix — and yes, they did manage to sit in their chairs for dinner. Even Martha Stewart dressed up, donning a brilliant blonde bob, a (faux) fur, and winged eyelashes — “Moth-a.” How fitting.
Food and costumes aside, the best part of the night was the more than one-hour-long performance by the one-and-only rock legend Stevie Wonder, dressed in a skeleton costume, including favorites like "Superstition," Michael Jackson’s "Thriller," and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours." Not a person was seated during the extraordinary performance, not even Semi-Homemade hostess Sandra Lee, who was spotted twirling about in a princess dress with friends.
Click here to see the Bette Midler’s Celebrity-Studded Halloween Party Slideshow.