Felisa … Felisa.
A name worthy of a Shakespearean love sonnet. Every now and then we’ve imagined our statuesque Felisa Caputo Vanoff as California’s counterpart of Italy’s fabled Marella Agnelli. That beautiful Principessa wed to the late Fiat emperor Gianni Agnelli.
A lifelong philanthropist, Marella enboldened the arts communities of her beloved country. As has our swan-necked Felisa, the elegant stylesetter spouse of theatrical entrepreneur Nick Vanoff. Her devotion and support for the worlds of theater, music, dance, museums, medicine and education enhanced our Golden State.
Felisa’s notable accomplishments and enduring generosity are documented by our BHC senior editor John Seitz on page 4 in this issue, while we reminisce with personal anecdotes about our friend.
Born in Ambridge, PA near the railroad city of Altoona. famous for its “track curve,” Felisa’s talents lured her to New York, where she met Nick Vanoff, a native of America’s “snow capital” of Buffalo. Also a dancer, Nick was knocked out by her uncommon grace, gifted dancing and choreography.
“Her own woman is what Felisa was … I couldn’t resist the chase,” Nick revealed to us long ago over a seaside dinner at Taverna Tony in Malibu, with Felisa laughing and pooh-poohing him. Truth to tell, wherever they partied, they were the It Couple.
Nick being of Macedonian heritage, and Felisa of sturdy Croatian stock, they’d frequent the Greek bouzouki boites during their New York days. The Seven Veils and Port Said were favorites with their flashy belly dancers where Nick and Felisa took over the dance floors and danced a la Grecque. Aristotle Onassis applauded them and sipped retsina wine with Maria Callas, who died of heartbreak when he married Jackie Kennedy.
In that heyday, we filled the Seven Veils with 100 guests for a dinner-dance that featured Athena’s whirling-dervish dancing with a giant snake. And Parisian couturier George Stavropoulos created Bianchini silk chiffon veils that he color-coordinated with the swirling gowns of the glitterati ladies from Manhattan’s entertainment and publishing worlds. Who were the star dancers? Felisa and Nick – who else? – described in the society columns later as the fabulous new team to replace Veloz and Yolanda.
As many may remember, Nick created and produced the celebrated Kennedy Center Honors with George Stevens Jr. in Washington, D.C., raising mega-millions for the Kennedy Center. His television and film credits remain legion.
True to her dancing genes, Felisa insisted a dancer or choreographer category be included among the Honors of theater, music, etc.
Some years ago, Nick and Felisa joined Patti and Tommy Skouras’ weekend on the Ionian island of Corfu for a family wedding. Where the partying, ideally planned by Patti, was nonstop during the hottest week ever in Greece. Nick and Felisa hosted al fresco taverna luncheons on the verdant island that had served as the summer royal residence when the monarchy was in power.
In the mix were the handsome Skouras clan, Luanne Wells, her sister Molly Chappellet of Napa Valley’s Chappellet Winery, Ames Cushing, Nancy and Paul Pelosi, Al and Dede Wilsey, Lucinda and Charlie Crocker, Richard Tam, Douglas Cramer, Shirlee Fonda and dozens more.
Douglas, Shirlee and Ames returned to California with a cache of repousse silver antiques from Corfu Town during that summer season abroad, wonderful as it was, which will never be forgotten.