Barbara Davis: Queen Of The Carousel Ball

 Though she admits that helping so many people “makes me feel good”, she confides that not being able to cure her daughter has always been both a sad and sore subject.

George Clooney. Stevie Wonder. Neil Diamond. David Foster. Jay Leno. Sidney Poitier. Joan Collins. Halle Berry. These are just a few of the A-list names that Barbara Davis’ counts among her closest friends. And friends they are: the aforementioned famous folk have donated their precious time to Davis’ cause without asking for anything in return which in itself is astounding. As well we all know, nothing in Hollywood—or life, even—is ever free.

Then again, why wouldn’t Tinseltown’s elite have a soft spot for Barbara Davis? She is the widow of former Davis Petroleum chairman Marvin Davis, who, at one time, also owned 20th Century Fox, the Pebble Beach Corporation, the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Aspen Skiing Company. Even before her husband’s death in 2004, Davis tirelessly devoted herself to curing children’s diabetes by raising money as co-chair and founder of the Carousel of Hope charity gala.

Her lifetime commitment to finding a cure for diabetes arose after she discovered that her daughter, Dana, was afflicted with the disease.

“My daughter was seven years old when she developed diabetes. It was such a shock when she was diagnosed,” the 82-year-old recalls. “I immediately called my husband and said, ‘She has diabetes.’ He said, ‘We’ll fix it’—and he did. We went to the Joslin Clinic in Boston to learn how to take care of Dana and how to give her insulin, and on the plane ride home Marvin said to me, ‘Would you like to build a hospital like that in Denver [where we were living] so Dana could go there all the time?’ Of course I said I’d love it. Marvin named it; it took two years to build.”

The Davis family matriarch is proud of how much success her center has seen. “We have made huge developments in the accuracy of testing and the kinds of insulin children receive. Tests have been developed to predict whether or not babies will have diabetes in their lifetime. We can also test to see whether or not a child has the gene for diabetes,” she boasts.

Though she admits that helping so many people “makes me feel good”, she confides that not being able to cure her daughter has always been both a sad and sore subject. “Taking care of children makes me feel good, but it’s very painful to have a child that will never get over the disease,” she says, adding, “This is how I started the Carousel Ball. I picture a child riding the carousel of life, reaching for the brass ring of hope.”

Each year at the bi-annual ball, Davis chooses to honor someone who has shown selflessness and a commitment to philanthropy. This year she selected George Clooney because of his charity work in both Darfur and Haiti. In the past she has honored Frank Sinatra, Betty Ford, Denzel Washington, Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, Clive Davis, Maria Shriver, Merv Griffin, Whitney Houston and Lucille Ball, whom “just loved” her daughter. Jay Leno acts as her MC, while David Foster is the charity’s music director.

“Everyone who performs or donates their time does so as a gift and doesn’t get paid,” Davis insists, sweetly refusing to acknowledge the rarity of this kind of behavior in a town as greedy as Hollywood. “Look around,” she says. “People are wonderful. People are good, and goodness is the most important thing in life.”

This particular word defines Barbara Davis completely. It is more than just her A-list roster of friends that sums up how beloved she is in the Angeleno community. She inspired her daughter Nancy, who suffers from MS, to start her own foundation. She has raised more than $80 million for diabetes research over the past 35 years.

The mother of five and grandmother of 16 who has her first great-grandchild on the way courtesy of grandson Alexander, now notes: “Hilary Clinton says it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to cure a disease, in my opinion. I taught my children that.”