A giant, “Surprise!” rang out from the symphony hall of Davies (and probably all the way to the shores of Tripoli) on Monday when former Secretary of State George Shultz was feted for his upcoming 89th birthday by his missus, Protocol Chief Charlotte Mailliard Shultz.
The lifelong and dedicated United States Marine Corps Major (who served in the Pacific theater during World War II), was more than surprised as he entered Davies’ Wattis Room -- which was awash in red-right-and-blue bunting, flags and towering Stanlee Gatti-designed blooms.
On cue, a crowd of family and friends (almost) simultaneously hit the button on their Charlotte-issue US Marine Corps caps which emitted an electronic version of the Marine Corps Hymn.
Among the toasters: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Gov. Pete Wilson, former Mayor Willie Brown, CA State Chief Justice Ronald George, District Attorney Kamala Harris, former U.S. Ambassador and Sunset founder Bill Lane, Intel founder Gordon Moore, Paul Pelosi and haute haberdasher Wilkes Bashford.
“Charlotte kept telling me we needed to get to Davies early because they wanted to mic me up before I introduced tonight’s audience to the President’s Own United States Marine Corps Band,” explained Shultz, of his wife’s ruse to get him to his party.
“It was just 6. The band doesn’t start until eight o’clock,” said Shultz, laughing. “I told Charlotte, ‘I’ve been miked thousands of times. It takes about 20 seconds. Why do we have to go so early’?”
Because under the orders (and kind invitation) of Drill Instructor Charlotte Shultz, some 150 guests (all decked out in variations of red-white-and-blue) awaited in this elegant, makeshift Shultz Mess Hall.
“Just look at George, what a handsome devil! ” said Willie Brown, admiringly of the large-scale, vintage photos of a 22-year-old, post-Princeton and Marine-uniformed Shultz which adorned walls and tabletops in the room.
“I still look like I did 66 years ago,” joked Brown. “So in other words, 66 years ago I looked 75!”
Charlotte was assisted by Marines’ Memorial Association President and Maj. Gen. USMC (Ret.) Mike Myatt, who was a co-presenter of this special concert at Davies. In addition, the McCall Associates crew (in camouflage aprons) served up a pre-concert, cocktail buffet ranging from caviar and signature lamb chops to its new Democracy delicacy, a WWII homage which features creamed beef-on-toast and bears the initials, S.O.S.
Most amazing (but not surprising), Charlotte began planning the surprise celebration a mere two weeks ago, as she and her husband traversed the world (Los Angeles, New York, Canada, China) while George delivered lectures and attended meetings.
She was also on the phone to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, from which she practically bought out the gift shop of its musical caps and miniature statues of the Iwo Jima flag raising (based on the iconic photo by the late, former Chronicle photog Joe Rosenthal).
“I couldn’t fax anything from our hotels because George might see the party instructions. So while we were in China, I’d get up in the middle of the night and hide in the bathroom making phone calls,” explained Charlotte, laughing. “After all that espionage, I feel like a real Marine now!”
On stage, Shultz gamely submitted to being put through his paces as USMC Col. Jim Buckley announced that this 89-year-old Marine was being called back into Active Duty.
Barely tucked into a too-small of military jacket (which belonged to Myatt), “tailor” Wilkes Bashford and “fashion consultant” Willie Brown merrily assessed this “Fashion Don’t” situation.
“To fit in this jacket, George will need to match his weight,” deadpanned Wilkes, “And grow 6 more inches!”
“This is not the kind of uniform I wear,” laughed Shultz, playing along. “You better get the commander on the phone.”
On cue, USMC Gen. James Conway was patched in on speaker phone and jokingly determined that Maj. Shultz must be suffering from, “Post San Francisco Stress Disorder.”
“Thank you for your great contributions to our nation over the years,” toasted the General, in all seriousness. “And best wishes to you and Charlotte!”
Shultz shared with his guests how proud he is to be a Marine, and noted that he was not an “ex-Marine.” Once a Marine, always a Marine.
“We understand that if you don’t fight for your freedom, you’re not going to have it for very long,” said Shultz.
Just then, a buzz erupted within the crowd as Gov. Schwarzenegger made his way to the stage (after flying in from Sacramento and getting stuck on the Bay Bridge), took the mic and teased Shultz, “OK, give me 500!”
Schwarzenegger described first meeting Shultz when he ran for the state’s top office. Shultz gave him just 30 seconds to make a pitch for his support.
“So, I was already shvitzing. Thinking, oh my God, how do I sum up everything in 30 seconds?,” said the governor. “I told him, ‘I promise you I will not spend more money than we take in.’ And George responded, ‘OK, I’m in’.”
“The rest is history. And ever since that time, George has been by my side, every step of the way. There is absolutely nothing that he would not do for his friends,” enthused Schwarzenegger, in toasting Shultz. “You’re a great man, a powerful man, a smart man, a wise man. And a gentleman!”
Displaying a delightfully delivish side, Schwarzenegger then compared himself as a husband against George. And ended up roasting himself.
“The way you treat your wife, Charlotte, is absolutely extraordinary. I know this because my wife, Maria (Shriver), reminds me of this all the time,” said Schwarzenegger, to great laughter. “Especially around Valentine's Day. ‘Why,’ she’ll ask, ‘Don't I send her roses every day for five days before Valentine’s ... like George does for Charlotte’?”
Former governor (and Marine) Pete Wilson also praised Shultz: “Not only is he a brilliant leader and a patriot of great honor, but George is just a helluva lot of fun! Plus, he’s a Marine.”
Post-concert, the Shultz Troops met back in the Wattis Room for a final toast with birthday cake -- and not just any old cake this. Oh, no.
First, there was a ginormous iced Cakeworks faux-confection in the shape of a military drum. But that was just to hold the candles. The real-deal: served slices of spice cake, based on a beloved recipe of Shultz’s mother. As guests departed (Marine caps in tow), they also received To-Go cakes -- mini (and deliciously edible) Groom’s cakes in individual display boxes.
Alex Shultz, the youngest of George’s brood of 5, said it’s been a great year for his dad -- during a recent game at the San Francisco Golf Club, his father smoothly sunk a hole-in-one.
Though unprepared for a public toast, Alex’s son and daughter eloquently rose to the occasion and noted their grandfather’s other areas of expertise.
“What he really knows is how to get girls,” said Stanford University freshman Tyler Shultz, appreciatively. “So thank you for all you taught me the last 18 years!”
His older sister, Kelly Shultz, movingly, described the best thing about being a Stanford senior and the man she calls, “Great Dad.”
“I’ll ride my bike past the Hoover Institute and see his Prius parked out front. If I’m not late for class, I’ll stop in just to say, ‘Hi, Great Dad’!” said Kelly. “I’m always so glad just to know you’re there.”
Maj. Great Dad could not have been more pleased with the surprise soiree.
“This is so wonderful -- from my friends and family to the great music tonight by the President’s Own U.S. Marine Band,” enthused Shultz. “And it’s still six weeks until my my actual birthday (Dec. 13). My God, this is going to be a long celebration!”