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Connie Wald, 96; hosted cozy dinner parties for stars

Connie Wald with Audrey Hepburn in Switzerland.

NEW YORK TIMES

Connie Wald with Audrey Hepburn in Switzerland.

NEW YORK — Connie Wald, a Beverly Hills hostess whose dinner parties began during Hollywood’s Golden Age and became an enduring social institution — part home-cooked casual, part parade of stars — died at her home on Nov. 10.

Her death was confirmed by her son Andrew.

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Mrs. Wald, 96, had no need to drop names. They fell all over her. Clark Gable. Joan Crawford. Errol Flynn. Gary Cooper. Audrey Hepburn. JimmyStewart. Harrison Ford. Angelica Huston. Joan Didion, Dominick Dunne. Woody Allen. Gregory Peck. Gore Vidal. Mae West. Maurice Chevalier. Three generations of Goldwyns.

They came and came again with their wife or husband and sometimes their children to the big but unpretentious house on North Beverly Drive, where Mrs. Wald lived for 70 years.

She grew the roses she put on the table as well as the basil and arugula she used in the simple soups, salads, and chicken dishes that guests requested because they enjoyed them so much the last time they were over. They might preview a new release afterward in the house’s screening room, but everyone said that the evenings were not about celebrity or ambition.

‘‘It was just cozy,’’ said Betsy Bloomingdale, a socialite, philanthropist, and friend, ‘‘and they don’t do cozy anymore.’’

Many faces were not famous, and Mrs. Wald was no household name. She grew up in West Virginia, moved to New York, became a model for designer Claire McCardell (Mrs. Wald said their figures were similar) and then followed her parents to California, where she met and married producer ­Jerry Wald.

The dinners began when the couple was young and Jerry Wald was entering his prime, producing successful films like ‘‘Key Largo,’’ “An Affair to Remember,’’ and ‘‘Peyton Place.’’ But they continued well after Jerry Wald died of a heart attack at 50 in 1962.

Nancy Reagan said Thursday that Mrs. Wald was the first person she met when she moved to California in the 1940s — ‘‘It was very easy to be drawn to Connie,’’ she said — long before Reagan married the man who became president.

Audrey Hepburn was Mrs. Wald’s best friend and stayed over when in town, quibbling over who would do the dishes. Susanna Moore met Mrs. Wald’s son Robbie on a Malibu beach when she was 21 and wrote much of her first novel, ‘‘My Old Sweetheart,’’ at the Walds’ kitchen table.

‘‘She had a very sunny disposition,’’ said John Goldwyn, a Hollywood producer and grandson of Sam Goldwyn. ‘‘She drew people to her, and then she figured out how to get you to talk about the thing that would be interesting to everybody. She was a very interesting woman without making herself the center — except she was absolutely the center.’’

Constance Emily Polan was born in Parkersburg, W.Va.

She was often on best-dressed lists, friends said she was chic without trying to be fashionable, and had many opinions about Hollywood. But she preferred dinner at a friend’s house or her own rather than a glamorous night out.

“My mother’s highest compliment,’’ Andrew Wald said, was having someone to dinner.

Late in life he began helping his mother in the kitchen, and the dinners at the Walds will continue for now. Reagan plans to be there for Thanksgiving.

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