With a dinosaur skeleton as a backdrop, hundreds of people spent as much as $50,000 a table to watch Princess Diana dine on salmon and lamb, California wine and French champagne.
The princess of Wales danced with Phil Donahue, was crooned to by Tony Bennett and accepted a dance from a stranger whose bold invitation horrified onlookers worried about royal etiquette.Wednesday night's black tie ball at the Field Museum of Natural History - hence the dinosaur - was held to benefit cancer research, a cause Diana has helped raise money for around the world. Some 1,300 people attended.
"When a princess calls, I always answer," said Donahue by way of explaining his presence at the head table.
Donahue had the first dance with Diana to the strains of "S'Wonderful." Bennett dedicated his singing of "Fly Me to the Moon" to the princess, who was wearing a dress of regal purple.
Only a handful of people were invited to talk with the princess; most could only steal glances. Hosts appeared horrified when an unidentified man brazenly asked Diana for a dance. She accepted.
Later, as the man ducked past the thick, black curtains, British reporters seemed particularly desperate to get his name.
"I'm sure as h--- not going to tell you," he shouted.
Diana, who is in the process of divorcing her husband of 15 years, has said she hopes to continue to have a formal public role as a goodwill ambassador for her country.
She arrived Tuesday for a three-day visit of the Chicago area, which was expected to raise more than $1 million. She created a stir among students when she took a stroll across the campus of Northwestern University.
Wednesday, she attended a breast cancer symposium, urging doctors to continue their quest for a cure. Later, at Cook County Hospital, she shook hands and chatted with patients. On Thursday's agenda: another hospital visit, a luncheon and the trip back to London.
But the big event was the ball, and hosts appeared a bit nervous. After all, they were competing with the other big event in town: Michael Jordan and the Bulls playing the Seattle SuperSonics in the opening game of the NBA finals.
Even Jordan's mother, Deloris, was torn. She avoided a family feud by attending the first part of the ball, then heading to the West Side to watch her son's team win 107-90. Other ballgoers followed the game on a small TV put on one table.